North Korea’s countryside (former battlefields) holds so many answers to so many stories of American servicemen still missing during the Korean War. Those answers have been in limbo due to standing U.S. policy of nonengagement toward North Korea, and North Korea’s complete disregard for that policy.
There are two prevailing views on which direction U.S. policy should follow – engagement or nonengagement. On the surface, they seem simplistic options … to be, or not to be. Between these policies is the no-man’s-land where answers to the fate of men still missing in North Korea wait to be found.
The two approaches can be complementary. Humanitarian and political policies can offer alternative ways to interact. Engagement calls for humanitarian exchanges that stand outside political disagreements. The recovery of missing men’s remains falls in this line of thinking. In nonengagement (strategic patience), the standing U.S. policy. the U.S. government withholds humanitarian involvement (like the recovery of U.S. remains) as a tactic, a tool.
Surprising to many, North Korea does pretty well separating the policies. It will unleash wild rhetoric damning U.S. cities to nuclear hurricanes, while graciously welcoming individual Americans to their country (like the family members of missing men). It is a duality that serves them. The U.S. approach sacrifices any good that can come from humanitarian engagement.
The current U.S. administration is still shaping its policy toward North Korea. There have been dynamic swings in approaches—ranging from lunch invitations to aircraft carrier deployments. Signs of engagement do appear, but as fluffs of dandelions, vulnerable to the wind.
One glimmer of positive direction, a momentary glimpse of what could be, appeared in a recent DPAA notification that a U.S. / Korean War serviceman’s remains had been identified.
“DPAA (DOD) appreciates the (North) Korean People's Army, as well as Korean witnesses (named), for their assistance and partnership in this recovery effort.”
A window opened and a spring breeze drifted through. Rarely, if ever, has North Korea’s role in recoveries been acknowledged. Was the new administration looking to see what might happen with an offering of gratitude? Sadly, like the fluff of dandelion, the outreached hand flitted apart with the breeze; called a mistake.
If/when the U.S. reaches beyond a one-way street approach to North Korea, there will be hope that the pledge of no man left behind will become more than patriotic holiday political-speak. We will then resume joint remains recovery operations of the roughly 5000 loved ones still lost in the countryside (former battlefields) of North Korea.
Families are waiting, as they have been waiting … a lifetime of waiting.