On Sep 21, 2017, President Moon Jae-in described the Korean War a “civil war” in his address at the the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly. The actual quote is, “I was born in a refugee town in the middle of the Korean war. This civil war, which evolved into an international war, devastated the lives of countless people. Over three million lost their lives, and many of the survivors were deprived of decent living.”
As a matter of fact, the Korean War broke out as an international war and the truce was made as any international war would. South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea, first appeared in the world history in 1948; the first National Assembly election was held in May and the first presidential election was held in July. Rhee Syngman was elected the first president of the nascent nation with full sovereignty and statehood. North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, started as a Soviet puppet state. On Sep 9, 1948, Moscow designated the de facto leader Kim Il-sung, a former officer of the Soviet Red Army, as the Premier. In the same year, the Soviet Civil Administration and the Red Army withdrew from the Korean Peninsula to recognize North Korea as a sovereign state. Therefore, South Korea and North Korea have been disparate ever since 1948. Unlike the Sudanese Civil War that brought forth the birth of South Sudan, the Korean War was a full-scale war between two sovereign states. Thus, President Moon’s remark was chronologically incorrect.
The North Korean army, officially the Korean People’s Army, was heavily aided by the Soviet Union and Maoist China, whereas the United States suspended the military aid to South Korea in 1950. It created a huge military imbalance between the two nations, and the better-equipped, better-experienced Korean People’s Army initiated a surprise attack on Jun 25. Although the Korean War was an international war, South Korea had to take on alone the elite troops of the Communist Bloc for the first week. The consequence was dire; every South Korean defense line except the Nakdong river collapsed. The chronological order is crucial in studying the Korean War because it corroborates that the Korean War was a carefully designed and prepared invasion by the ambitious North Korean leader Kim Il-sung. If the Korean War were a civil war, the purpose of international intervention would have been to simply suspend armed conflicts. Since the Korean War was a war of aggression and North Korea was the aggressor, however, the purpose was to defeat the aggressor and punish the regime responsible for the war.
It is unclear why President Moon called the Korean War a civil war. Perhaps he wanted to emphasize the ethnic homogeneity between the two Koreas, or to express his eagerness for the Korean unification. Given his close association with the Korean nationalists, his address reflected the nationalistic perspective that he shares with them: according to the nationalists, such as the celebrity amateur historian Young-oak Kim, the Korean War was a civil war and therefore the US intervention was a clear evidence of American imperialism. Not surprisingly, Young-oak is a zealous Moon supporter. Their agenda focuses on, as a former National Liberation activist and now a North Korean human rights activist Kim Young-hwan explained, “liberating Korea from foreign rule.” Hence, the Korean nationalists see ethnic affinity is more important than political reality. From their perspective, North Korea must be tolerated at any cost. Inevitably, therefore, the nationalists end up North Korean sympathizers – so is the Harvard graduate Young-oak. Pyongyang also knows their strategic value. Both Pyongyang and a majority of the South Korean nationalists insist that the North Korean nukes are “the nukes for the Korean race.”
President Moon’s address at the United Nations general assembly has only consolidated the concern that his foreign policy turns ever-soft on North Korea. On Oct 15, 2016, Moon Jae-in posted on his Facebook account, “The worst peace is better than the best war.” The Romans would disagree and say, “Si vis pacem, para bellum. (“If you want peace, prepare for war.)” Under Moon’s presidency, the risk of outbreak of war is higher than ever. Back in 1950, as well as in 2017, North Korea and South Korea were two different nations, and now each Korea recognizes the other Korea as an enemy state – that is the reality. If a military action breaks out between them, it is never a civil war and immediate international intervention is required not only to minimize damages and casualties but also to crush the aggressor. Moon should also realize his idealism means little to the international community. He is not a delegate of the Korean race but the president of South Korea – he is warned.