WHERE JONG-NAM ROAMED
More than a million died; will more share the same fate?
THE final page of the Korean anguish was written 64 years ago, or so the people had thought. The shadows of sorrow and the wraiths that rose from battle won and lost were evicted from the land, or so they had hoped.
But so it is like all wars; wounds are mended, yet a deeper injury lies amidst the roots and sends its venom into the veins of all who live, and await with a chalice full of malice for all who are yet to come.
To Malaysia does its nasty tentacles reach now, as Jong-il and his regime seek to achieve an ambition beyond the comprehension of reasonable men and women. A murder has taken place in our land, our people are in his hands. Are they but mere pawns in the great chessboard which is the Korean tale?
Perhaps. But here is a part of the game which fortune allowed me to observe as I wandered in the broken Korean peninsula; from Seoul to the Demilitarised Zone and to Busan. Well it was that this game permitted me to see the glory of the South, the mystery of the North, and the poverty of the heart.
The visions were particularly vivid in a corner of the ancient city of Busan, where emotions rush from the earth like the eager waters of a fountain, and fall into the hearts of the living like the nourishing dew of heaven.
It is a place of war and peace, of past and future, of journey’s end and journey’s beginning.
The moment I stepped into this expanse, my heart wept. The moment I saw the words, that “every soldier has a mother”, I cried.
It was inevitable. I have been to many war memorials, far too many, and always, sorrow would cling to me, the way hurt attends to a wound.
I quickly wiped away the tears before rising to leave the Memorial Service Hall with fellow visitors. The stained glass, the long benches and the sombre floor fell silent once more as the last of us shuffled out.
Just outside the door, an elderly Korean man, face mottled, eyes bright and arms firmly by his side, bowed his head low. I bowed to him as best as my stiffness allowed, and he smiled and said, “Thank you for coming”.
The wind was at rest this spring day in this southeastern city. The mid-afternoon air was cool and crisp, and the beautiful blossoms and scents of the season eased the weariness of the heart. A large black bird was perched on one of the flagpoles nearby, and I thought it was watching us, and listening, too.
Two-thousand and three-hundred soldiers are interred here, the first and only UN war cemetery in the world. But altogether, more than 50,000 had died.
From 17 nations they came to fight a war away from the soil of their soul, and here they remain asleep, their mortal remains bonded to the bed where they fell.
The Korean War erupted in 1950 when the forces of Communist leader Kim Il-sung swept across the peninsula. Tales of the great battles are known well enough, from Seoul to Osan, and from Inchon to Imjin River; and on every gravestone that I looked at, reflections of pain endured and ended are vivid.
I was in a corner of the park all by myself, the world around me as still as my mind. Suddenly, the call of the bugle sailed across the air like the cry of a gull. It must be the flag-raising ceremony at the raised central square. I walked quickly to it.
Several people had just placed a wreath and were already moving away. But two guards in immaculate uniforms remained, staring straight ahead, pupils unmoving. I looked up and I saw a bird on a flagpole. Was it the same one?
Jinny, a Korean friend and guide, stood close by. She reminded me of her story, told a few hours earlier in our bus. She whispered, “It is a beautiful and sad place”. I can only nod.
Her father and two uncles were near the southwestern city of Gansun when it was overran by North Korean soldiers. They were barely in their teens. But their parents were terrified that they would be taken by the enemy.
So the boys, and many like them, were sent to the surrounding hills and mountains, where stone and tree provided refuge from the claws of death.
But death had already mercilessly ravaged the people. When the armistice descended on the wounded peninsula on July 27, 1953, more than one million lives from the North, South and everywhere else, had been lost.
Then, as it is now, what was the worth of a million lives to the usurpers of peace? Their motivations are not to be examined in this space for I do not have tears enough to bear this burden.
But the immense suffering of the Korean people, and the sacrifices of those who came to their aid, must surely have a space in our hearts.
Especially in these times, when a new page of the Korean struggle involves us.
(A version of this story by the writer was first published in the last Korean spring.)
Symbol of the times.