Kerrey: Freedom is Korean War's legacy Bob Kerrey told his audience Monday the Korean War offers lessons as the United States prepares to enter a new overseas conflict. He was keynote speaker at "Citizenship, Character and Leadership: The Korean War Generation, Then and Now at USD's Slagle Auditorium. by David Lias The Honorable Bob Kerry, who saw a lifetime's worth of bloodshed in Vietnam, asked his listeners Monday night to reflect on the outcome if the United States and other allies hadn't gone to war in Korea five decades ago.
The Korean conflict, he said, offers lessons to the United States as it stands on the brink of launching a new overseas conflict in response to the Sept. 11 attacks on the East Coast.
"Korea marks the end of one war and the beginning of another. And if, as it likely is to be the case, we are seeing the end of the cold war and beginning of a new war on terrorism," he said, "then I believe that we should look to the Korean War to help guide us as we make decisions about what to do today."
Kerrey was keynote speaker at a conference hosted at The University of South Dakota by the W.O. Farber Center for Civic Leadership titled "Citizenship, Character and Leadership: The Korean War Generation, Then and Now."
The former Nebraska governor and U.S. senator served in the elite Navy SEALs and earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam.
He noted the Korean War experience teaches Americans that U.S. leaders must have victory as their goal when they launch a new war.
"Those who have the responsibility of making strategic decisions should not come to the American people," he said, "and say, 'We're going to fight this war to a stalemate.' We must come to the American people and say that the strategic objective is victory, and we will settle for nothing less."
Americans should understand that the U.S. has certain strengths and weaknesses, Kerrey said.
"We have tremendous strength in deploying conventional forces," he said. "We are not so good at deploying unconventional forces."
Kerrey said this controversial topic is one that Americans must face directly as "decisions are being made about how to fight this new war against terrorism."
He told his audience that just as the Communist regime in Korea in not monolithic, neither is terrorism.
"We would err greatly if we made the mistake of not only demonizing a single individual," Kerrey said, "but also reaching the false conclusion that if we take out the single individual that terrorism all by itself would end."
Moderate Muslim leaders must tell the Muslim world that advocating suicide to kill other human beings is misguided and betrays the values of the Koran, Kerrey said.
"It will not work for we Christians or we Jews to try to make that argument," he said.
Kerrey, lives in New York City, where he is president of New School University, told the conference that he believes much more can be done at home to insure Americans' safety.
The terrorists who struck the nation Sept. 11, he said, chose to also strike at the American way of life.
"They are making the argument that freedom and secular government have corrupted us and devalued us as human beings, that our morals have declined, that we are losing our religious foundation," Kerrey said.
Americans may best confront terrorism, he said, by showing the World Trade Center bombings have caused the nation to recommit itself to religion and families while abandoning self-indulgence.
"We must show these misguided individuals that we are not just the land of the free and the home of the brave," Kerrey said. "We must demonstrate that we are a society that relies heavily on the strengths of God and the wisdom of God's divinity."
Kerrey said he has no problem putting the Korean War in its proper perspective.
It is important for Americans, he said, to look back and see what the conflict accomplished.
Kerrey asked his audience to compare life north of the 38th parallel in Korea to life south of that boundary.
* The 48 million people who live in South Korea generate $16,000 in per capita income, compared to $1,000 per capita income in North Korea.
* South Korea has an infant mortality rate comparable to the United States. North Korea's infant mortality is comparable to what one would see in the worst living environments.
* North Korea is an importer of food, Kerrey said, and its people struggle just to make ends meet.
"All one has to do to understand what this war produced is look at what it produced both economically and in terms of political freedom for the 48 million of the Republic of Korea," he said.
Kerrey's beliefs about the Korean War were confirmed two years ago, when he was moved to tears in the nation's Capitol by a speech given by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.
"He said if were not for the brave men and women of the United States of America, if it were not for the 33,000 men who did not return from Korea, if it were not for the sacrifice of the all of you here this evening, his country would not be free," Kerry said.
"He's grateful for it, and he thanks you for it," Kerrey said, looking down at his audience of many older men in veterans organization hats.
Kerrey promised himself, from that moment, to always likewise thank Korean War veterans for making the world safer, freer and better.
Which he did, just before ending his speech.