The Guardian • Issue #2062

Korean war armistice: 70 years on

Peace negotiations.

Peace negotiations. Photo: archives.gov– (Public domain).

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War (1951-1953). The war remains a humiliation for the US. On the 27th July 1953, the Armistice Agreement was signed by: Marshal Kim Il Sung for the DPRK; Peng The-Huai the Commander of the Chinese People’s Volunteers; General Mark W Clark US Army Commander-in-Chief; General Nam Il of the Korean People’s Army; and Lieutenant General William K Harrison Jr, Senior Delegate of the US Army. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) commemorates 27th July as a national holiday, known as Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War.

Since then, the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) marks the border between both the DPRK (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (ROK), South Korea, straddling the 38th parallel. The agreement was signed in the village of Panmunjom in the DPRK. The building is preserved as a museum, a few metres from where President Trump crossed over into the DPRK at the request of Kim Jung Un, on 29th June 2019.

It was a vicious war. Four million Koreans and Chinese were killed, half of them Korean civilians. The US had 128,650 casualties, with 36,516 dead. Australian casualties numbered over 1,500, including 340 dead. Every city, town and village in the DPRK. was bombed.  The total number of sorties conducted by the US coalition was 1,170,590. In one incident the US Air Force dropped napalm bombs on Australian troops mistaking them for the enemy. It was not the last time Australian troops died under US friendly fire.

These casualty figures could have been far worse. General Douglas MacArthur wanted to drop twenty-six nuclear bombs along the Chinese border. President Harry S Truman refused. When Truman attempted to negotiate a ceasefire, MacArthur sent his troops across the 38th parallel. Truman fired MaCarthur for insubordination.

The United Nations forces supporting the ROK government of President Syngman Rhee included the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Belgium, France, Greece, and the Netherlands. President Rhee refused to sign the Armistice. His brutal regime continued its violent crackdown on anyone considered communist, maintaining control of the government by pushing through constitutional amendments and declaring martial law.

South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2005 to investigate the widespread human rights violations and the reign of terror conducted under the military government. Its investigations included massacres, disappearances, political show trials, and the killing of unarmed civilians and political prisoners. Hundreds of thousands were murdered. The commission is still investigating the 150 mass graves so far found. This is the government Australia supported.

The ROK is Australia’s fourth largest trading partner. As such, our prime ministers and academics continue to attack the DPRK, without any understanding of the country. In 2011 former Prime Minister Julia Gillard referred to the DPRK as “a rogue state which is a threat to its near neighbours, to the region as whole.”

No permanent peace treaty has ever been signed, meaning Australia is still technically at war with the DPRK. Australia is one of seven countries that make up the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC), established in July 1953. Tension continues between both Koreas, allowing the US to station 28,000 armed forces in the ROK.

Andrew Selth of Griffith University argues that Australian personnel would be part of any future military action taken by the UNCMAC, to support US troops in the ROK. Robert O’Neill, Official Historian of Australia in the Korean War, wrote, that the quality of Australia’s armed forces strengthened “Australia’s reputation as a valuable ally” to the US. This ensures that Australia followed the US into war ever since.

Peace negotiations between the two Koreas continue. In 2018 President Moon Jae-in and DPRK leader Kim Jong Un began talks on denuclearisation and to bring a formal end to the conflict. The DPRK called off talks after the US-South Korean military staged war games not far from the DMZ. In 2019 Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump signed a joint declaration to ease tensions, but negotiations collapsed after State Department interference.

After its defeat in the Korean War, the US attacked communist forces around the world. Along with the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand sent troops into South East Asia, starting in 1948 with the Malay Emergency.

In the aftermath of the Korean War the US set out to destroy Communism. America’s Cold War paranoia resulted in: the violent overthrow of elected governments; the manufacture of hatred; and the torture and murder of hundreds of thousands, all the direct result of America’s war on the “Peril of Communism.” What the US government saw as a threat, was in truth a paranoid phantom created by the twisted minds of the US State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon. Millions of people would be killed brutally in South-East Asia, Indonesia, Latin America, and Africa.

Blanche Wiesen Cook wrote that hat American thought has been “splattered and soured by American vitriol,” destroying “our national credibility.” The Truman Doctrine of 1947, allowed political, military and economic assistance to nations under threat of authoritarianism. After the Korean War anti-Communism reached its height of hysteria: in the insanity of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC); Senator . McCarthy’s “Red Scare” Crusade; President Dwight Eisenhower passing the Communist Control Act on 24th August 1954; and the outlawing of the Communist Party of the United States and the criminalisation of “Communist-action” organisations. It was a period of internal destruction that gutted America’s creativity and thought, from which American society has never recovered.

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