KOREAN WAR: by Jeffry BabbNews Weekly
60th anniversary of a nasty but necessary war
, November 27, 2010
Look at a map of East Asia, find the Korean Peninsula and look where it points: straight towards Japan's main islands. Korea has been described as a dagger aimed at the heart of Japan. That's why the Korean War was a necessary war.
If you doubt Korea's importance in the scheme of things, consider that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the official name of communist North Korea, is that very rare thing - a formal treaty partner with the People's Republic of China. Without China's support, North Korea's economy would collapse.
One day, even with China's support, the North Korean state probably will collapse and the free world, not least South Korea, will be left to pick up the pieces. If integrating East Germany into a united Germany has been a struggle, it will be nothing compared to the reconstruction required when Korea is united.
North Korea is not a nice sort of ally for China. It is like a junkyard dog - it has its uses, but it's always likely to cause trouble and is never fully under control, and, given the right circumstances, it might even give its master a nasty fright.
China does not want a reunified Korea; it's all too clear that South Korea would dominate a united Korea, and then China would have a United States ally with a contiguous border with China.
North Korea borders on the three provinces in China's strategically important "north east" region, the region known in the West as Manchuria. China's leaders have long memories. The northernmost ice-free port, Lushun, has been fought over by the Japanese, the Russians and the Chinese. Lushun is better known as Port Arthur in the West , a strategic prize only returned to China after the end of World War II.
The truth is that no-one really wants a unified Korea, not least the South Koreans, who would have to pick up the pieces, whatever they say in public. But they are unlikely to have any choice in the matter if North Korea suddenly implodes, as did East Germany two decades ago.
It took at least a decade to get some sort of modern free market economy working in eastern Germany. Integrating backward North Korea into South Korea's modern market economy would take a generation.
It's sometimes said that the Korean War, which commenced 60 years ago, is a forgotten war; but it has never been forgotten by the families of the 339 Australians who never came back, nor by the families of the 33,000 Americans who died far from home.
For many Australian veterans of World War II, the call to arms for the Korean War was a welcome escape from the humdrum of postwar civilian life. Among them was Denis O'Brien, who died at the age of 25 on a barren hill - one barren hill among many in Korea, which is 70 per cent mountainous.
Denis O'Brien had a book dedicated to him by historian Manning Clark, as a defender of Christian civilisation. Denis O'Brien was the elder brother of Patrick O'Brien, professor of politics at the University of Western Australia, who often spoke of the heartbreak Denis's death caused his family.
Korea is part of the Cold War's unfinished business. The demilitarised zone (DMZ) marks the place where fighting ceased - it marks an armistice, not a peace treaty. The war has never officially ended.
Across the DMZ, the armies of the two Koreas face off, along with 27,000 US troops. The US military commitment acts as a tripwire, meaning that if the North Koreans attack, they must necessarily involve the US, which is defending the world's most militarised border.
Some 50 years ago, Christian aid groups solicited funds for the South Koreans. The South was impoverished; people lived in shacks. The North had the better deal - the best agricultural land. Most of the nation's industry was in the North.
Now, however, South Korea is a booming industrial success story and a major trade partner for Australia. South Korea's rice farmers regularly produce a surplus above the requirements of the domestic market. Now it's communist North Korea that is the economic basket-case, always teetering on the verge of famine.
The South gives food aid to the North, but defectors say it goes to the political elite and the army while the starving people have to buy rice on the black market.
Australia has lately been keen to improve relations with South Korea. The current ambassador to Seoul is Sam Gerovich, an old Asia hand who has been Australia's representative in Taipei and consul-general in Shanghai. His appointment is belated recognition that Australia needs to keep an expert eye on the world's only communist hereditary state.
It's 60 years since the beginning of the Korean War, but the price of defending a free and prosperous Asia is eternal vigilance. We forget the lessons of the Korean War at our peril.