Tuesday of this week was the 63rd anniversary of a key event in U.S. history, though it happened half a world away on a peninsula that's attached to the northern Chinese region of Manchuria.
That peninsula remains a household word a generation later, as the two governments that claim to represent the people of Korea remain, at least politically, at each others' throats.
On June 25, 1950, the communist North Korean People's Army, with the moral support of the Soviet Union and the newly consolidated People's Republic of China, invaded the western backed Republic of Korea, which had presided over the peninsula south of the 38th line of latitude.
Thus began a bloody dance that would conclude with a cease fire agreement that went into effect July 27, 1953 and setting the border between the communist north and the pro-western south roughly at the 38th parallel. During the intervening years, 1.7 million U.S. personnel served, including 33,000 who were killed, in the effort to prevent the spread of communism.
This week at the Bel Air Library, visitors will have a chance to see an exhibit providing some of the details of a war that sometimes gets lost in discussions of World War II and its aftermath. Korea was the flash point that clearly defined the stark realignment that took place after World War II. The U.S., Soviet Union and an uneasy alliance of competing Chinese governments were united in fighting Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. Indeed, thanks largely to the U.S. effort to defeat Japan rather than seek a negotiated peace, China was able to reclaim the territory of Manchuria after 1945. During the Korean War, China was able to use Manchuria as a staging area for a blistering surprise attack against U.S. forces fighting on the peninsula. Early in World War II, Japan had occupied the territory – along with Korea – and set up a puppet nation, Manchukuo, with a member of a deposed Chinese royal family as its head.
The Korean War's aftermath was emblematic of the uneasy peace that characterized the world until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. It was a peace insofar as weapons were rarely fired, but no treaty has ever been signed to formally end the conflict.
Curiously, even as Red China, as the communist state was commonly referred to in the 1950s, has become every bit as focused on business and trade as any western country, and the Communist Bloc associated with the former Soviet Union has faded into history. The state dominated society of communist North Korea remains as firmly entrenched as ever, however, and its iron fisted rule over its people is a striking contrast to the south, where personal and economic freedoms abound.
The events of June 1950 on the Korean peninsula have led to a situation six decades later that could not have been predicted. More than one historian has observed that once a war starts, there's little that can be done to control what happens as a result of various campaigns and engagements, or what the outcome will yield.
In organizing the event at the Bel Air Library, some of the local Korean War veterans have used the term "forgotten war" to describe the battles on the Korean peninsula. They do the rest of us a second service by reminding us of a key turning point in U.S. history. The first service, of course, is their having fought in Korea to defend freedom.