At 7:27 on Saturday evening, Americans remembering the “Forgotten War” will be lighting 727 candles for peace at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C. Sixty years ago, on the 27th day of the seventh month of 1953, American General William Harrison signed the armistice ending the fighting on the Korean peninsula.
Americans may think the Korean War is over, but for North Korea it has never truly ended. In fact, there has been no peace agreement formally bringing the conflict to a close, and the prospects for one are bleak.
Why? The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the regime calls itself, is on a constant war footing. It is marking the armistice with what may be the biggest military parade in its history, a seven-week-long Arirang festival dedicated to “the undying feats Generalissimo Kim Il Sung performed in winning the war,” a dedication of a military cemetery, and the unveiling of a war museum. All told, the destitute state will be spending about $150 million to mark the day, a special anniversary because 60 years is a complete cycle in the calendar North Korea uses.
The scale of the events in North Korea is anomalous because Kim Jong Un, the current ruler, and his father, former leader Kim Jong Il, renounced the Korean War armistice, the event now being celebrated, at least four times. The most recent repudiation of the truce agreement took place this March. American officials did not take the latest renunciation seriously, but the North Koreans were signaling that they intend to use force again, as they have periodically since 1953. In 2010, for instance, the Korean People’s Army killed 50 South Koreans — including two civilians — in two horrific incidents.
The Kim family, from grandfather to father to grandson, has built its legitimacy on murderous acts, and its “victory” in the Great Fatherland Liberation War is at the center of its mythology. The North’s propensity for violence is the message of Pyongyang’s celebratory activities this month.