Seoul is still in my heart.
It's been a little more than fifty years since I first set foot on Korean soil, on a snowy day in January 1968. In the thirteen months that followed, I developed a love for the Korean people—not to mention for their delightfully spicy national treasure, kimchi. I taught an English conversation course at the radio station in Chunchon and made some good friends. So I am pleased that, for the moment, they don't face an imminent bombardment of Seoul, even if it means a false glow of unearned triumph for Cadet Bone Spurs, our "president."
Last year, we were treated to the potentially planet-ending, omnicidal spectacle of a long-distance insult contest between two crazy supreme leaders, both with bad hair and nukes. So, this latest spectacle, two crazy supreme leaders with bad hair and nukes in a made-for-TV lovefest, was far less unnerving.
The early judgment on the Singapore summit, like this Nicholas Kristof column, seems to be that the American supreme leader gave up far more than he got, while the North Korean got the long-sought meeting with an American "president." Kim Jong-un didn't even seem to mind that the "president" he got to meet actually lost the popular vote—a humiliation that Kim can't even imagine.
One of the items that the American "president" promised was a cessation of "war games," the joint military exercises involving American and South Korean forces. This concession appears to have caught the Pentagon by surprise. In due course, the generals and the admirals will have to figure out what their commander-in-chief actually meant and how they can obey.
As to the nearly 30,000 American troops remaining in Korea, the question arises: What real protection they are providing to the people? Back in 2005, Camp Page, the military installation in Chunchon where I lived and worked for thirteen months, closed. At the time, one city official said that the base had "hampered the development of the city." Talks between the the United States and the Republic of Korea had also scheduled other bases to be returned to Korean civilian control. In the years since Camp Page closed, I hope the city of Chunchon is flourishing. Here's a photo of me with some of my friends at the radio station in 1968.
The question remains: How much does South Korea really need the remaining Americans? Setting aside the question of nukes for the moment, it's no secret that North Korea has an overwhelming force of conventional artillery that could rain down death on Seoul in a matter of moments. Those rounds would simply fly over the heads of American troops and land with devastating effect on the huge, vibrant city of Seoul.
So, if this summit did anything to lower the likelihood of conflict between North Korea and its neighbor, it was worth the trip. But the American "president" should not be too quick to boast about his accomplishment. Will the North Koreans move toward total "denuclearization" on the Korean peninsula, as he appears to believe? Or will Kim weasel out of the vague terms of the brief document that emerged from the meeting? We simply don't know. Meanwhile, as our "president" is fond of saying, "We'll see what happens."
First in my class in Officer Candidate School. Late to the conclusion that our attitude toward the military is idolatrous.