Tag Archives: Korean War

It’s ‘Secretary,’ not ‘General’ Mattis, Mr. President

I’ve made this point already, but I feel the need to restate it.

Donald J. Trump once again referred to the secretary of defense as “Gen. Mattis.” Yes, James “Mad Dog” Mattis — one of my favorite Trump Cabinet appointees — is a retired Marine Corps general. He’s got four stars on his epaulets.

But that was then. Today, the here and now, Mad Dog Mattis is a civilian, just like the president is a civilian.

Trump’s reference to “Gen. Mattis” came as he was announcing his decision to sh**can the planned June 12 summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The president, naturally, followed that reference with a statement that the U.S. military is the strongest in the world and that it is ready to act if the need arises.

Oh, brother, man!

Mr. President, we assign these Cabinet posts to civilians. It’s a time-honored tradition that civilians control the military. President Truman had to remind Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur of that fact when he relieved him of his Korean War command in the early 1950s.

I know it’s a semantics issue. It just bothers the daylights out of me that the commander in chief cannot honor the long-standing tradition of the office with a simple reference to the defense boss as “Secretary” James Mattis.

Get with the program, Mr. President.

What happened to those sweet nothings?

All that sweet talk Donald J. Trump has been heaping on Kim Jong Un of late seems to have gone into one ear and out the other.

The North Korean dictator seems to be putting the planned Trump-Kim summit in some jeopardy because he’s angry over the planned joint military exercises that will take place with South Korean and American troops.

Kim thinks the military maneuvers are meant to prepare for an invasion of North Korea, or so he says. Thus, the summit might not happen if Kim decides to pull the plug on it.

What is happening here?

U.S. and South Korean troops have been practicing for years since the ceasefire ended shooting during the Korean War. We haven’t invaded the North yet. The exercises are meant to prepare the South for a possible invasion from the North; I mean, the North did invade the South in 1950, which caused the Korean War. Kim Jong Un’s grandfather started the fight.

The president of the United States was yammering about “little Rocket Man,” and bragging about the size of his “nuclear button.” He was taunting Kim to try anything at all to provoke a response that would deliver “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen.”

Donald Trump changed secretaries of state. The new guy at State, Mike Pompeo, went to North Korea in secret and then the nations announced the summit between Trump and Kim.

Suddenly, Kim has become a paragon of virtue in Trump’s mind. He released those three Americans he held captive. Trump hailed Kim Jong Un as a fine man, a wonderful fellow.

Now we have Kim threatening to upset everything all over again.

Don’t tell me the North Korean despot responses positively only to epithets. That cannot possibly be true, can it?

My hope is that Trump holds his fire. If he’s able.

Wishing for success creates emotional conflict

I have made no secret of my loathing, disgust and anger at Donald J. Trump’s election to the presidency of the United States.

I won’t back down from any of those feelings.

That all said, I am torn at this moment. The president is on the verge of scoring a major success that if it comes through will benefit the entire planet, not just the country he leads.

North and South Korea might be on the verge of forging a peace agreement that ends officially the Korean War. Moreover, they might be willing to “de-nuclearize” the Korean Peninsula, which of course means that North Korea could abandon its plans to build a nuclear arsenal.

The Korean War ended in 1953 with a ceasefire. They never signed a peace treaty, which means the Koreas remain in a state of war.

The president is likely to take credit bigly for whatever good comes from a peace treaty and a possible disarming of North Korea.

He’ll deserve credit. All of it? I’ll wait for that one.

I fear that Trump will boast and brag his way past any good feelings that would result. Believe me, his critics — such as yours truly — will be hard-pressed to speak kindly of the president, which means it will take little for us to walk back the good thoughts and public pronouncements that will come his way.

However, when the president succeeds, the nation succeeds. We all should be bigger than our personal dislike, distaste and disgust that Donald Trump is at the center of it.

I’ll hope for the best on the Korean Peninsula.

