Rick Barker, Minister of Veteran Affairs, is making a speech this Sunday, to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War.
Now this is all very well and good. He talks briefly about the war, describing it as "a military peace enforcement intervention". It was, in fact, an action to repel the North Koreans from South Korea as invaders who were committed to abolishing the Republic of Korea government. "Peace enforcement" undermines what it was, a brutal war on the front line of the Cold War battling one of the first attempts by the communist bloc for expansionism (as North Korea had been given the nod by the USSR to invade).
He will commemorate the veterans, rightly so. Does some minor politicking which is probably inevitable. However what gets me is that he doesn't grasp the moral imperative of this war - this was a battle against tyranny. He calls it "the price of peace", I call it the price of freedom.
North Korea was already at the time a communist dictatorship in the mould of Stalin, China had fallen communist the year before and was threatening to overrun Taiwan. The strategy was simple, the weak (though authoritarian) South Korea government would be quickly overwhelmed (South Korea was largely a poor peasant country at the time, North Korea the well developed industrial centre) defeated and then Japan would be surrounded on three sides by communist influences.
North Korea was thwarted by the US and its allies because Douglas Macarthur landed at Inchon, cutting off the North Korean troops which had invaded almost all of South Korea, and so they were rolled back to the 38th parallel, and then the war went from being simply rolling back the invasion, to destroying the North Korean menace. This saw US/UN forces go as far as the Yalu River, but the topography and weather were against them, and Mao feared the US would invade China. So China poured in hundreds of thousands of troops to defend North Korea. China rolled back the UN forces to the 38th parallel once more.
So the war lasted two years moving the frontline a few miles back and forth.
New Zealand contributed bravely to defending South Korea from the evil Stalinist dictatorship to the North. There were two choices facing NZ (and the US and the other UN countries that participated in the Police Action):
- You could choose peace (which would literally mean just letting Korea go communist and then deter an attack on Japan, hopefully!); or
- You could choose freedom (which means ensuring North Korea does not take South Korea).
Had peace been chosen, the Republic of Korea may not exist today. Also to those who say the Syngman Rhee regime in Seoul wasn't free, they are right, but compared to Kim Il Sung, it was significantly more open and liberal -and since the late 1980s South Korea has been a thriving open liberal democracy, which puts the North Korean prison state in stark contrast. New Zealand veterans from the Korean War helped ensure that would be, and deterred the risk of an attack on Japan.
So while Rick Barker is doing the right thing remembering and celebrating the veterans of the Korean War, they were not fighting for peace first and foremost, although the end of the war was certainly a goal. That goal was meaningless without it being a fight against communism and for the more free alternative at the time. Had the primary objective not been to contain and keep South Korea free from Stalinism, then peace would've been easy - simply surrender.