Inyeop Lee is an assistant professor in politics and history at Spring Arbor University in Michigan and co-author of Politics in North and South Korea.
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The War That Never Ended
TWO-THIRDS OF A CENTURY after the Korean War, most Americans do not know what happened in that conflict or how it impacts the Korean Peninsula even today.
In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. The U.N. intervened, and in the three years that followed the U.S. Air Force dropped more tonnage of bombs on North Korea than were used in the entire Pacific theater during World War II, including more than 30,000 tons of napalm. The U.S. destroyed 80 percent of the North’s infrastructure and 50 percent of its cities. The capital city of Pyongyang was wiped off the map.
“Over a period of three years or so, we killed off—what—20 percent of the population,” said Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War. Historians believe that between 70 and 80 percent of the deaths were civilians.
Nearly 40,000 U.S. soldiers died and more than 100,000 were wounded in what has been a “forgotten war” in the United States. North Koreans, however, have never forgotten the war that resulted in millions of casualties in their country. For 65 years, they have lived under that war’s vivid memory and evolved into one of the most militarized states in the world.
The root causes of the problem
Technically, the Korean War never ended. The armistice treaty signed in 1953 reinstated the government of South Korea, suspended open hostilities, created the Demilitarized Zone, and allowed for the release of prisoners of war, but it was not a permanent peace treaty between nations. No peace treaty has ever been signed. “We have won an armistice on a single battleground—not peace in the world. We may not now relax our guard nor cease our quest,” said President Dwight Eisenhower.