July 27 marked the 70th anniversary of the Korean Armistice between Korea, China and the United States. Most Americans are unaware that the agreement merely halted the conflict and that the Korean Peninsula is technically still in a state of war. The failure of the Biden administration to make progress on peace with North Korea is now leading us to the brink of conflict once again.
Last month, the U.S. sent a nuclear-armed submarine to Busan, South Korea, for the first time in 42 years. North Korea responded that this provocation justified its use of nuclear weapons. In the absence of a peace agreement, renewed conflict could break out at any moment.
Instead of continuing the same failed approach, President Biden should do what every President before him failed to do: end the Korean War by replacing the ceasefire with a lasting peace agreement. Thankfully, two representatives from Washington state agree; Representatives Pramila Jayapal and Marilyn Strickland are co-sponsors of House Resolution 1369, the Peace on the Korean Peninsula Act, which calls for diplomacy with North Korea to formally end the Korean War. It’s time to do what’s right for Koreans and Americans.
My mother was 15 years old in 1950, when the Korean War broke out. She rarely spoke about her childhood memories surviving the Korean War, and my probing was always met with heavy silences and facial expressions that communicated the pain and suffering she had endured.
As the bombs rained down, she and her two sisters escaped by foot to the countryside. They walked for miles by day, and at night, they found shelter in abandoned farmhouses, sleeping on propagation tables, as the ground was infested with rats. They stayed alive by boiling rotten potatoes from the fields that the farmers had left behind.
My grandmother couldn’t travel with them because she was carrying an infant. Instead, she boarded one of the packed trains of refugees fleeing conflict zones. My grandmother recounted how so many people climbed on the top of the train because there was no space left inside and died trying to hold on to the moving train, some falling asleep and accidentally letting go. My grandfather’s factory in Seoul was burned to the ground. He lost everything and had to completely start over after the war.
The human costs of war are not limited to lives lost, homes destroyed or even forced separation from your loved ones for an entire lifetime. Studies have shown that trauma is inherited, passed down from one generation to the next. War does not simply impact the lives of those who survived the sheer terror of aerial bombing or the shock of seeing dead bodies piled alongside the street. Trauma is passed down to subsequent generations and, whether we realize it or not, affects the physical health and sense of mental well-being of generations to come. Untreated PTSD affected the quality of relationships in my family and our ability to function together as a healthy unit.
That is why I am traveling to Washington D.C., with hundreds of Americans from across the country to call on President Biden and Congress to end the Korean War by replacing the Armistice with a peace agreement. It is my responsibility as an American citizen to encourage my government to end America’s longest standing forever war, and to honor my ancestors whose lives were torn apart by the war.
I am doing this as part of my own healing journey and, more importantly, to create a world where future generations can thrive and live unburdened by the threat of war.
Tasha Lee Essen is a multi-racial Korean American educator, activist, and co-coordinator for the Korea Peace Now Grassroots Network, Pacific Northwest chapter.
Read more of the Aug. 2-8, 2023 issue.