HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 650: 23 January 2013

Korea and conflict

Mata Rakanui is currently an English Lecturer at Soongsil University in Seoul, South Korea and also a director of Apple English Recruitment which specializes in recruiting English teachers for positions in South Korea. He is of Atiuan descent on his father’s side through the Rakanui family and Mitiaro/Rarotongan on his mother’s side from the Putaura family.

Living in the tranquil and beautiful Pacific we call home. It is easy to take for granted and to forget that the outside world is mired in conflict and war which almost becomes daily life. As Polynesians we are adventurers, warriors, leaders, caregivers, nurturers. Our history demonstrates our propensity to engage in conflict yet we are fortunate that today we live in relative peace and harmony.
In contrast, one of the first things you discover or ask about South Korea is why is there a South and North Korea? Why do some people call it the last front in the “Cold War”?
Before I arrived in South Korea I was under the impression from media, family and friends that I would be heading into a warzone. However, upon my arrival it was and still is a bustling, vibrant, dynamic country. A person would not believe that a major conflict occurred here over sixty years ago and the signs are not obvious unless you head to the heavily fortified border or some of the coastline which is guarded by military. Over 60 years ago there was a brutal conflict that actually never officially ended.
On 25 June 1950 a well prepared and trained North Korean communist force estimated to number between 150,000 to 200,000 crossed the border and invaded what is now termed South Korea. What followed was a brutal three year engagement that would involve up to 23 countries in a military, medical or support aspect. Among these nations included New Zealand, The United Kingdom, South Africa and even countries as far away as Ethiopia and Colombia. This epic struggle against the North Korean military was supported further with the introduction of large scale Chinese forces in late 1950.
New Zealand sent 6000 personal to the Korean conflict with the loss of 45.
The fatalities on both sides were devastating. It is estimated that between 3 -4 million civilians perished along with up to 500,000 military and an estimated 800,000 Chinese.
At the present time I’m not sure if any Cook Islanders were involved but would be willing to hear if anybody knows or could enlighten us with some information.
There are a number of memorials here in Korea and I personally have visited the beautiful Korean War memorial in the coastal city of Pusan and would recommend it for anybody that visits Korea. It is free although it is difficult to see the memorial and graves without a dry eye.
The history of Korea is intertwined with warfare and conquest. In fact, Korea claims to have been invaded over one thousand times. As well as internal warfare it has been invaded by the Mongols, Chinese, and Japanese amongst others. Therefore, the Korean war of 1950-1953 was a continuation of this history and till this day has not been officially resolved.
Today a fragile situation exists whereby, the North Koreans actually posses a nuclear deterrent and stockpiles of gas and other weapons of mass destruction. Recent events such as the sinking of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan and the attack on Yongpyong island which both occurred in 2010 only serve to remind the local population that they are in fact still at war. Actually, on the 15th of every month the nation comes to a halt as sirens ring out and everyone is supposed to be preparing for an attack.
To further appreciate the remains of the war and to sense the feeling of the only divided country in the world. One can take guided tours in the heavily fortified DMZ or demilitarized zone where two armies face off across a kind of no man’s land. It is a 4km wide strip of land about 250km long separating the two countries with landmines and some two million soldiers. A tour can be taken for about US$70-US$100 and takes a whole day. You will have the opportunity to not only see North Korean soldiers face off with their American counterparts but also see and feel the presence of what the cold war used to be.
Today South Korea is a bustling thriving economy ranked 12th in the world. Images from the past emphasize the fact that today it is totally unrecognizable from the time of open warfare.
We must never take for granted our tranquil and beautiful lifestyle in the Cook Islands and South Pacific. Living in South Korea or overseas like many Cookies and their descendents allows one to appreciate our little paradise more and more. Although there are many daily struggles we must take it in context.
Kia Manuia
Annyong e Kaseyo

Herald Issue 608 21 March
- Terms of one China Policy document should be reviewed
- Pacific Media Assistance Scheme Seeks Innovation
- Successful NZ visit by PM
- Rerekura Teaurere New Climate Change Coordinator
- News Briefs

Copyright 2006 Cook Islands Herald online . All rights reserved.