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61 Years After Armistice: Korea's Gratitude, Pride, and Hope for the Future

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President Obama recently designated July 27 as "Korean War Veteran's Armistice Day." One day before the Proclamation was announced I attended a very moving ceremony commemorating the 61st anniversary of the Armistice that ended the bloodshed of the Korean War. In the days since, I have found myself reflecting on the meaning of the Armistice and on the effect it has had on my country in the intervening 60 years. Three key words emerge in my reflection:

First: Gratitude. Gratitude for the profound sacrifices of the soldiers from the United States and 21 UN nations who fought for freedom in Korea. Six decades later, the bravery and dedication of these veterans humble us in Korea; we know that the freedom and prosperity that we enjoy today flow directly from their sacrifices. And we will never forget those who fought "to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met."

When the Armistice was signed, some here in the United States were not sure the War was worth the fight. It was called "the Forgotten War," considered a tie. But last year, at the Armistice's 60th anniversary, President Obama reminded us of the war's true legacy. "When 50 million South Koreans live in freedom," he said, "that's a victory." The Pentagon's exhibition on the Korean War, which opened last year, reflects this legacy: no longer is the Korean War "the Forgotten War," it is now called "the Forgotten Victory." And Korea will always be grateful for the freedom that this victory made possible.

Second: Pride. Pride at the immense progress Koreans have made in 60 short years. Today, our country stands as a free and prosperous nation, dedicated to democratic principles and an open economy. It was hard work and times were tough, but we knew that if we set our minds to it and worked diligently, we could create a better country for our children that gave them the freedom to thrive.

When President Obama described the legacy of the victory in Korea last year, he spoke proudly of Korea as "a vibrant democracy, one of the world's most dynamic economies, in stark contrast to the repression and poverty of the North." Our commitment to our hard-won freedoms is unwavering, and today Korea stands as a shining example of the strength of democratic principles and open markets. We are intensely proud of the country that we have built, even as we know we were not alone through its creation.

Third, I feel hope. Hope for the future. We know that we still have much work to do to preserve our democracy, and we know that maintaining our prosperity will require effort. But I am confident that, with the passion of our citizens and the creativity of our entrepreneurs, we will be able to ensure a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous future for all Koreans.

My hope extends to our relationship with the United States as well. From a foundation based on our shared values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, Korea and the United States are building a Global Partnership that will address some of the most intractable issues of our time such as global poverty, climate change, cyber-security and nuclear proliferation. This then, is the most hopeful legacy of the Armistice that ended the Korean War: that our bilateral cooperation will continue to flourish, making a more peaceful, democratic, and prosperous future not just for Koreans, but for the whole world.