Peter Popham: A forgotten war – and now, a discarded armistice

Share
Related Topics

For decades it was as chilling a symbol of the Cold War as the Berlin Wall: the DMZ, Korea's laughably mis-named "demilitarised zone", stretching 155 miles across the peninsula along the 38th parallel, prickly with landmines and tank traps, the buffer zone that kept the huge armies of the North and South apart.

It marks the point where the Korean War began and ended, and yesterday the ghosts of that conflict swarmed back as Pyongyang announced that it no longer accepted the armistice agreement that ended the war on 27 June 1953.

They call it "the Forgotten War" because it was overshadowed by the Second World War and the Vietnam War, but none of the tens of thousands of British soldiers who slogged through the bitter cold of the peninsula's winter ever forgot it. More than 1,000 British soldiers died in the first proxy war between the Soviet Union – and later China – and the West.

At the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union and the United States agreed to split Korea, Japan's former colonial possession, in two, along the 38th parallel.

Client regimes sprung up on both sides but neither regime accepted as permanent a division of the peninsula which was brutally artificial. Both made the unification of Korea their overriding political goal. The problem of course was that both sides wanted to impose their own system of government.

After years of violent border incidents, the war was tripped when tank regiments of the People's Republic poured south across the border on 25 June 1950. They came close to a clean sweep of the south before American forces finally halted them.

The Korean peninsula had been divided into a variety of independent states through the centuries, but it had never been sliced along the 38th parallel, a division which made no cultural, political or economic sense.

General Douglas Macarthur vowed to end the war with nuclear weapons, one reason why obtaining their own nuclear deterrent has been an obsession of the North's regime ever since.

After at least 600,000 soldiers had been killed and most of the peninsula's towns and cities destroyed, the war ended in a stalemate. The bitter hostility of the antagonists prevented them signing a peace deal – and now, even the half measure that silenced the guns has been tossed away.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: We are winning the fight against extreme poverty and hunger. It's time to up the ante

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron addresses No campagn supporters in Aberdeen  

Scottish independence: Cameron faces a choice between destroying his country or his party

Matthew Norman
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week