On July 27th, Canadians are invited to attend the Korean War Veterans Day Ceremonies at the National Wall of Remembrance in Meadowvale Cemetery (Brampton, ON), the National War Memorial (Ottawa, ON), the Ambassador of Peace Korean War Memorial in Central Park (Burnaby, BC) or one of the numerous other ceremonies being held across the country.
The Republic of Korea (South Korea), today, enjoys a position as a global economic powerhouse because the world came to its aid during a time of need — at the start of the Korean War, it was the second poorest country in the world. The stability South Korea has now — as delicate as it often is — has allowed the country to prosper and its people to thrive.
Its current enviable position among nations is a legacy of the 64-year peace that has existed since the fighting stopped with the signing of the Armistice in 1953. South Korea has become a successful, thoroughly modern, open, free and outward-looking democracy.
It has been 10 years since South Korea joined the world’s so-called “trillion-dollar club” in 2007 — the 14 countries that have economic activity exceeding $1 trillion a year. (In 2016, its GDP was just shy of $2 trillion). It’s an elite club with good company, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia and, of course, Canada.
On the other hand, North Korea’s dictatorial regime continues to keep its people oppressed and impoverished while posing a threat to peace and stability in Asia. That country’s legacy is one of instability and volatility.
Combat in the Korean War ended 64 years ago today — on July 27, 1953. With the support of my colleagues in both houses, I was able to get the Korean War Veterans Day Act (to recognize July 27 annually) passed in time to recognize the 60th anniversary of the ceasefire in 2013.
Since then, Canadians have observed every July 27 as Korean War Veterans Day. It is an occasion to reflect on the meaning of the sacrifices made by the 516 Canadians who died and the 1,042 who were injured while fighting between 1950 and 1953. In total, 26,791 Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen served during the war. Some 7,000 Canadians also served after the signing of the Armistice.
On this date in 1953, the Armistice came into effect, bringing three years of combat to an end. The truce that followed has always been an uneasy one and has left a people divided ever since.
As we take time today to mark the anniversary of the end of combat in the Korean War, we can thank Canada and other United Nations members that intervened in Korea in 1950 to prevent the spread of communism.
As I told my fellow senators when I made my argument for the establishment of Korean War Veterans Day, for six lonely, terrible decades, hundreds — perhaps thousands of veterans shrank from their fellow Canadians and shivered with the wretched curse of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Few knew of their painful sacrifices or the way they had changed the world by resisting and constraining tyranny. Though the war and many sacrifices made by Canadians and others have never been forgotten by the Korean people, it was time to make Canadians themselves aware of the significant impact Canada made in paving the way to success for South Korea. That is why the enactment of the Korean War Veterans Act was necessary and timely for the 60th Anniversary commemoration.
On a personal level, I owe my life to the Canadians who answered South Korea's call in her time of great need.
Anyone who appreciates the success South Korea has had should recognize the debt of gratitude that is owed to Canada and other U.N. members who fought for the freedoms it enjoys. By standing up to tyranny, they laid the groundwork for South Korea’s opportunities.
Today, ties between South Korea and Canada are strong. The Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement has been in place since 2016. Both countries benefit from bilateral trade, immigration, academic exchanges and tourism.
It’s no coincidence that most members of the trillion-dollar club are stable, secure and overwhelmingly democratic. Peace and stability breed prosperity and growth.
It’s why Canada’s foreign policy and diplomacy should be focused on solidifying Korea’s still-fragile truce. The Korean people and the entire world need something more enduring — a lasting, permanent peace on the Korean peninsula and stability in Asia.
Yonah Martin is a senator representing British Columbia and is Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition in the Senate. She is the first Canadian of Korean descent to serve in the Senate of Canada and the first Korean-Canadian parliamentarian in Canadian history.