The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] “Freedom is not free.” Neither is peace or prosperity

By Kim Seong-kon

Published : June 26, 2018 - 17:29

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In June every year, we commemorate the anniversary of the Korean War. During the war that devastated the peninsula, South Korea received priceless assistance from foreign countries, both military and financial.

Today’s South Korea would not have existed had it not been for the valiant UN soldiers who came to rescue us in difficult times. The Korean War Veterans memorial in Washington displays the touching inscription, “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” Indeed, we should be grateful for those foreign soldiers who sacrificed themselves for the benefit of the people of an unknown country located in the Far East.

The memorial has another engraving, “Freedom is not free.” Indeed, South Korea’s freedom is heavily indebted to those foreign soldiers who shed blood for us in the 1950s. During the Korean War, 54,246 American soldiers and 628,833 UN soldiers were killed; 103,284 US soldiers and 1,064,453 UN soldiers were wounded; 7,140 US soldiers and 92,970 UN soldiers were captured; and 8,177 US soldiers and 470,267 UN soldiers were missing in action.

Unfortunately, however, many Koreans seem to have completely forgotten the invaluable help they received from foreign countries during and after the Korean War. Some pro-North Korea ingrates even blame the US for igniting the Korean War and the UN for hampering the unification of the Korean peninsula by intervening, both of which are far from the truth. If it had not been for the timely intervention of the US and the UN, South Korea would surely have become a province of North Korea by now. How, then, could some Koreans dare to disgrace the sacrifices of these honorable men and women by blaming them for obstructing the unification of the peninsula? Do these critics want Korea to be unified under the flag of the North?

South Korea’s prosperity and affluence, too, are greatly indebted to financial assistance from the US and the UN. By the time the Korean War ended in 1953 with the signing of the armistice, South Korea was one of the poorest countries on earth with only $65 income per capita. Fortunately, the US and the UN continued to help the war-ridden, destitute postwar Korean society. The US government established the International Cooperation Agency to provide South Korea with massive humanitarian assistance to help its reconstruction.

The Korea International Cooperation Agency says, “The scale of assistance was so huge that it had substantial impacts on Korean society in the 1950s. The US government provided $1.7 billion of foreign assistance through the ICA from 1953 to 1961.” The ICA managed the Korean people’s public welfare, health, rural enlightenment, housing, industry, and education. Whether they are pro-America or anti-America, the Korean people should at least remember what the US and the UN did for their country in difficult times. That is common sense and common courtesy.

In the 1950s, the future of South Korea looked so grim and bleak that Gen. Douglas MacArthur said with a sigh, “It will take at least 100 years to reconstruct this country.” Amazingly, however, it took only 68 years for South Korea not only to reconstruct the country but also to become a much-envied affluent country in the world. It is so obvious that without the astronomical amount of financial assistance from the US and the UN, South Korea would never have been able to accomplish such a spectacular economic success in such a short span of time.

In fact, Korea has never been affluent in its history, except for the period of 1960-2018. During this period, under the influence of America, South Korea imported capitalism, technology, and the free market economy. While South Korea was under rapid industrialization, its national security has been guaranteed by the American troops deployed on the peninsula. In that sense, South Korea was extremely lucky.

Now, many people are worried that Korea’s luck might be rapidly running out and that its heyday may be over soon. Experts point out that the South Korean economy will falter seriously soon, partly because of the government’s populist policies that require a lot of money and partly because of the astronomical costs to be paid to North Korea in order to maintain peace in the peninsula. The national security of South Korea, too, will almost definitely be jeopardized and precarious if and when US troops withdraw from the peninsula. Indeed, it is undeniable that without the US troops, South Korea will be vulnerable to its aggressive neighboring countries once again. Of course, that is a worst-case scenario and hopefully things may turn out differently.

We should seriously reflect upon what allowed Korea in such a short period of time to become one of the richest countries on earth from a destitute postwar society. Freedom is not free and neither is peace or prosperity. The people have to pay for it, sometimes with their blood, other times with their hearts.

Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and visiting professor at Kyunghee Cyber University. He can be reached at -– Ed.