Sunday, August 15, 2010

Still Waiting for the Korean War Armistice

August 15th is  National Liberation Day and the Feast of the Assumption for Korean Catholics; two good reasons to rejoice. A columnist in the Catholic Times recalls her harrowing experience at the age of 11 during the Korean War. This  experience, part of the life of older Koreans, is still a nightmare for many.

The media covered the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War in June, and our columnist said it reopened many of her old wounds with the pain that she felt at that time. When the family heard that the Communists were about to enter the city, her father--a former mayor of the city--and her brother, decided it would be prudent to leave the house. A few days later the communists took control of  their house, and, with red banners fluttering from the front gate, made it the court house of the city. The grandparents, mother and three girls were forced to live in one room.

The communists confiscated the furniture and all their rice; the columnist remembers using her wits to salvage some of the rice that the communists had washed and left lying about. They were also threatened with a knife if they refused to tell them where the father had gone. They continually bombarded the grandparents with all kinds of abuse. It was, she remembers, a hellish time.

The father was finally apprehended and with a number of others was brought into the city and shot. The grandparents left the house on that very day to be with relatives; when they heard the news of his death, they went in search of the body to bury it properly.

After the city was recaptured  from the communists, city leaders formed a security committee to search out the communists and to be in charge of restoring order. The brother of the columnist was a committe member. The mother pleaded with him not to seek revenge on those who assisted the communists. No one, said the mother, should be considered an unfaithful citizen solely on what had been said during that difficult time. If only one person spoke against you, then you would not be able to get recognized as a law abiding citizen and you would not be able to travel freely.

Four years later the mother died, and the writer, now orphaned, spent her time reading to deal with the emptiness she felt. She went to many different Churches, and, after graduating from college, finally entered the Catholic Church and was baptized with the name of Sylvia.

She is now in her 70s and has seen the ups and downs of life. In recent months, with the sinking of the Chonam and the various responses, she feels that matters have become worse. She prays that we do not seek revenge.

What happened after the Korean war with the vigilantes and those who  assisted the communists  is still a wound that has not healed for many, as it has not for our columnist.  When the fighting ends, life just doesn't go back to normal; the scars remain. Is it  best to forget and trust in the good will of the other?  Or do you gain more by being unbending to gain peace--the unconditional approach which has worked in the past? Fortunately for the younger Koreans, there is no need to forget and to ask these questions. They belong, unfortunately, to the older generation who lived through the nightmare.


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