At last, a fitting tribute to a forgotten war
Known for his commentary on international relations and US politics, Rupert Cornwell also contributes obituaries and occasionally even a column for the sports pages. With The Independent since its launch in 1986, he was the paper's first Moscow correspondent - covering the collapse of the Soviet Union – during which time he won two British Press Awards. Previously a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and Reuters, he has also been a diplomatic correspondent, leader writer and columnist, and has served as Washington bureau editor. In 1983 he published God's Banker, about Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge.
Wednesday 26 July 1995
Korea was a cold war: not metaphorically of course, but literally: fought across icy mountains and wind-lashed valleys which belong on a different planet from Washington in July. That, however, is a minor quibble. My main question is, why did they wait so long?
True, the project has been in the works since 1988, when Congress approved a site on the Mall exactly across the Reflecting Pool from the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial. America being America, design squabbles and lawsuits have done nothing to speed matters along. But by the time President Bill Clinton and President Kim Young Sam of South Korea formally dedicate the Korea memorial tomorrow afternoon, it will be 42 years to the day since the United Nations and North Korea signed the Panmunjon armistice that brought hostilities to an end.
In a sense, the delay has been worth it. Hauntingly simple, despairingly stark, the Vietnam memorial conveys the tragedy of a futile and misbegotten war. In its own way, the Korean equivalent is no less of a masterpiece.
The centrepiece is a tableau of 19 infantrymen, cast in rough steel and a mite larger than life, trudging up a slope, wrapped in ponchos against the chill. The first sight of the gaunt, grey figures takes your breath away. For a second they seem alive, and the green grass of an American summer becomes the clinging mud of an Asian battlefield. The illusion vanishes but the deeper reality of war remains, and the stubborn, all too quickly forgotten bravery of the men who actually do the fighting.
And Korea, more than any other, is the forgotten war. Perhaps because it was so remote and so out of harmony with America's perceived golden age of the 1950s, or perhaps because the outcome was inconclusive - neither the triumph of the Gulf nor the humiliation of Vietnam - its place in our collective consciousness is tiny.
Babyboomers like me remember the odd strange place name like Pork Chop Hill. There are the antics of M*A*S*H, John Frankenheimer's stunning film The Manchurian Candidate and, for students of US presidential history, Harry Truman's sacking of General Douglas MacArthur in April 1951. But what else? Yet 54,246 American soldiers died there, almost as many as in the Vietnam war, which lasted four times as long.
In truth, of course, the Korean conflict never ended. Armistice has not turned into peace. As US airmen periodically discover, you still stray across the DMZ at risk to your life. Just a year ago, amid the panic over North Korea's nuclear programme, and as the Pyongyang government moved hundreds of thousands of troops close to the 38th parallel, newspapers here were publishing deadly serious war games of the Korean War of 1994, noting the similarities and differences of a North Korean strike now and the real invasion of the South, on 25 June 1950.
The Korean peninsula ranks on everyone's list of places where a war could go nuclear. Indeed, Washington keeps 35,000 men permanently in the South, a human tripwire to ensure that it doesn't.
Visit the memorial too, and you cannot help thinking of the differences with another war -- the one that is being fought right now in Bosnia. Mesmerised by the dictates of the zero-casualty war, Mr Clinton promises no more than airpower to repel the aggressor.
No such shilly-shallying 45 years ago, however. Within five days of the launch of the invasion, Truman had dispatched US ground troops (yes, ground troops) to Korea. In 1950 America assembled and led a UN coalition, which drove the North back and withstood a colossal Chinese counter-offensive, to stabilise the front lines astride the pre-invasion frontier. Korea was the crucible that forged America's resolve to contain Communism and never again to be caught off guard in Europe or Asia. From the Korean experience, Nato was honed, and US security guarantees born behind which every free Asian country has prospered. Now that the Cold War is over, security guarantees are superfluous and the Balkans are where Nato may yet come asunder. As for Bosnian memorials here, the most likely one, on current trends, is an additional exhibit at the last major monument to open here, a couple of years ago. The Holocaust museum.
- 1 President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
- 2 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 4 Sir Winston Churchill’s family begged him not to convert to Islam, letter reveals
President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
Exclusive: Abusers using spyware apps to monitor partners reaches 'epidemic proportions'
UK weather: Warning for more snow and ice as freezing temperatures and gales hit Britain
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations
AirAsia flight QZ8501 missing: Search for plane carrying 162 passengers from Indonesia to Singapore suspended overnight
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Millions of Britons struggling to feed themselves and facing malnourishment
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Nigel Farage: Ukip leader named 'Briton of the year' by The Times
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk
£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...
£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...
£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...