|Han Jong-woo, back row fifth from left, president of the Korean War Legacy Foundation, poses with Korean War veterans and their family members at the Central New York Chapter #105 in Syracuse after the foundation published its first history book about the war, in this June 2019 photo. / Courtesy of Han Jong-woo|
By Park Han-sol
An international call to bring an end to the Korean War and replace the Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty is reemerging through the voices of veterans amid the stalemate in U.S.-North Korea denuclearization talks and the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
The Korean War Legacy Foundation, a New York-based non-profit organization sponsored by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, said it will submit a petition to the United Nations signed by Korean War veterans from 22 combatant nations by July 27, 2021. That day marks the commemoration of the 68th anniversary of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 war.
"In almost 99.99 percent of the interviews that the foundation conducted with veterans, they all said they wanted to see the war they fought 70 years ago end before they die. Their average age is 89. It's their wish," Han Jong-woo, the founder and president of the foundation, told The Korea Times in a recent phone interview.
The foundation's plan to push the U.N. to help declare a formal end to the war that left millions dead and traumatized came long before the two Koreas' Panmunjeom Declaration. In a symbolic milestone, President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed the declaration in their summit held in 2018.
The late Korean War veteran and former chairman of the Center for Global Nonkilling, Glenn Paige, submitted a petition to the U.N. in 2015 when Ban Ki-moon served as secretary-general, urging the world body to form a standing committee to begin talks on ending the war, and work toward the signing of a peace treaty. Having received no response, Paige suggested to Han they work jointly to gather signatures from veterans worldwide to include their opinions.
As the U.N. was the principal agent in sending forces to fight in the Korean War and organizing the Armistice Agreement, Han believes the U.N. has a responsibility to put right what is wrong. "That was the spirit and the direction we adopted together with Glenn Paige," Han said.
A string of North Korean missile tests in 2017 temporarily halted these efforts. But President Moon Jae-in's recent calls for an end to the Korean War in his speeches at the U.N. General Assembly and the Korea Society event became a "reminder" for the foundation to revisit where it had left off.
After updating the contents of the petition and talking to the heads of other Korean War veterans associations, Han plans to gather signatures by reaching out to veterans through each local chapter as well as two important veterans' organizations ― the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The foundation also aims to seek international support from peace-seeking citizens online through change.org.
|Han Jong-woo, founder and president of the Korean War Legacy Foundation / Courtesy of Han Jong-woo|
"And that's why I think it's very important for us to mobilize pressure on any American administration about North Korean issues to bring actual changes," Han said.
He added that Pyongyang knows Washington is the "only power that can either kill them or save them" and that it wants to make a diplomatic breakthrough. But the near century-old confrontation and bitterly tragic experience of the war lingers and hinders this.
"It's North Korea's diplomacy to engage the U.S., not the other way around. The U.S. doesn't need to do it unless they feel threatened. North Korea really wants to be on good terms with the U.S."
In the petition, the foundation will call on the U.N. to come up with a measure that can be "a comprehensive approach for achieving peaceful inter-Korean relations, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, relaxation of regional tensions and strengthening of peace and security in Asia and worldwide." It will also urge for the creation of a relevant council committee and commission members of the academic community to assess the political, military and economic costs and benefits of Korean peace for all parties involved.
The foundation, which also works with history teachers in the U.S. and U.K. to develop curricula in order to help the younger generation learn about the Korean War, will hold its first virtual international conference of war veterans and history teachers from the 22 combatant nations, Dec. 12. The event is a platform to promote understanding of the historical legacy of the war also dubbed "the forgotten war." It will be sponsored by the veterans' affairs ministry.
Han stressed the need to look beyond the limits of ideology when approaching the matter of a peace treaty and possible reunification. "Ideology is important. Karl Marx said there is science in the factions, ideologies and so on. But when ideology kills your body, it is a poison. We have to break through this 75 years of fixed state of division. We need a new dimension to think about."