Why cast aspersions on predecessors?

International statecraft is a nuanced endeavor, but it’s not an entirely complicated matter.

The best practitioners of it look forward and don’t bother looking back, let alone tossing stones at those who came before them in the high office they occupy.

Thus, Donald Trump’s statements today about the pending peace agreement between South and North Korea lacked a sense of nobility one might expect from the president of the United States.

Trump spoke to the media along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He spoke seriously about the handshake and the historic meeting that occurred overnight between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in. The two men have agreed to strike a peace deal on the Korean Peninsula, ending the official state of war that has existed since the Korean War hostilities ended in 1953.

Then he did that thing that annoys the living daylights out of me. He kept referring to his presidential predecessors’ “mistakes” in dealing with the reclusive North Korean regime.

Holy crap, Mr. President! Enough, already!

I expect fully for Trump take full credit for the deal that awaits the two Koreas. That’s fine. He can take credit if he wishes. But the expected deal came together through a complicated network of international relationships.

I just want the president to look forward from here. Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in have taken a huge step toward a long-sought-after peace agreement. It was forged by the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men — roughly 50,000 of whom were Americans — who fought a war that ended in a stalemate.

There is no need — none at all — for the president to re-litigate how his predecessors sought in vain to achieve the noble goal of peace in Korea.

Peace treaty in Korea? Holy cow!

I awoke this morning to an absolute stunner of an announcement.

Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in — the presidents of North and South Korea, respectively — have agreed to actually end the Korean War.

End the war? Yes. The Korean War never officially ended with a peace treaty. They stopped the shooting in 1953 after an armistice was signed, ending three years of bloody conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

The Koreas has been functioning with a cease-fire in place. The Demilitarized Zone separating the countries is nothing of the kind: it is the most militarized piece of real estate on Earth.

So, where do we go from here?

Kim and Moon signed an agreement to end the war. The treaty signing will occur later this year, according to the document the men signed.

But there’s more. There now appears some serious movement toward discussions relating to the denuclearization of the peninsula. That’s right. Kim Jong Un has agreed, apparently, to enter serious talks to take down his country’s nuclear ambitions.

Now for a big question: Who gets the credit for this seemingly monumental event? I have a strong hunch that the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, is going to claim all the credit for himself. He is likely to tell us his tough talk regarding “Little Rocket Man” has brought Kim to his senses.

Well, the president deserves some credit. He needs to share it with the People’s Republic of China, which quite likely also has persuaded Kim to end this ongoing conflict. North Korea has precisely one dependable ally on Earth. It is the PRC. Does anyone believe that Kim would do anything so significant without China signing off?

I am stunned today to hear the news that came out of Korea.

Let us all say a prayer that Kim Jong Un — who is as mercurial and unpredictable as Donald Trump — remains faithful to the signature he has affixed on a document pledging to end the Korean War.

Sixty-five years after the end of the bloodshed, it’s about time!

Vets are bound together by common experience

I heard an interesting analysis on National Public Radio about the dysfunction that has troubled the U.S. Congress in recent years.

It is that so few members of Congress — House members and senators — are veterans. The analyst noted that today, about 20 percent of congressmen and women are veterans; that total used to be around 70 percent.

Do you see where this is going?

We’re about to celebrate Veterans Day and I thought that observation was worth noting as a way to suggest that military service has contributed to a better-functioning Congress than what we have today.

I think of the World War II veterans who came home from completing their mission to save the world from tyranny. They went about rebuilding their lives. Some of them chose careers in public service. The ran for the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. They won and were thrown together on Capitol Hill.

They forged partnerships and friendships. They had a common bond. Their friendship crossed the partisan divide. Democrats and Republicans all had been to battle. They all had fought a common enemy.

Congressional lore is full of legendary friendships that bridged that partisan divide: Republican Bob Dole and Democrat Daniel Inouye; Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy; Republican Barry Goldwater and Democrat George McGovern. These men were political opponents, but they each respected each other. They had earned their mutual respect because of their service in defense of the nation they all loved.

