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The current situation involving North Korea is a frightening reality. This tiny regime and its dictator are holding the United States and ultimately the whole world hostage with the threat of nuclear destruction. Just how did we get to this impasse? We need to look at the history behind it.
The tiny peninsula that is Korea had a long, proud and colorful history. I once heard an apt description of Korea as a small ripe plum hanging off mainland Asia, ready for picking. Japan, early in its quest for expansion, did just that in 1910 when they occupied Korea. This would last until 1945, when Japan was defeated in World War II.
In August 1945, Russia, a last-minute ally, came down and occupied the northern part of Korea, we entered from the south. From 1945 to 1948 Korea existed under a military government following an emergency meeting dividing the country at the 38th parallel. North Korea became the communist regime it is today. South Korea became a democracy. This division separated families, many of whom would never see their loved ones again.
In June 1950, North Korea invaded the south. The United Nations met and authorized a “peacekeeping force” made up of several member nations. The U.S. would represent 88 percent of this force. A compulsory draft was set up in our country.
China joined with the North Koreans in October 1950 and the ensuing fighting raged up and down the peninsula devastating the land and its people and killing so many of our citizens there to fight. An armistice was signed on July 27, 1953 ending the conflict, but not ending the problems. The DMZ was created, a demilitarized zone on either side of the 38th parallel.
All of this would greatly impact my own life and lead to my lifelong association with Korea. I dropped out of college and married my high school sweetheart in October 1950 as he faced the draft. In February 1958 shortly after losing our third baby at birth, we adopted a 4-week-old baby girl from Korea. Girl babies in Korea were dying from famine. Two more, a boy and a girl, joined us from Korea.
In 1963, we traveled to Korea and brought home two more little girls. It was 10 years after the war ended, but Seoul, which had been devastated, was still in a third world country. Destroyed buildings remained as well as bullet holes in the ancient city gates. The orphanage was overflowing.
In 1985, we returned to Korea. Seoul was thriving. No longer a third world country, they were preparing for the 1986 Olympics. My trip to the DMZ presented a frightening contrast. A row of uniformed North Koreans lined the balcony of the building across from us staring us down with binoculars.
We were led to a cliff overlooking North Korea and there viewed a bizarre sight — the unoccupied buildings of “Propaganda Village blaring ear splitting military music 24/7. But the most chilling experience came while our group gathered around the table with the boundary line painted down the middle. I thought, “This is where the disastrous decision was made.” I happened to look to my right. Standing at the window was a North Korean soldier with his gun at the ready, his unblinking eyes staring at us. I was looking at the eyes of a dedicated killer.
I do not have any answers to the current impasse with this tiny, isolated country, but I am sure on one thing. It will not be solved the escalating rhetoric of two schoolyard bullies hurling insults at each other.
Anita Martin-Harvey is a Sonora resident. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.