Posts Tagged ‘The Cold War’

Organization of American States Headquarters Building

The Organization of American States Headquarters Building

On this lunchtime bike ride I rode to the headquarters for the Organization of American States (OAS), known as the Pan American Union Building, which is just off of Pennsylvania Avenue and across the street from The Ellipse, at 200 17th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.

The OAS is an inter-continental organization which was founded in April of 1948 by the United States and 20 Latin American countries. Officially, the organization was established in order to achieve among its member states – as stipulated in Article 1 of its Charter – “an order of peace and justice, to promote their solidarity, to strengthen their collaboration, and to defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, and their independence.”

Unofficially, however, the reasons for its formation were somewhat different than the charter’s stated intent. The Latin American member states wanted a political institution to deal with intra-hemispheric disputes based on their fears that the United States, intent on its anticommunist crusade at that time, might engage in unilateral interventions against Latin American governments. For the United States, it was intended to serve as a protection against communist penetration of the Western Hemisphere.

The United States insisted that the charter include a statement condemning “international communism or any totalitarianism” as “irreconcilable with the tradition of the American countries.” For the Latin American delegates, the key article of the OAS charter stated that, “No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State.”

The OAS has had some successes, including settling border conflicts between various member countries, such as the truce and subsequent resolution of the Soccer War between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969.  However, in generally it never actually functioned as any of the member states had intended, and neither side got what it had hoped for when it was formed.

The OAS proved a disappointment to the United States because the other member states did not share its own Cold War zeal against communism. This was evidenced by the organization’s refusal to approve direct action to remove what the United States felt were “communist threats,” most notably in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. For the other member states, disappointment in the OAS centered around the organization’s failure to curb the United States use of unilateral force in other situations, such as the U.S.-orchestrated overthrow of the government of Guatemala in 1954, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, and its intervention in the Dominican Republic in 1965.

The OAS has grown over the years to a total of 35 countries, and now includes Canada and 14 additional independent countries in the Caribbean. However, since the end of the Cold War, the OAS’s importance in intra-hemispheric affairs has continued to diminish.

The OAS’s original charter members, listed in alphabetical order, were Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Countries that were subsequently admitted, in chronological order of when they became a member, are Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Grenada, Suriname, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Bahamas, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Canada, Belize, and most recently, Guyana, which was admitted in 1991.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial

On this ride Julius and I went to one of D.C.’s “major” memorials, the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Located in southwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park, just south of The Reflecting Pool on the National Mall (MAP), the memorial commemorates the sacrifices of the 5.8 million Americans who served in the U.S. armed services during the three-year period of the Korean War.

On June 25, 1950, North Korean military forces surprised the South Korean army, and the small U.S. force stationed in the country, and quickly headed toward the capital city of Seoul. The U.S. responded by pushing a resolution through the United Nations Security Council calling for military assistance to South Korea. The Soviet Union was not present to veto the action as it was boycotting the Security Council at the time. With this resolution in hand, President Harry Truman rapidly dispatched U.S. land, air, and sea forces to Korea to engage in what he termed a “police action.” The U.S. intervention turned the tide, and U.S. and South Korean forces marched into North Korea. This action, however, prompted the massive intervention of communist Chinese forces in late 1950. The war in Korea subsequently bogged down into a bloody stalemate. On July 27, 1953, the U.S. and North Korea signed a cease-fire that ended the conflict. The cease-fire agreement also resulted in the continued division of North and South Korea at just about the same geographical point as before the conflict.

The Korean War was the first “hot” war of the Cold War. Korea was the first “limited war,” one in which the U.S. aim was not the complete and total defeat of the enemy, but rather the “limited” goal of protecting South Korea. For the U.S. government, such an approach was the only rational option in order to avoid a third world war and to keep from stretching finite American resources too thinly around the globe. It proved to be a frustrating experience for the American people, who were used to the kind of total victory that had been achieved in World War II. The public found the concept of limited war difficult to understand or support and the Korean War never really gained popular support.

The war was one of the most hard-fought in American history. During its relatively short duration, 54,246 Americans died in support of their country. Of these, 8,200 are listed as missing in action or lost or buried at sea. An additional 103,284 Americans were wounded during the conflict.  An estimated 2.5 million civilians were also killed or wounded.

