Commemorating the 60th anniversary of the armistice on Saturday that ended the Korean War, President Obama referred to the conflict as “the forgotten victory” and said it has lessons as he tries to end the war in Afghanistan.
Mr. Obama pushed back against those who argued that the war, which was the first hot fight in the Cold War, ended in a tie when the two sides signed an armistice that left the country more or less where it was before the 1950 North Korean invasion — divided largely at the same line between the communist North and a rapidly developing South.
“Here, today, we can say with confidence, that war was no tie,” Mr. Obama said. “Korea was a victory. When 50 million South Koreans live in freedom, a vibrant democracy, one of the world’s most dynamic economies, in stark contrast to the repression and poverty of the North, that is a victory and that is your legacy.”
Mr. Obama said the war, which the U.S. troops entered unprepared after a severe retrenchment and drawdown from World War II, was a lesson that the country must remain vigilant now, as it closes out wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Our allies and adversaries must know the United States will maintain the strongest military, bar none,” the president said, speaking at a ceremony at the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the Mall.
On the other side of the globe, North Korea celebrated the armistice with a massive military parade. Reuters news service said Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao joined North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on the main podium to review the troops and military hardware that paraded by.
Chinese troops helped save North Korea, which started the war, from being overpowered by counterattacking South Korean and U.S.-led U.N. troops. Truce talks began in the middle of 1951, though the final cease-fire wouldn’t be signed until 1953. But no formal peace treaty was ever signed and the two Koreas are technically still in a state of war.
Both sides in the conflict claim the Korean War as a victory.
Nearly 1.8 million American troops served during the 1950-1953 war, and the Pentagon lists the U.S. death toll at 36,574. An estimated 2.5 million people overall were killed.
Mr. Obama said that unlike World War II, when returning troops were met with parades, and Vietnam, when some troops were greeted with protests, Korean War veterans returned without either, and went back to their lives.
It took decades for the memorial on the Mall to be built, near the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Several South Korean dignitaries attended the U.S. ceremony, including the chairman of that nation’s joint chiefs of staff.
In recent years North Korea has been pursuing nuclear weapons and has sparked repeated fights with its missile and nuclear bomb tests.
Mr. Obama didn’t mention those ongoing disputes in his remarks.