Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

26 July 2013

Sixty years. That’s how long since the guns fell silent on the Peninsula at the end of the Korean War.

This Saturday marks the anniversary of the signing of the armistice between North and South Korea. But instead of being a moment that symbolised a lasting peace or an opportunity for a people to be reunited by a common purpose, instead, it symbolised division.

That day on 27 July 1953 was the moment that a dagger was wedged between the Korean people along the 38th parallel. Families and friends separated by war were permanently thrown to either side of the world’s most heavily militarised strip of land.

Despite the armistice, many Koreans – especially those from the South – were bitterly angry that their country was divided into two.

My father was just five years old when the war started and like millions of other fleeing refugees he escaped towards Busan in the country's far south, before finally US troops became involved. Luckily my father’s uncle had a house there so they had things much easier than others. There was a similar story on my mother’s side of the family. My grandparents had lived in Pyongyang in now-North Korea before the outset of war but once Communist forces moved south, they took that as their cue to escape. They spent most of the next three years behind US and UN lines. They were lucky.

But millions of other families were stranded alongside Communist forces, unable to make their way south. Sixty years later, the majority of those same families still remain in the North – struggling to survive.

So on this 60th anniversary, it’s particularly reflective to look at that peninsula between the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan still separated and still divided.

Many call it the forgotten war and it seems that for many younger Koreans the conflict is all but a distant thought. Like myself, they have never known a united Korea, so why should unification be a concern?

The South has prospered. Seoul is one of the world’s most gleaming capitals and the engines of commerce have made it an economic powerhouse.

Unfortunately for the North, things remain almost just as they were back in 1953. Much of the country continues to live in dire poverty, struggling to survive. All under a dictator who brutally oppresses his own people.

So, on this anniversary, let’s spare a thought for those separated families and friends and especially for those still trapped in the North. Because even though it’s been 60 years, it doesn't look like that dagger will be gone any time soon.

Phil Han is a producer for Monocle 24.

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