By Paul Jeffrey*
Throughout 2020, the World Council of Churches (WCC), together with the National Council of Churches in Korea, has been observing a Global Prayer Campaign,“We Pray, Peace Now, End the War.” As part of the campaign, the WCC is sharing personal stories and interviews that inspire others to work for peace. The story below features the perspective of U.S. war veterans, all of whom are also featured in video interviews.
Seventy years after the start of the Korean War, many surviving U.S. veterans of that conflict are working hard for peace on the Korean Peninsula.
“I really believed that what we did in Korea was the right thing to do. It was under the United Nations, which I do believe in. But now I question everything,” said Stan Levin, a U.S. Navy veteran who lives in San Diego, California.
“Korea was really bad. A lot of people died for nothing.”
Veterans are joining with church leaders and peace activists around the world in an appeal for reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.
A member of Veterans for Peace, Levin protests at military air shows and other events, leafletting and holding anti-war banners. “We raise as much hell as we can,” he said.
Levin has also returned with other veterans to South Korea, participating in the blockade of a U.S. military base under construction on Jeju Island, off that country’s southern coast. The base was finally opened in 2016, despite a decade of protests by environmentalists and anti-war activists.
The San Diego Veterans for Peace chapter distributes sleeping bags to homeless people in what is dubbed “Operation Compassion.”
Jack Doxey, another Korean War vet in San Diego, says the people they help includes an inordinate number of veterans, many of whom landed on the streets as a consequence of post-traumatic stress disorder experienced in the wake of military service.
Doxey, who served in the U.S. Army, says the group has distributed more than 4,000 sleeping bags so far. “And we’re not running out of customers. The situation is getting even more serious,” he said.
Pete McCloskey was a Marine lieutenant who was wounded in Korea, then came home and became a peace activist. A former member of the U.S. Congress from California, he twice ran for the Republican nomination for president, anchoring his campaigns on opposition to U.S. involvement in foreign wars.
“There’s no glory in war. It’s just a bunch of scared guys trying not to let other scared guys see how scared you are,” he said.
McCloskey led six bayonet charges while fighting in Korea, but says he came home feeling an obligation to work for peace.
“If you’ve had the privilege of being scared to death in a war, and you’ve seen what happens when bombs land and tear people apart, burn them to death and cause terrible casualties, you have the privilege, maybe the duty, to oppose war during your lifetime. Because you’ve seen it and these people who want to go to war have never seen it,” he said.
“There’s nothing worse than a war wimp, or a chicken hawk, who wants to go to war but who in their youth was afraid to subject themselves to that risk.”
McCloskey, who today lives on a small farm in northern California, says the 70th anniversary of the war offers a unique opportunity to build peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.
“I believe very strongly that there are huge numbers of people in both North and South Korea who want to see Korea united as a single people. They’ve got 4,000 years of history. They fought against the Chinese. They fought against the Japanese. They have the same pride in themselves that we saw in the Vietnamese, who under Ho Chi Minh fought to reunite their country,” he said.
“How do we get peace in Korea? We get it by the people taking over from the generals. Same as in my country, the United States.”
*Paul Jeffrey is freelance photographer and journalist based in the U.S.