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Hither and Yon

Korea Still Threatened by Imminent War 70 Years After Japan's Surrender

Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com
SEOUL — The looming 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender and Korea’s ”liberation” reminds us of the dangers of new wars in a region where peace may be a fleeting phenomenon. North Korea, writhing under the humiliation of the failure of “Great Leader” Kim Il-Sung’s invasion of the South five years after the Japanese defeat, still dreams of reuniting the Korean Peninsula as a dictatorship beholden to no one.
A hailstorm of North Korean rhetoric against Japan as the anniversary approaches is filled not only with hatred but also lies.
No, Kim Il-Sung did not win the war against the Japanese or anyone else. After his guerrilla revolt against Japanese outposts had more or less failed, he became an officer in the Soviet army and spent most of the war in and around Khabarovsk without coming close to combat.
Following the division of the Korean Peninsula between the Soviet-occupied North and the American-occupied South, Kim Il-Sung arrived in the North Korean port of Wonsan aboard a Russian boat from Vladivostok and boarded a train to Pyongyang.
I’ve been to Wonsan and seen the inn where he spent his first night back on Korean soil. It’s now a sacred shrine where tourists look through the door of the room where he slept but don’t step inside. The train that he took to Pyongyang is in the old train station museum, a great steam locomotive pulling a coal tender and a passenger car. No one steps into the train either. The North Koreans don’t want visitors defiling the atmosphere.
The North Korean tour guides neglect to tell you, of course, that the Russians were not totally aware of Kim Il-Sung at that time. They didn’t pay for his night’s lodging or train fare and had no notion of making him their puppet ruler. Somehow, however, Kim worked his way into their good graces.
When the Democratic People’s Republic was founded in September 1948, lo and behold Kim Il-Sung was its first prime minister ― a title that morphed into that of president and general secretary of the Workers’ Party.
If Kim Il-Sung happens to be looking down on the celebrations of the 70th from his heavenly post as “eternal president,” he may wonder why North Korea is still such a mess. He may take comfort, however, in the fact that his grandson, Kim Jong-Un, is playing with nukes and missiles in the belief they’re needed not only for ”defense” but also for doing away with the North’s enemies.
Kim Il-Sung, as ”eternal president,” would have to know that the Korean War, such a colossal failure when he was an earthly figure, is far from over. OK, North Korea claims to have scored a tremendous ”victory” in that ”war of liberation,” but surely a second Korean war might be what’s needed to solidify success. If the headstrong Kim Jong-Un stays on course, executing those who disagree with him while building up militarily, North Korea may be ready to make up for humiliation at the hands of the Americans and South Koreans by firing some missiles.
On that bright day when Korea, North and South, was finally “liberated,” free from Japanese bondage, who would have thought the two halves of the divided country would be confronting each other militarily 70 years later? And who would have believed that anyone in Korea would be flaunting nuclear warheads when the terrible devastation of the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was so fresh in people’s minds?
The fact is, however, that a confrontation between North and South may be at its most likely point since the era of the Sunshine Policy when President Kim Dae-Jung flew to Pyongyang to meet Kim Jong-Il in June 2000 for the first ever for an inter-Korean summit.
So averse is Kim Jong-Un to dialogue that he failed to meet Kim Dae-Jung’s widow, 93-year-old Lee Hee-Ho, when she flew to Pyongyang this month for a four-day visit. Considering that she had accompanied her husband for the summit and gone to Pyongyang in December 2011 for the funeral of the kid’s father, Kim Jong-Il, that snub was a calculated offense.
The idea was that perhaps another visit by Ms. Lee would entice Kim Jong-Un to accept South Korean entreaties for dialogue, but no, all her mission proved was North Korea’s aversion to serious talks. While North Korea rants about its triumphs first over Japan and then over the U.S., South Korea should stick to its quest for dialogue.
Koreans need to be able to celebrate not only the end of Japanese rule but the beginning of enduring peace. Then at last they’ll be able to wipe out the artificial line, devised by the U.S. and Soviet Union, which split the peninsula before the Japanese had even gone home.
Donald Kirk has been covering war and peace in and around Korea for decades. He’s at kirkdon4343@gmail.com.
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