66 Years of Peace Efforts
Friday, July 27th, was the 66th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War Armistice at the 38th Parallel. As a result, I was invited to participate in a peace forum for the Korean Peninsula, and I was incredibly encouraged to see that there are other U.S. citizens who have a passion to end the Korean War!
The Korean War is the longest standing American War in history. Now is the time to advocate for peace not just on the Korean Peninsula but also for all of East Asia and the United States, itself. The forum brought together over a dozen organizations including Women Across the DMZ, Veterans for Peace, and the Rotary Club, to push forward in Congress the signing of a peace treaty between the two Koreas with the aims of moving forward to the Senate.
Christine Ahn from Women Across the DMZ, emphasized President Jimmy Carter’s declaration that ending the Korean War is “the only way to ensure true security for both Korean and American people.” She went on to explain the need for a peace agreement between the U.S. and North Korea. The main parties between the Korean War were North Korea, South Korea, and the United Nations. With the United States being the head of the United Nation’s involvement in the Korean War, South Korea cannot declare peace with the North on their own. It must be the United States that signs the peace treaty ending the conflict that has afflicted the Korean Peninsula for almost seven decades.
Within the U.N. command, fourteen out of sixteen countries that fought in the Korean War have already normalized relations with North Korea. Many of them have embassies in Pyongyang. Only France and the United States do not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, but even France has a liaison office in Pyongyang.
Of course, the main obstacle to the U.S. normalizing relations with North Korea is their nuclear weapons program. Unfortunately, North Korea will only give up their nuclear weapons program once they no longer feel threatened by the United States. Since the Korean War killed close to ten percent of the North Korean population at that time, the citizens of the DPRK have long been scarred by the Korean Conflict. Therefore, the best way to remove the threat on both sides is to establish peaceful and normal relations. Opposite to what the media might portray, as long as the U.S. and North Korea have engaged in dialogue, North Korea has largely honored its commitments. Their recent acceleration in their nuclear weapons program has primarily been due to the U.S. administration’s non-engagement policy and the increase in sanctions.
Thanks to women like Christine Ahn, Women Across the DMZ brought Nobel Peace prize winners and women from all around the world to march peaceably from Pyongyang to Seoul in 2015. A scarf of quilted material from both North Korea and South Korea was woven together by women on both sides of the DMZ as a symbol of peace. The quilted garment creates the letter “W” for the word “Women”. As Christine Ahn explains, wherever women are involved in peace efforts, those peace efforts are not only successful but also have long-term implications.
Although I am new to peace advocacy, I was honored to share about our humanitarian efforts in the DPRK that night. From over thirteen years of living in South Korea and over eleven years of living in North Korea, I was able to share about the cultural divide and challenges of reconciling the two countries. But as we have experienced through years of progress in Ignis Community, it is possible to see tangible changes in the country. From one little girl’s life, we witnessed the entire public health system and medical school curriculum transform in the DPRK. The North Korean health system went from not even acknowledging children with cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities in their nation to creating an entire medical specialty for the specialized treatment of children with cerebral palsy, autism, and other developmental disabilities. Eventually Ignis Community signed a contract with the Ministry of Public Health to provide rehabilitation centers in all ten Children’s Provincial hospitals throughout the nation. Through our patience and perseverance, children with developmental disabilities now have hope for a future in the DPRK.
But significant change such as this take years to accomplish. For us, it took a span of six years to move from “there are not children with cerebral palsy in our country” to establishing Pediatric Rehabilitation specialties within the DPRK. And it will take time for North Korea and the U.S. to normalize relations. But just the fact that Americans are fighting to end the Korean War for the benefit of all involved is a step in the right direction. I truly hope that one day soon all these efforts will prove successful and that long-lasting peace will be achieved on the Korean Peninsula.