“If we are serious about peace, then we must work for it as ardently, seriously, continuously, carefully, and bravely as we have ever prepared for war.” Wendell Berry
Despite rising tensions between President Trump and Kim Jung Un, the annual military exercises by the U.S. and South Korea remain scheduled for August 21-31, 2017. This drill will be a coordinated naval, army and air force involving tens of thousands of American and South Korean troops. President Trump has raised the temperature by warning, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States, They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”. North Korea quickly responded by threatening to fire missiles at the United States’ territory of Guam.
A U.S. protectorate since 1899, Guam has been developed as a naval and air base by the United States. Guam, Midway, the Marianas, Wake Island, and other U.S. protectorates are, in time of war, essentially “unsinkable air-craft carriers”.
The cycle of fear, threats and anger created by belligerent statements and acts must be broken before missiles with nuclear warheads are launched against North Korea or South Korea or the United States, or its protectorates in the Pacific. The devastating results of such an attack will reach unthinkable proportions. This cycle needs to be broken through diplomacy and the intervention of the United Nations to lessen the tension by negotiation.
The anger and fear that North Korea feels toward the United States is warranted. They have contempt for the United States for what the U.S. did during the Korean Conflict. The United States military dropped 32,557 tons of napalm on North Korea which caused devastating and harmful burns to human skin. They also dropped 635,000 tons of explosives (which is more tonnage than all the bombs dropped by the U.S. in the WWII’s Pacific Theater). Many of these bombs targeted civilian buildings which killed 20 percent of the population.
North Korean families and children in barns, schools and other civilian buildings which they thought were safe. The United States defending the south showed no mercy and bombed and killed innocent noncombatants.
North Korean leaders also remember that the conflict on the Korean Peninsula has never ended. An armistice signed on July 27, 1953 put a cease-fire into effect. A permanent peace treaty never replaced the armistice.
Given this context, religious leaders cannot remain silent in the face of threats and demagoguery. One year before he was assassinated, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech entitled, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence at Riverside Church in New York City. Reflecting on America’s involvement in Vietnam, Dr. King said, “A time comes when silence is betrayal”. His speech condemned America’s role in the conflict in Vietnam. Rather than engage in war, Dr. King proclaimed that people of faith need to speak and work for peace.
We find ourselves in a similar situation as tensions rise on the Korean Peninsula. People of faith cannot remain silent as President Trump continues to threaten North Korea. Our cry for peace needs to be louder to drown out outrageous calls for aggression.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) and the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) declared August 13, 2017 as a day of prayer for the Korean Peninsula. Rather than waiting to see which leader will be the bigger bully, rather than allowing tensions to increase and result in an accidental launch of weapons of incredible destruction, we need to pray for peace and for the reunification of Korea each and every day.
As we pray, we also need to work for peace on the Korean peninsula. We need to demand that President Trump deescalate his rhetoric toward North Korea. We need to encourage United Nations to convene North Korea and the United States, along with South Korea, China and Japan around a common table to cool the rhetoric and lessen the tension. We need to call for the appropriate international agencies to work toward deweaponizing fissionable material in North Korea. We need to advocate for a final peace treaty on the peninsula, brokered by the United Nations.
A catastrophic world event will likely occur if either side initiates something the other side considers an act of war. The consequences that would ensue if conflict breaks out on the Korean Peninsula are unimaginable. This is a time to break silence. This is a time to cry out for peace. This is a time to pray and work for a unified Korea.