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Last week, we began our conversation on the context of war with a general overview. Why is this important?
REALITIES OF WAR
It is easy for our country to put the reality of war behind it once combat operations has concluded. For our nation, war is about:
- national defense
- strategic and geopolitical calculations
- patriotic implications
For the warrior, it may be difficult to put behind what has happened during war because it is intensely personal. War for the warrior is about:
- courage and honor
- pain and suffering
- sorrow and tragedy
What is missing is a clear understanding of what our nation has required of it’s sons and daughters who served during war. The warrior’s concerns are not the fulfillment of national goals, but survival and protecting his/her battle buddy. Our warrior’s departed from their civilian lives to do the remarkable, often distasteful, and always dangerous things while in combat.
These are the reasons we must look at the context of war:
- between the tension of what our nation requires of its warriors and what our warriors experience in war, gaps of understanding often result
- there is a correlation between changing strategic military objectives and the likelihood of accomplishing them with the number of US casualties to public support of the war
- the debate at home often influences the morale of the warrior
- lastly, once home the veteran may still be at “war”
So, we will begin with the Korean War. This is not intended to slight those who fought in World War II. We have so few World War II veterans who remain active in our communities. However, we remember their courage and sacrifice in most US towns and villages with a war monument. We honor those who died serving in Europe and the Pacific in 14 overseas cemeteries. We recognize the living during anniversaries of significant battles. Thank you to our World War II veterans!
POLITICAL AND CULTURAL CONSIDERATIONS
Following World War II, the US was recognized as a dominant power and with that came responsibilities. The Marshall Plan provided economic aid in order to restore our former enemy, but more importantly, to develop an ally. Treaty commitments were negotiated and formed. All of this was out of response to a perceived threat, communist aggression. A new kind of war began, a “cold war.”
Another factor that set the stage for our involvement in Korea was the division of the world following World War II. The victors, Soviet Union, US, United Kingdom, France among others established agreed upon zones of influence. The US and the Soviet Union agreed to a temporary division of the Korean peninsula along the 38th parallel, where the Soviets would occupy the north and the US the south.
Additionally, the already high tensions between the Soviet Union and the US, and a series of miscalculations, resulted in the North Koreans invading the south on 25 June 1950. These miscalculations included:
- US never claimed it would defend Korea
- North Korean, Chinese, and Soviet Union did not believe the US could defend the south
- Communist Chinese growing strength
Within a week the US and the United Nations resolved to protect the South Korean government and its people, and thwart the aggression of the North Koreans.
The Korean War was an undeclared military action. Several thoughts:
- initially described by President Harry S. Truman as a “police action”
- has been referred to as the “The Forgotten War”
- American politics influenced the strategic considerations prior to US involvement and during the war
In relation to the global scale of World War II which preceded it, the Korean War received little attention in the US. However, nearly 37,000 warriors would die in Korea and over 100,000 wounded. Families at home would morn, but the country at large failed to recognize the scale and cost of the war.
In the first weeks of the war, a Gallup poll suggested that 81% of Americans supports the war. There was little criticism.
This mood of confidence quickly eroded due to set backs in the conduct of the war. US politicians began debating the conduct of the war and its aims. In a year, a stalemate seemed accepted by the public.
Lastly and not surprisingly, the debate at home influenced the attitudes of the warriors. With the strategic goals shifting to negotiating a truce along the same lines as when the war began a comment like, “No one wants to die for a tie” became prevalent.
(Above information largely taken from Those who have Borne the Battle, Wright)
IMPLICATIONS FOR TODAY
Understanding the cultural and political context helps put into perspective the mindset of the veteran who fought in a “forgotten war.” I have heard stories from Korean and Vietnam veterans who after they returned from war would go to the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars posts only to be told by World War II veterans, “We won our war, how about you?” Some veterans refused to go to a local post because they were not in a “war.” (Note, the Korean War is not over. An armistice was signed 27 July 1953 that halted combat operations.)
For many Korean War veterans, when they returned home they found the following:
- most US citizens did not recognize that a war had taken place or that they cared
- there were no parades honoring the veteran (it was not until 1991 that the Korean War veterans received a parade in New York City)
- very few towns or villages put up memorials to honor those who fought and died in Korea (in fact the Korean War Memorial was dedicated 27 July 1995, 42 years after the armistice)
This is the past, but so very important to understand for today. Why? Many Korean War veterans remain bitter. Some just want to continue to forget the “forgotten war.” Others can not forget.
Our Korean War veterans are in the 80’s. Some are in hospice care and some hospitalized. They live in our communities and attend services in our faith communities.
What do we need to know? For many, they are prone to suffer from disabilities experienced from cold weather injuries. Many have unresolved guilt. Some may feel the abandonment of God. For many it may be the feeling of being on-forgivable, because of what they have done or saw while in combat. Most are proud of their service and sacrifice. And most have not shared their stories with another person, but now as they face the end of life, they may desire to do so.
What can we do? If we understand the political and cultural implications of the war, and the personal sacrifices made by the warrior, possibly we can be an integral part of the veterans’ journey in seeking a restorative path. And we can listen to their story! We listen with the heart so that through our actions of hope, love, patience, forgiveness, trust, and comfort, we live out the grace of the Divine providing remarkable healing power. If you have specific examples of what we can do, please add to the conversation.
We also can read about the war, became acquainted with the personal stories of those who sacrificed much.
Next week, we discuss the context of the Vietnam War. Until then, let’s continue the conversation…