The Vietnam War produced a similar bond among brothers. Republican John McCain and Democrat John Kerry became good friends during their time in the U.S. Senate. They worked together to craft a normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam. Republican Chuck Hagel returned from ‘Nam to serve in the Senate, along with Democrat Bob Kerrey.

The Vietnam War generation, along with the World War II and the Korean War generation, contributed mightily to a government that actually worked.

That kind of camaraderie appears to be missing today. Yes, Congress is sprinkled with vets coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. They, too, belong to both major political parties. I don’t sense that they have yet made their mark on the larger governing body. Perhaps it will come in due course.

The veterans who have served first in the military and then in both chambers of Congress have done demonstrated the value of common experience. It translates into political comity and collegiality … a lot more of which we can use today.

Vietnam vets still tend to talk about ‘their’ war

One of the traits one often hears about World War II veterans is that they don’t talk much about their combat experience.

They answered the call after Pearl Harbor; they shipped out to the Pacific Theater or to Europe and went about joining other Allied forces in defeating the forces of tyranny.

They came home after that great conflict, shed their uniforms and cobbled their lives together. They moved on.

The Korean War came a few years later. That one didn’t end with an all-out victory and unconditional surrender of our enemy. Indeed, Korea is still in a “state of war”; they only signed a cease-fire. Korean War veterans became part of what’s been called “the forgotten war.” They aren’t known either to talk much about their years in hell.

Then came Vietnam. The Vietnam War ended in a stinging political “defeat” for the United States. It still hurts. Those who feel the pain the most likely are those who served there. Roughly 3 million Americans suited up for that war. I was among them. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Vietnam veterans are more likely to talk about their experiences than those who remain from World War II or Korea. It must be a generational thing. It also must be a bit of a hangover of sorts from the crappy treatment many of those young Americans got when they returned home.

Thankfully, that treatment is receding farther into our national memory. Americans woke up to the reality that the young men who participated in that war did so solely out of duty. They were ordered to go. They went. They did their job. They came back.

Perhaps their willingness to talk about it is a function of their search for affirmation that they weren’t the villains that many of their countrymen and women perceived them to be in real time as they were coming home.

I have no particular need to discuss my service during the Vietnam War. My contribution to that effort was so insignificant, I don’t have the need that many Vietnam vets have — even as we all have advanced into “senior citizenhood.”

In one week, PBS is going to premiere the broadcast of a truly landmark television event. “The Vietnam War” will run over 10 days, covering 18 hours of what I am certain will be a riveting documentary on the nation’s most divisive and emotionally crippling conflict.

One of the outcomes of this documentary, assembled by the great documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, should be to spark more national conversation about Vietnam, the war, its aftermath and how we have made the journey from back then to the present day.

***

The first five episodes will air nightly on Panhandle PBS from Sunday, Sept. 17, through Thursday, Sept. 21, and the final five episodes will air nightly from Sunday, Sept. 24, through Thursday, Sept. 28. Each episode will premiere at 7 p.m. with a repeat broadcast immediately following the premiere.

Trump’s now going after South Koreans? What … ?

I must have missed something.

South Korea has been arguably our staunchest ally in East Asia since, oh, the Korean War of 1950-53. We fought side by side with the South Koreans against North Korea and later, the People’s Republic of China.

Now the North has nuclear bombs. It is threatening to use them against South Korea. The United States is supposed to stand ready to defend the South against the North.

So, why is Donald J. Trump browbeating South Korea into doing more to deter North Korea from threatening to toss the rest of the world into a nuclear war?

South Korean leaders say they want to “talk” with their neighbors in the North. The U.S. president is having none of it. He has taken to Twitter to suggest that South Korea is run by a government of “appeasers.”

Appeasers? Are you kidding me?

