6.25 or 7.27
Korea has a peculiar tradition of naming events by the historical date on which they occurred.
That’s why the student uprising against President Syngman Rhee’s regime is called 4.19 because it began on April 19, 1960, and Chun Doo-hwan’s brutal crackdown on Gwangju’s demonstrators is remembered as 5.18 because it happened on May 18, 1980. In line with this naming convention, the Korean War, which began on June 25, 1950, is popularly called 6.25.
So, this past Monday marked the 62nd anniversary of the start of 6.25. Needless to say, the date is a seminal moment in modern Korean history because not only did it kill over 3 million people in three years but it also cemented the division of the Korean people into two distinct countries constantly at each other’s throats.
This division is probably one of the most atrocious offenses against human sensibility that the world has known and affects – in a fundamental way – how Koreans live today.
Yet, the anniversary of this momentous event seems to have been largely forgotten. This was brought home for me on a Facebook post by someone – who I believe wasn’t even born and raised in Korea, or maybe because of it – who posted on June 25, ``How was today not a red day (referring to a national holiday)? I’m confused. And most people I ran into didn’t know what today was. That takes me beyond confusion.”
Unfortunately, I was not as confused as she was by the collective forgetfulness because it happens all the time. Even the 9/11 terrorist attacks a little over 10 years ago have lost their claim on the memories of the American people, especially the young who were only in grade school at the time. So, it might be a stretch to ask Koreans to remember something that happened over 60 years ago.
But then I realized that the Korean War is different because it’s still going on. It might have started 62 years ago, but it never ended. An armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, but a formal peace treaty was never concluded. So the Korean War, not to mention the division of the people, should be discussed in the present tense. All the more so because it frames how Koreans today live their everyday lives, act on the global stage and think about their identity, who they are as a people.
Yet, we talk about the Korean War as something that happened in the past. Something that is done with. Taken care of. And that’s a problem because it’s still happening. We are actually not talking about a historical memory. We are talking about the status quo.
We are talking about a status quo that is unnatural. Not being able to get on a train and check out Mt. Geumgang (the Diamond Mountain) or Mt. Baekdu is unnatural. Not being able to help when North Korean children are starving to death while our young are suffering from childhood obesity is unnatural. Having tens of thousands of artillery pieces within 56 kilometers aimed at Seoul ready to turn it into a ``sea of fire” is unnatural. That Koreans are ready to kill and destroy fellow Koreans at a drop of hat is positively surreal.
To me, this means that we shouldn’t commemorate the Korean War on June 25 of every year. I mean, how do you commemorate something that’s ongoing? Rather than commemorating it, we should work to end the Korean War.
Obviously, the only rational option is to negotiate a peace treaty. The geopolitics of the situation does not easily lend itself to a compromise, and any negotiating process is bound to be painful and complex. But we forget that peacemaking is more than words on a document.
What’s more urgent is a collective awareness of the status quo. In other words, enough people need to wake up to the fact that Korea is – today – in the middle of a war that began 62 years ago that has been put on a precarious hold by an armistice signed on 7.27. This recognition, if shared with enough people, will lead to a clamoring for a permanent peace treaty.
This is what Remember 727, a non-governmental, non-partisan, grassroots organization founded with the support from Peace Corps’ Friends of Korea, is trying to do with its annual Korean War Armistice Day Commemoration and Peace Vigil.
Every July 27, members, guests and veterans join together on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to promote the remembrance, recognition, and reconciliation of the Korean War by bringing light to the fact that July 27 marks only the armistice, not a peace treaty. This year will be no exception.
The Korean War may be called 6.25. But it should be remembered for 7.27, the date it was put on hold. Perhaps in the near future, it will be commemorated by another date: the one on which it finally ends. That will certainly be the day.
The author lives and works in Washington D.C. He’s been writing for The Korea Times since 2006. His email address is Jason@jasonlim.net.