Greatest Generation Redux

korean warIf they aren’t included already as members of the Greatest Generation, Korean War veterans should be. Were it not for them, tens of millions of more people today would be living poverty-stricken lives in a totalitarian nightmare. Korean War vets stopped the communists from conquering the whole of the Korean peninsula, enabling life in the southern portion to flourish under what later was to develop into a showcase of democratic capitalism.

July 27 marked the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War armistice. The juxtaposition of the territories north and south of the line marking the northern advance of the U.S. army in 1953 speaks volumes.

The south has become so successful that its standard of living is on par with other industrialized-countries. Democracy and freedom of expression are strong.

The north, meanwhile, is stuck in the political and economic dark ages – all because it was unfortunate enough not to be conquered by the American military.

To consider what life would have been like for South Koreans had President Truman decided not to intervene on their behalf some six decades ago, look to the Stalinist north. Its per capita income is $1,800, a mere one-eighteenth of the south’s. North Koreans’ life expectancy is significantly lower, and they’re a couple of inches shorter on average than their brethren to the south.

Food scarcity and malnutrition are endemic in the north; it’s only thanks to international food aid that another famine is avoided such as the one that took place in the mid-1990s. Industry in the north is stagnant and infrastructure is crumbling or nonexistent.

Even more frightening is the notorious political repression of North Korea. Freedom of expression is nonexistent. Say or do anything the government disapproves of, and you could wind up in one of its notorious prison camps.

Some 370,000 military personnel – the vast majority of whom were Americans – under UN auspices came to the aid of an ill-equipped South Korean after the North Korean communists invaded the south in 1950. Allied forces pushed the North Koreans to the border of China before the latter entered the war and drove the allies back to near the 38th parallel, where the truce line was drawn. While it would have been nice had the whole peninsula been liberated, that nearly would have been impossible without starting a wider war with China.

Would that one day the whole peninsula is peacefully unified under democratic capitalism. Meantime, next time you pick up your Samsung Galaxy Note II, or climb into your Hyundai or Kia, in addition to thanking the amazing ingenuity of the Koreans, thank a Korean War vet as well.

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