No country on Earth is feeling more nervous about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s crazy threats than South Korea. That’s not good enough for Trump, who’s also now threatening to terminate a U.S.-South Korea trade agreement.

Uh, Mr. President, these guys are on our side. They’ve got more to lose in a military confrontation with North Korea than anyone.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in got elected this year promising to “talk” to North Korea. He fired back at Trump, saying that South Korea “cannot tolerate another catastrophic war on this peninsula.”

Do you think?

Why in the world cannot the president of the United States treat the South Koreans like the valuable ally they’ve been — and need to continue to be as we try to work our way through this crisis with the North?

Talk of “appeasers” and threats to cut off trade won’t do the job.

What does Kim Jong Un want? Part 3

Kim Jong Un has a list of demands he is laying at the feet of the U.S. president.

Most of them seem to present intractable circumstances for Donald J. Trump to ponder.

Such as this one: Removal of all U.S. troops from South Korea.

It’s not going to happen, Mr. North Korean Dictator. It won’t happen at least until North and South Korea sign a peace treaty that comes with ironclad assurances that North Korea won’t ever — ever! — attack South Korea. The agreement also needs to include a denuclearization component, meaning that Kim needs to dismantle and abandon his ambitions to become a nuclear power.

Our troops commitment to South Korea was purchased with lots of blood. The Korean War’s hostilities ended in 1953 after more than 50,000 American personnel were killed in action. We came to South Korea’s defense after North Korea invaded its neighbors three years earlier. Indeed, Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, sent the troops south. So, that means the current North Korean dictator bears a bit of personal responsibility for what transpired, given that he is kin to the man who launched the aggression in the first place.

The ceasefire that both sides signed in 1953 included a commitment from the United States to defend South Korea against the North, given that the two Koreas are technically still in a state of war; no peace treaty means they cannot put their guards down.

There are roughly 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea. That’s just part of the defense network. We have heavily armed naval vessels throughout the region and immense air power assets in places such as Guam and Japan — not to mention in South Korea.

Should we give all that up without a serious commitment to peace from North Korea?

The boy with the bad haircut — that would be Kim — surely knows we cannot do anything of the sort.

What does Kim Jong Un want?

USA Today has peeled away five key demands that North Korean dictator/goofball Kim Jong Un is making on the United States and the rest of the world.

I want to examine them briefly over the course of the next couple of days. I’ll do so one at a time in this blog.

Here is one demand: A peace treaty that ends the Korean War.

The carnage ended in 1953 after three bloody years on the Korean Peninsula. Kim Il Sung, the current dictator’s grandfather, decided to “unify” the peninsula by invading South Korea in 1950. The United Nations responded with a substantial military force dominated by — who else? — American troops.

The U.N. force pushed the North Koreans back across the 38th Parallel and got to China’s doorstep in the north. That’s when the People’s Republic of China intervened. The PRC deployed hundreds of thousands of troops against the U.N.

All told, nearly  50,000 Americans died in that struggle.

They signed a ceasefire. But no peace treaty. As a result, South and North Korea remain to this very day technically “at war.”

What does a peace treaty mean? Does it mean a unified Korea? Or might it put in place a permanent divide between the sovereign nations?

The PRC won’t tolerate a unified Korea under the guidance of a democratic Republic of (South) Korea. The Chinese will insist on having a fellow communist state along its border. And you can bet that there’s no way in the world that the United Nations, let alone the United States, is going to agree to a communist dictatorship governing the entire peninsula.

Remember, the North Koreans started the fight in 1950. Does anyone believe the U.N. is going to allow them to be rewarded by giving them the entire land mass?

I suppose the only solution is to keep the two Koreas separate, with the commies running the northern portion and the democrats running the southern area.

But who in the world can trust the North Koreans to remain faithful to a peace treaty after we take down the massive armaments on both sides of the so-called “demilitarized zone”?

A peace treaty, thus, remains a major impediment to resolving this serious crisis.