WHERE JONG-NAM ROAMED

More than a mil­lion died; will more share the same fate?

New Straits Times - - Viewpoint - david­christy@nst.com.my The writer has been with NST for 20 years, and pos­sesses a keen in­ter­est in history

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.)

Pix by DCxt

Sym­bol of the times.

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