Korea, the war that never ended, might be starting up again: some useful source material

Update 19 August 2017: Michael Leunig on being ‘joined at the hip’ in ANZUS (‘Australia and New Zealand’s Unquestioning Subservience’)

As one who was almost jailed under the ANZUS treaty for resisting a notice of military conscription in the Vietnam war era, I got to see (close up and personal) the deeply ingrained effect of countless generations of militarism in my culture – particularly on male culture: the bullying and intimidation, the accusations of cowardice, the word “traitor” …

The sedimentary layers of threat and enforced military brutality over the centuries has left men in a sorry state that they think is natural. The bloody,  menacing words, the fearful explosions and drums of war, the stern uniforms and displays of military might still resonate somewhere in the male soul. If it has not been thrust upon them, it has crept into them by osmosis. It’s in their bones.

On whether Australia is obliged to go back to Korea, see this from the Lowy Institute.

Update 18 August 2017: Melbourne conference on Australia and joining American wars

Pressures from a golf-course in Bedminster, New Jersey, and a palace in Pyongyang, North Korea, may converge this week in something very nasty. Two distinctly odd national leaders may contrive to restart a conflict which had stopped at 10 am on 27 July 1953, the Korean War.

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The Korean War killed around 1.2 million uniformed personnel from both sides. Civilian killed and wounded were perhaps 2.5 million. The Wikipedia story is well-sourced from standard references.

The Korean War Armistice document is wordy and legalistic, as one would expect. Here’s a summary of what’s in it, with the key point being that the war never actually ended: the Armistice document referred to ‘the objective of establishing an armistice which will insure a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieved’.

There were shades of difference between Australian government responses to the current situation. Foreign Minister Bishop was cautious. Prime Minister Turnbull talked about the American Alliance as bedrock, ANZUS, and the allies being ‘joined at the hip‘. (More.) Defence Industry Minister Pyne stressed the need for diplomacy to avoid war.

The ANZUS Treaty itself refers to consultation, attitudes to armed attacks and action thereafter being subject to the ‘constitutional processes’ of the parties (Articles IV and V). Article I of the Treaty looks a bit forlorn in its references to the peaceful resolution of disputes and refraining from force.

Some Australians old enough to remember the war were horrified that it might recommence and puzzled at Australia’s apparent willingness to fall in with the United States should American territory be attacked. Gough Whitlam’s former speechwriter, Graham Freudenberg, described the prime minister’s response as ‘contemptible’ and said Trump and Kim were playing with the lives of millions. Former senior diplomat and Honest History distinguished supporter, Richard Butler, took a similar approach.

Honest History vice president, Alison Broinowski, said the world was within a brain-snap of nuclear destruction’ and Australia lacked proper, parliamentary processes for dealing with the crisis. ‘If there was ever a moment when rational, multi-party debate of commitment to war was urgently needed, this is it’, Broinowski said. (Jeff Sparrow in Guardian Australia asks, if we have to vote on marriage, why can’t we vote on war.) Other useful commentary came from another former senior diplomat, Dennis Argall, from senior journalist, Michelle Grattan, and commentators, Tony Walker, James O’Neill, and Ramesh Thakur.

One gets the impression, regardless of the provisions of ANZUS, that Australia’s attitude to possible involvement in Korea 3.0 – that number allows for 64 years of tension since 1953 to be designated as 2.0 – is built on decades of mutual dependence, dependence though of the sort that exists between the remora or suckerfish and its shark host – an inherently unequal relationship and one that is ultimately demeaning for the fish with the suction cap on its head, even if it gets protection in return. Not quite ‘joined at the hip’ but close enough.

tumblr_inline_n7gye05IDT1srioobRemora and shark (Tumblr)

Marshall Green, American Ambassador to Australia during the Whitlam era, memorably says in Marian Wilkinson’s film Allies (1983) that President Johnson thought of Australia as the next rectangular state west of El Paso – which is as good a statement of unequal mutual dependence as we have seen. That view may still prevail in Washington – and in Pyongyang for that matter. Meanwhile, the Australian memorial to service in the Korean War is in Anzac Parade, Canberra. Perhaps it will need an extra plaque dated 2017. Next stop Guam?

(For earlier material on the Honest History site on ‘Korea’ just use our Search function.)

David Stephens

(The author is old enough to remember chanting ‘We won the war in 1954‘, which may or may not have been an inaccurate reference to Korea.)

15 August 2017


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