Monday, May 29, 2006

Thank you.

My primary association with the US military is here in Korea, where the country's ties with the US military relationship are a constant reminder, particularly for those of us who live and/or work in central Seoul's Yongsan-gu. One of my biological grandfathers was a career soldier, having voluntarily enlisted during World War II, but I never met him and he was almost completely out of the lives of his children, so I know little about what he did. Other relatives, uncles and cousins, have been or are in the US military, serving in places as far apart as Korea, Japan, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany, Italy, and South Dakota.

From very young I have been aware of how the US military intervention in Korea has changed the course of Korea's destiny. Books like "The Korean War" by British journalist Max Hastings (coincidentally, mentioned by The Marmot recently) elaborated on and underscored the sacrifices made by the Americans, Brits, and others. That book is a well-needed antidote to counter the Pyongyang-sympathetic tripe produced by "historians" such as Bruce Cumings.

I always thought that even if one disagreed with some of the ways in which the US military was used, Korea was one place where the post-World War II efforts of the US military bore fruit: while Korea under Rhee was no bastion of freedom, the ROK was preserved so that it could later flourish, first economically, and then democratically. Koreans of today owe their comfortable existence, at least in part, to the tens of thousands of American soldiers and others who died fighting for this land they probably had never heard of before June 25, 1950.

To them, I say "Thank you."

Memorial Day is a day on which we honor their sacrifices, but it shouldn't be the only day. I have tried to show my appreciation in other ways. I have volunteered or worked at several USFK-associated organizations as a way of doing my part. I have made no secret of my belief that a US military presence on the Korean Peninsula is crucial for maintaining peace, stability, and prosperity in the region, which is good not only for America's allies in Northeast Asia, but for American values (as well as its valued commerce).

In that sense, my "help" is something I see as putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak. Perhaps some day I will do more. A few years from now, perhaps I will be in uniform working in one of the branches of the armed forces in the medical field. It is an idea that I've toyed with, but in the back of my mind, I really wonder if I'm brave enough even to play that kind of military role in which I'm not likely to be shot at.

At any rate, I have always admired those who have served. I have nothing but respect for what Tom Brokaw calls "The Greatest Generation." I feel tremendous gratitude to those who served in Korea and elsewhere during the Cold War, holding back a threat that was real (and which we are still paying for).

Yes, there have been mistakes and missteps made by Americans and their allies, some of them serious, but I believe the world would be a much darker place without those we honor on Memorial Day.

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