Every year, we pause on Nov. 11, the date on which World War I ended 95 years ago, to honor all American veterans of every conflict and every era.
This Veterans Day, during the 60th anniversary year of the armistice that ended the Korean War, we specially recognize the veterans of that war, a conflict that closely followed the end of World War II, and which shaped the political and military destiny of the world for decades to come.
At the mid-point of the 20th century the world was in a dangerous and unstable condition. The economies of Europe were a shambles following the devastation of the 1940s. Our war-time alliance with the Soviet Union had collapsed, to be replaced by a cold war that split nations into opposing armed camps and left the globe in a state of tense coexistence.
In 1949 the Soviet Union exploded an atomic bomb, and immediately the unthinkable became a reality – a nuclear arms race between the two super powers. Soon after, the Chinese Communists seized control of their country and Marxist dictatorships were on the march.
Here at home in the spring of 1950, these disturbing and frightening events spurred the rise of McCarthyism, which spread fear, distrust, and uncertainty among all Americans, and which caused untold damage to the American political system.
Then suddenly in late June 1950, without warning or provocation, North Korea invaded the South, and within a few short weeks forced the defenders into a small defensive perimeter. But America and other countries responded, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s brilliant landing at Inchon forced the invaders to retreat northward. When we pursued, the Chinese Communists intervened massively, ending any hopes for an early resolution.
When the truce finally came in July 1953, the pre-war situation was restored, but the armies did not back away and the tension and potential for renewed hostilities remained.
During the war, hundreds of thousands of Americans answered the call, and our country supplied approximately 90 percent of all troops supporting the United Nations. Nearly 45,000 Americans fell in combat or went missing in action, and more than twice that number became casualties.
It was the hottest period of the cold war, and the conflict was a violent and deadly beginning to the second half of the century. Unfortunately, it would not be the last such conflict that the world would experience.
Looking back on the events from 1950-1953, we can express several conclusions with complete certainty. Our veterans’ service and sacrifices earned the highest praise and gratitude that this country can offer. They stopped the spread of Stalinism. They saved South Korea. They saved the newly democratized country of Japan, and other countries on the eastern rim of Asia. Their courage under the most difficult conditions showed the world that we would not retreat or be intimidated by power-minded dictators.
Never again in the cold war would an adversary act with such reckless indifference when the interests of America were at stake.
Our veterans’ fortitude also taught this country two important lessons.
The first is that isolationism and withdrawal, particularly in an age of ballistic missiles and atomic weapons, is no longer a legitimate policy, and does not increase the nation’s security.
Second, we learned that there is no substitute for being prepared. Preparedness does not mean belligerence or provocative behavior, but rather serves as a deterrent and demonstrates to all that there will be severe consequences whenever our security is threatened.
For their courage, commitment, strength, and resilience, we are deeply thankful to our Korean War veterans. The war in which they fought to protect our freedoms will never be forgotten.
Rep. Stephen W. Moriarty, D-Cumberland, represents state House District 108.