Friday 5 April 2013


Long ago, when a teenager, it was that long ago, the question of Korea came up.  At the end of the introductory training for National Service in the Army the issue of where you might be posted to arose.  In those not so happy days it could be anywhere.  A lot of those places had disadvantages.

These included wars, places with terrorists (or freedom fighters if you insist), places that were very hot and dry, others hot and steamy, others cold and wet; there was plenty of choice.  Even London was possible, if you wanted to risk your lungs and liver.

Except that there was not a choice.  Someone in the deepest recesses of the War Office would rush out into the street, find a passing beggar and pay him a quid or two to pick the names of the sack blindfolded. 

At least that was the theory and was regarded as the only rational explanation at the time for the way people were selected for the vacancies on offer.  When the time came for our time for this particular lottery of life the nerves were twitching.

In the squad a couple of keen types had volunteered for Korea on the grounds that they would have rapid promotion and it would be good for their CV’s, if that is, they returned in one piece if at all.  We were all deeply grateful to them as the rest of us skiving louts were desperate for a cushy number close to the bright lights.

In the event, most of us were packed off to Germany where the forces were being strengthened because of uncertainties.  The rest were scattered about largely in the UK.  Of the two Korea volunteers one finished up at Nuneaton and the other on the staff at a military prison out in the wilds.

But there were stories about Korea and it is difficult to convey the views of us at the time without breaching all the present requirements to avoid being judgemental or unkind on ethnic grounds on those from the North.

These arose not just from people who had been in the Korean War, but others from elsewhere in the Pacific where those of the North had some notoriety.  Those who had been in Japanese Prison Camps during WW2 asserted that the worst places to be were those with North Korean guards who had volunteered for this duty. 

The views today would seem extreme but to us at the time were regarded as well founded.  One certainty was that mentally they were in another Universe and it was one to be avoided at all costs.

Sixty odd years ago the Korean War broke out because China was backing the North in their immediate post revolutionary period.  Russia was bidding for their friendship in the struggles of the Cold War.  Remember that Russia is a Far Eastern power and not just a Western one.

Japan at that time was not independent and only in a supporting role to the USA.  The USA was determined to stop Communism wherever it emerged.  Between the contests of all these powers it became impossible to agree either a peace or a way forward that avoided conflict.

If we have another muddle of ambitions and failures to come to terms among the great Pacific powers in how the North Korean problem can be addressed then it could turn bad but this time round with far wider economic consequences than in the late 1940’s. 

South Korea is now a small but important part in an industrial and financial globalised world.  We cannot afford to see it wrecked out of the mixture of spite and stupidity that motivates the regime in the North.

Essentially, Moscow and Beijing need to cooperate quickly and effectively and to work with the USA and Japan to defuse the whole situation.  Any idea of relying on normal human or political thinking in North Korea can be forgotten.  They do not work like that and never have done.

Our media, government and others do not seem to realise the risks they are taking in just hoping it is just another passing row.  At some time that simply may not be the case.


  1. That War touched me, though I was a bit younger than some friends, whose boyfriends were called up. One very young lad in the next road was killed in Korea. As a child I remember vividly a great deal of World War 2, but in an odd way being quite young protects you from full awareness of grief. I can still remember the utter shock I felt when that young neighbour was killed. As you say, there does not seem to be much true awareness of the current situation.

  2. North korea actually does have WMD.
    And the UK has accepted that to invade is the answer in such a case- ref Iraq & Blair.
    Any such action will help solve the recession and bring the diverse into the nation with a real bang.

  3. "We cannot afford to see it wrecked out of the mixture of spite and stupidity that motivates the regime in the North."

    I agree. If the North collapses in an East German manner, I wonder if the South can afford the cost of unification? Possibly not.

  4. Posting, and whether it would be Korea or thereabouts was my concern too, in 1951. But I must pay tribute to the way the War Office actually worked in my case.

    At registration/medical many months before the end of basic training I had completed the form to say that I could not cook (though actually that was a lie) and that I had been studying Biology while working as a lab. tech. and would like to be posted to BMH Klagenfurt as a NS Private and medical lab technician. Amazingly, while others of my draft were sent to Korea, Malaya, etc., BMH Klagenfurt was exactly where they sent me for a most valuable, interesting and productive 21 months or so.