Wednesday, August 9, 2017

United States And Korea

In 1949 a classmate in a country grade school in Oklahoma told us he had joined the National Guard.

He was big for his age - he had just turned fifteen, and could easily pass for eighteen. Like many farm boys, he was a good rifle shot and was at home around firearms. The big attraction was that they paid him for going to drills. It was a really good deal - good enough to lie about his age.

The down side came the following summer when the North Korean army attacked across the 38th parallel into South Korea. Oklahoma's "Fighting Forty-Fifth" was the first National Guard unit called up to be sent to Korea.

The young man's parents lost no time letting the National Guard know he was under age.

Like others of my generation, I spent my high school years in the shadow of Korea. Graduates were drafted right away and sent off to war. Even after the armistice of 1953, we knew if war was not to be in Korea, it would likely be in some other place.

It would be war or rumors of war for the foreseeable future.

I prepared for war by entering the Naval ROTC.

America's first conflict in Korea took place in 1871. Korea did not welcome foreign merchant ships and treated shipwrecked sailors harshly. Their treatment of American sailors led to a punitive expedition.

We sent a naval force and put marines ashore. A force commanded by Commander Winfield Scott Schley, later a hero in  the Spanish American War.

We have missed many opportunities to negotiate a permanent settlement to Korea, but it always takes longer than we have before another election.

A key misstep in my view was the decision in 1956 to introduce nuclear weapons into the Korean peninsula. We are reaping the results of that decision now. North Korea's response was a combination of belligerence and passive countermeasures. Most significantly, they dug reinforced caves which eventually served as protected sites for their nuclear development programs.

The Honest John nuclear missiles and the nuclear howitzers that we installed in Korea had very limited capabilities and were obsolete very soon. They were removed by President Bush long after they ceased to be of any use.

But the hardened enclosures remain an enormous obstacle to preemptive attack.

Another case of "be careful what you wish for, lest you get it."

Now we need some thinking adults in charge of strategy, including diplomatic strategy.

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