Any time that a book appears by Bruce Cumings, one of our foremost scholars on Korea, it merits attention. His latest book, The Korean War, is particularly welcome given the recent sharp increase in tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The past informs the present, and perhaps nowhere is that more so than in the case of the two Koreas. While South Korea has changed dramatically since the advent of democracy, it is still the case that relations between the two Koreas continue to be influenced by the war.
As relations between the two Koreas worsen, the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan continues to be a significant source of contention. On May 20 of this year, the South Korean-led Military-Civilian Investigation Group (JIG) announced the results of its investigation, charging that a North Korean submarine had torpedoed the vessel. Since then a number of commentators have pointed out numerous flaws in the investigation’s conclusions.
The report itself, however, remained secret, and the world public was expected to take the JIG’s conclusions largely on faith. Unable to dampen down widespread skepticism of the JIG’s conclusions, the South Korean government finally released its report to the public in September. This was not the original report as issued in May. South Korean investigators took into consideration some of the public criticisms and attempted to address them in the final version.
An artillery duel between North and South Korean forces on November 23 has set in motion a series of events which threaten to spiral out of control.
On November 22, South Korea began its annual military exercise, involving including 70,000 troops, dozens of South Korean and U.S. warships and some 500 aircraft. The following day, South Korean artillery stationed on Yeonpyeong Island began a live ammunition drill, firing shells into the surrounding sea.