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A prophetic call for a long-forgotten right to live

It’s time to declare the Korean conflict over

by the Rev. Hiheon Kim | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Hiheon Kim

The 70th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice is Thursday. Our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea, will hold a peace prayer for the reunification at Gwang-hwa-mun Square in Seoul on that day. But can our prayers change the state of cease-fire on the Korean Peninsula?

Over the past 70 years, the Korean Peninsula has experienced repeated tensions and crises, and there have been eight emergencies that have brought the region to the brink of war. This history makes us ask ourselves: Why was Korea forcibly divided by foreign countries at the end of World War II, even though it was not a war criminal state like Germany or Japan, and why are the two Koreas still experiencing conflict and confrontation?

I want to remember a distant piece of history. At the time of the signing of the 1953 armistice, the South Korean government had ceded control of its armed forces to the United States and was therefore unable to participate as a party. Instead, the United States agreed to have “a political conference of a higher level within three months to settle through negotiation the questions of the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Korea, the peaceful settlement of the Korean questions, etc.” (Korea Armistice Treaty Article 4, paragraph 60). Rather than following through on this promise, however, the U.S. led the signing of a unilateral U.S.-South Korea Mutual Defense Treaty on Oct. 1 of the same year. This treaty, which “shall remain in force indefinitely” (Article 6), indicates where U.S. interests lie. Since then, relations between the U.S. and South Korea have not been based on the principle of reciprocity and equality, but rather on the subordinate utilization to serve U.S. interests.

Where does the crisis of the Korean Peninsula come from today? From the belligerent North Korea’s nuclear arsenal? As the Atlantic Council already diagnosed, North Korea’s nuclear arsenal was a “defensive” response to the U.S. threat. Instead, the U.S. had been deploying nuclear weapons in South Korea since 1957 in violation of the armistice, reaching 1,300 in number by the early 1990s. To this day, North Korea has been demanding that the U.S. sign a non-aggression pact. However, the U.S. has turned a blind eye.

In the past 70 years that the Korean War has been at a standstill, the world has gone through both the Cold War and the post-Cold War periods. Ironically, wars were more frequent during the post-Cold War period, with the U.S. engaging in more than 180 military interventions and overseas deployments, nearly four times as many as during the Cold War.

Is it only an American problem? What has the Korean Peninsula forgotten in its long history of tension and confrontation? The Korean War was a massive international conflict. Even after the devastating war, the Korean Peninsula remained locked in a protracted system of hostility. Preoccupied with ideological confrontation, it has taken for granted the need to strengthen military alliances, increase armaments and expand war exercises. Blinded by the divisive system and haunted by the memories of war and hatred, we have forgotten the basic human right to live.

“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36). “For life is more than food and the body more than clothing” (Luke 12:23). The right to live is the most fundamental right of all human rights. However, we have been living in a state of blackout for the past 70 years and have forgotten the priority of the right. In wars and confrontations, the other side’s right to live is not considered. Building a peace system that protects life is the primary task. The right to live is the most prioritized right on the divided Korean Peninsula, and we oppose any trend that perpetuates a state of war.

I pray that the drums of prophecy will sound on the Korean Peninsula. Our time as slaves to a system of confrontation is over, and the punishment for the sin of turning a gun on our own people has been meted out manifold! (Isaiah 40:2). Our path is clear. In the wilderness of cease-fire, which has become rough and tough over the past 70 years, we are making a highway for the coming of the Lord of Peace. Committed to making that path straight, we have to declare by faith that the confrontation and war between North and South is over!

This declaration of the end of the war by our church is not an ignorance of the rigors of the current70 international order. Rather, it is the expression of a holistic recognition of the truth that genuine life and peace on the divided peninsula stem from this faith, and a passionate call to the mission of our times to unfold all of life again by getting into the heart of peace.

History, which has passed through the dangers and crises of almost extermination, speaks volumes about the difficulty of the road to peace. Therefore, may our declaration that “The war is already over!” be a prayer for the coming era and a starting point for a peace that is liberated from the slavery of the division system.

Currently, the Rev. Hiheon Kim is senior pastor of Hyanglin Church and serves as chairperson of the Peace and Unification Committee of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea, president of the Hyo-sun Mi-seon Peace Park Project Committee and president of the Society of Korean Minjung Theology.

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