Opinion – Judy Harris: Understanding the 38th parallel . . .and the ramifications of war

“If we let Korea down, the Soviets will keep right on going and swallowing up one place after another.” — President Harry Truman on North Korea’s invasion of South Korea, June 25, 1950

Korea, 1996

Standing at latitude 38 degrees N. in the Demilitarized Zone, I finally understood. Even the young professionals in South Korea yearned for the reunification of their country, their Korea, their peninsula. Generations split apart by the Korean War still maintained hope.

When Korea was retaken from the Japanese at the end of WWII, the United States and Soviets created an arbitrary division of the peninsula along the 38th parallel, dividing the country into North and South, Communist and Democratic.

Judy Harris (Photo provided)

On June 25, 1950, the army of the North pushed into the South crossing the parallel. The Korean War began.

Later as the military standoff occurred, a wide boundary was established along that parallel, the Demilitarized Zone. The hope for peace and negotiations.

In all those years, no progress. Just endless posturing and provocation.

In 1996, a Korea Society fellowship brought our group to this area. We were met by United States military. North Korea military, still as statues across the span, observed us through binoculars and monitored even our whispers. Oppressive silence.

The official bargaining table stood empty, guards ever on duty at each end. The little flags, motionless.

I finally understood.

The 39th parallel runs through my Northern Kentucky home.

The 38th runs east and west through Lexington, dividing my state.

Another time, another war.

The Thirty-Eighth
(in Korea and Kentucky)

This civil war
Our family rends
With devastating swath;
The country’s blood
Pours o’er her earth,
What gain this sacrifice?

Blest unity,
The cause divine
Inspires us on to win;
Yet victory
At such a cost
Escapes our grasp within.

The mother’s tears
Flow o’er the wounds;
No son to die in vain.
Restore torn heart,
torn home,
torn land,
The higher prize to gain.

Uphold in love,
Pursue the peace,
The strength of right,
Of good,
Will win at last,
The calm reclaimed
In heart,
In home,
In land.

Judy Harris
Korea Society Fellowship

Judy Harris is well established in Northern Kentucky life, as a longtime elementary and university educator. A graduate of Thomas More, she began her career there in 1980 where she played a key role in teacher education and introduced students to national and international travel experiences. She has traveled and studied extensively abroad. She enjoys retirement yet stays in daily contact with university students.

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