The Armistice Holds Up: An Open Letter to Kim Jong Un

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At the Yalta conference in 1945 it was decided that Russia would accept the Japanese surrender north of the 38 parallel in Korea and U.S. would accept it the south. The 38 parallel was an administrative convenience suggested by Col. Dean Rush. Stalin thought the country would emerge whole from the trusteeship within five years.

On 18 Nov., 1952 President-elect Eisenhower met with President Truman and his advisors regarding Ike’s forthcoming trip to Korea. Secretary of State Dean Acheson found Eisenhower ‘wary, withdrawn and taciturn to the point of surliness.’ Truman worried what would happen if Ike didn’t come back.

Eisenhower spent three days bundled up in the cold talking to troops and field commanders and observing an artillery duel. He never allowed Gen. Mark Clark, Commander of U.N. forces to present his plan for an offensive across the 38th parallel. The North Koreans were forced back to the armistice negotiations by Eisenhower’s stated option of the atomic bomb and his bringing of A-bombs to Guam, though not to the loading pits on Okinawa. The North Koreans never forgot it.

Eisenhower said nuclear war would ‘destroy civilization’, but used the threat effectively to bring about the Korean armistice. Russia and China were by that time receptive to a cease-fire. The biggest opponent of peace was Syngman Rhee, the brutal president of South Korea, who pressed for the use of atomic bombs against the Communists. Truman and Eisenhower both showed great strength of character as Commanders-in-Chief by rejecting the use of atomic weaponry against North Korea, China and Russia. Truman actually authorized the transfer of nine nuclear capsules to the Ninth Bomb Group on Guam, at MacArthur’s request. Sen. Robert Taft, Sen. Paul Douglas, Rep. Al Gore, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Admiral Radford, Air Force Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg, Generals MacArthur, Ridgway, Mark Clark and many others pressured the administrations to resort to atomic bombs, but never had the support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Constitution worked—we are all here today because civil authority showed the best judgment and the strength to back it up.

The Missoulian reported on Nov. 20, 2017 that the current head of Strategic Command, Gen. John Hyten said that he would refuse a launch order from a president if he believed that order to be illegal; thereby introducing discretion and common sense in to the chain of command. This discretion has saved us before, famously by ‘the man who saved the world’, Vasili Arkhipov, who refused to concur in firing the 10-15 kiloton nuclear torpedo when being depth-charged by American destroyers during the Cuban missile crisis.

One good thing about the impasse we are facing with North Korea is that the armistice has held up since July 27, 1953, when it signed without a word in the Peace Pavilion in Panmunjom, built in 5 days by North Koreans, then torn down. Despite several violations over the years, the war has not re-ignited. That means our negotiations are not burdened with a 64 year history of revenge, retaliation and reprisal.

(Sources: Stephen A. Ambrose, Eisenhower Soldier and President, Simon and Schuster, 1990; Sydney D. Bailey, The Korean Armistice, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1992, Property of U.S. Army; Hugh Deane, The Korean War 1945-1953, China Books, San Francisco, 1999; Daniel Ellsberg, The Doomsday Machine, Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, Bloomsbury USA, 2017.)

Ron Carter is a resident of Libby.

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