The main portion of the memorial honoring these men and women is in the form of a triangle intersecting a circle. Within the walled triangle are 19 stainless steel statues, which represent an ethnic cross section of America. Each statue is larger than life-size, measuring between 7 feet 3 inches and 7 feet 6 inches tall, and weighing nearly half a ton. The figures represent a squad on patrol, drawn from each branch of the armed forces; fourteen of the figures are from the U.S. Army, three are from the Marine Corps, one is a Navy Corpsman, and one is an Air Force Forward Air Observer. They are dressed in full combat gear, dispersed among strips of granite and juniper bushes which represent the rugged terrain of Korea.

The main reflection wall along the south side of the triangle is 164 feet long, 8 inches thick; and made from more than 100 tons of highly polished “Academy Black” granite. More than 2,500 photographic, archival images depicting soldiers, equipment and people involved in the war are sandblasted onto the wall. When the statues are reflected on the wall, there appear to be 38 soldiers, representing the 38th parallel. To the north of the statues is a path, forming another side of the triangle. Alongside the path, forming the second side of the triangle is the United Nations Wall, a low wall listing the 22 members of the United Nations that contributed troops or medical support to the Korean War effort.  The third side of the triangle, facing towards The Lincoln Memorial, is open.

The memorial’s circle contains the Pool of Remembrance, a shallow pool 30 feet in diameter lined with black granite and surrounded by a grove of linden trees with benches. The trees are shaped to create a barrel effect, which allows the sun to reflect on the pool. Inscriptions list the numbers killed, wounded, missing in action, and held as prisoners of war, and a nearby plaque is inscribed: “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” Additionally, next to the information about the American soldiers is information about the United Nations troops.

The meaning of the memorial is perhaps most captured by a message embedded in one of its granite walls, which bears the simple message, inlaid in silver: “Freedom Is Not Free.”

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Motherland - The Armenian Earthquake Statue

Motherland – The Armenian Earthquake Statue

To the right of the main entrance on the north lawn of The American Red Cross Headquarters, located just a block away from The White House at 430 17th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C., stands a statue named “Motherland.” Armenian sculptor Frederic Sagoyan, a famous sculptor of Russian monuments, created the bronze sculpture of a mother fiercely holding a fearful child based upon a woman who survived several days in the rubble with her child. He gifted the sculpture on behalf of the Armenian people to the American Red Cross in appreciation for their assistance and support in the aftermath of the Spitak earthquake in Armenia, which devastated that country. On this bike ride I went by to see the statue.

The Armenian earthquake, also known as the Spitak earthquake, occurred on December 7, 1988, in the northern region of Armenia, which was a part of the Soviet Union at that time. The earthquake measured 6.8 on the Surface Wave Magnitude Scale, one of the magnitude scales similar to the more commonly-known Richter scale, which is used in seismology to describe the size of an earthquake. Although it was not extraordinary in its seismology or main characteristics, the earthquake was unusually devastating. Over 45,000 people were brought out of the rubble, including a group of six friends who were trapped for 35 days in the basement of a collapsed nine-story building. In the end, at least 25,000 people were killed and another 30,000 injured, while 21 towns and 342 villages were destroyed.

Compounding the horrific tragedy, most hospitals in the region could not withstand the earthquake. Most of them collapsed, killing two-thirds of the doctors, destroying equipment and medicine, and reducing the capacity to handle the critical medical needs in the region in the earthquake’s aftermath. This, in part, led to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev formally asking the U.S. for humanitarian assistance, despite the tensions at that time of the ongoing Cold War. In addition to the U.S. as well as private donations and assistance, 112 other countries also provided substantial amounts of humanitarian aid to the Soviet Union in the form of rescue equipment, search teams and medical supplies. It was the largest international cooperation since World War II.

That deluge of western aid, particularly from the U.S., that was a byproduct of the disaster that may have had a positive effect on Soviet Union–United States relations. It was less than a year later, on November 9, 1989, that the Berlin Wall was torn down in a significant step leading to the end of the Cold War.

So as I was there looking at “Motherland,” I couldn’t help but think about how the statue not only represented how the Red Cross, the U.S., and the international community came together for good in the aftermath of the Spitak tragedy, but also how those events and people are intertwined and connected to other events that since that time which together have changed the course of history.