Of course, there is no war, but some people seem hell-bent on convincing everyone that the Americans and South Koreans are fighting the North Koreans and maybe the Chinese. Unless you've been following the discussion, which virtually no one here has been doing, aside from diplomats and think-tankers and activists, you wouldn't know or care. Often, talking to ordinary folk out of "the loop," you have to explain, "Yes, we were waging war in Korea seven decades ago," and, "No, we don't want to have to fight another war there."
That should end the conversation, other than maybe for a few questions from people who've seen the headlines about this crazy man in North Korea who persists in making big statements and showing off his toys, which happen to be nukes and missiles. Among most people, there's no real concern that he's going to fire anything or nuke anyone. Other issues make the headlines, led by President Joe Biden's battle to get a divided Congress to legislate his multi-trillion-dollar "Build Back Better" infrastructure and the struggle to convince anti-vaxxers of the need to get the jab.
The death of Colin Powell, a Vietnam War veteran, former chairman of the joint chiefs of the U.S. armed forces, former defense secretary and former secretary of state, was a reminder of his level-headed view of Korea. South Korea had had only "limited success" in reaching out to North Korea, he said in a visit to Seoul in 2008. "You have to be firm with the North Koreans."
That advice, if repeated today at either the Pentagon or State Department, would undoubtedly not be welcomed by South Korean leaders, as they beseech the Americans to look for the magic password for drawing the North into dialogue and above all, to agree to a statement saying the war is over. "What war?" and "Why repeat the obvious?" would be the response from the vast majority to whom the discussion is massively irrelevant.
Powell himself came close to asking the same question last year at a conference in Seoul, marking seven decades since the opening months of the Korean War. On a link from the U.S., he said that China would not stand for North Korea waging another Korean War, and he wasn't concerned about North Korean missile tests. Mercilessly, he berated Donald Trump, hot on the campaign trail for reelection as president, for demanding South Korea to pay far more than seemed reasonable for having 28,500 U.S. troops on major bases in-country, and he praised the South for "what it's done for its own people."
Against his background as a military leader and diplomat, Powell was all in favor of dialog, but not at the expense of concessions. His service as a battalion commander in Korea in the 1970s is almost overlooked, in between his early days as an officer in Vietnam and his final posts at the Pentagon and State Department.
If Powell's record is any guide, he would have encouraged dialogue while sticking to demands for North Korea to show definite signs of giving up its nukes and missiles. To him, "listening to the other guy," did not mean bowing to intimidation.
Powell came to regret his speech at the U.N. in 2003, setting forth the phony rationale for invading Iraq for having weapons of mass destruction. Iraq under Saddam Hussein may not have had WMD as Richard Cheney, then defense secretary, claimed, but North Korea is a different story. Kim Jong-un boasts of his nuke capabilities and missiles, including during this week in an exhibition in Pyongyang.
Ignoring American entreaties for dialogue, the North Koreans are betting that the South Koreans will urge the U.S. to compromise on its principles. Powell, as a soldier/diplomat, would have stood up against pressures from the South as well as the North.If South Korea's President Moon Jae-in wants to sign a declaration declaring the Korean War is over, fine, but the Americans don't have to be a signatory to such a meaningless document.
Donald Kirk (www.donaldkirk.com) has been covering the Korean standoff for decades.