DONALD Trump has issued a proclamation. He likes to issue proclamations. Published on July 24th, it says the United States of America stands side-by-side with its great ally and friend South Korea. “This ironclad alliance”, it says, “was forged in war and reinforced by a shared love of liberty and is vital to peace and stability in both Asia and the world.”

The president’s proclamation also noted that 2020 was the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War and that the 27th of July was the 67th anniversary of the signing of the armistice. That event, in the border village of Panmunjom, supposedly marked the end of the conflict, but it didn’t really. Seventy years on, North and South Korea are still locked in an existential battle and the Korean peninsula is a place where the Cold War never ended.

The chief combatants in the ongoing Cold War are Donald Trump, Commander in Chief of the US Army, Navy and Air Force, and Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader of North Korea. There was a time when the relationship between the men was a sign of hope: the leaders have met several times and in June 2019, Trump became the first sitting US president to step into North Korea. But there have been few signs of progress since. Trump has demanded North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons; Kim said this week that it’s not an option. They guarantee our security, he said.

Like Trump, Kim was also eager to mark the anniversary of the Korean War. At an event earlier this week, the Supreme Leader handed commemorative pistols to a group of military officers and demanded their loyalty to what he called the ongoing revolutionary cause. Meanwhile in America, Trump drew attention to the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington DC and in particular the four words carved out of the black granite: “Freedom is Not Free.”

The bombast and machismo of Trump and Kim is not the whole story though, because there is another, less-well-known memorial to the veterans of the Korean War. You can reach it by following a path that swoops and swirls up a hill in an unusual pattern that echoes the flag of South Korea, and at the top of the hill there is a pagoda where the names of the dead are listed. All around the hill there are also hundreds of birch trees clustered together like a crowd. There are 1,090 of them. One tree for every man killed.

That figure – 1,090 – is the number of British soldiers who died in the war and the memorial to them is in the middle of the countryside in West Lothian. This is Scotland’s remembrance of the Korean War and it is particularly poignant and important. Some have called the Korean War Scotland’s Vietnam: 10,000 Scottish soldiers went out to Korea and many of them were very young; most of them also had little idea what the war was about or who they were fighting; and many of them died: of the 1,090 British soldiers killed, some 236 of them were Scottish.

And yet one of the greatest tragedies of the Korean War is that it has been largely forgotten. It’s a war that killed almost as many men as Vietnam and three times as many British as the Falklands, a war that brought us the closest we've ever come to the use of nuclear weapons since the Second World War (other than during the Cuban missile crisis). And yet, unlike Vietnam or other more famous conflicts, it has pretty much gone from popular history and imagination. And even for those who fought in the war, there are questions. Why did it happen? Why did we end up there? Did we win? And, maybe most importantly, given Korea is still divided, was it a war worth fighting?

But first: the bare details of what the war was about. It broke out on June 25th 1950 when 10 battalions of the North Korean army crossed the 38th Parallel, the border between the north and the south. The Americans saw the invasion as a communist challenge to the West which had to be met; the British saw it as an act of aggression which had to be resisted, and a United Nations force was sent to defend the south. On the other side were the North Koreans, supported and helped by the Chinese.

The conditions were grim. Korea was the world’s last trench war, with the soldiers living in holes they dug themselves, sometimes in tropical summers when it could be as hot as 49C, sometimes in the terrible winters when it could be 40 below. Britain was also only five years out of the Second World War and was under-prepared for another conflict – British soldiers arrived during the Korean winter armed only with shirts and jumpers.

I’ve spoken to quite a few of the Scottish veterans of the war over the years and they confirmed how terrible it was. Hugh Urquhart from Cumberland was 20 years old when he was sent out to Korea and he remembered how poorly prepared the British were. "When we arrived, it was winter but all we had was a string vest, a shirt and a pullover," he said.

The rations were basic too and were supplied by the Americans. They consisted of a tin of mutton or sausages, a tin of fruit and another tin of biscuits. The soldiers were also given 20 cigarettes a day and two bottles of beer every second day. Their wage was around 10 bob a week, but it was not enough. Some soldiers sold their blankets to get more money.

The fighting was grim too. Hugh remembered one day when he crossed the 38th Parallel with his regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. "I remember we were marching single file up a hill," he said. "This officer said to me 'we want someone strong to carry this stretcher' and so that was what I did. We marched on and came to a mark on the ground which was the 38th parallel - we were crossing from the South into the North. The next thing was I heard a shot and the officer who had spoken to me was killed and I had to put him on the very stretcher he'd asked me to carry."

I’ve visited the Scottish memorial with other veterans and they too told me how terrible the conditions were. I also stood in the pagoda with one of them, Tam Gardner from Falkirk, who ran his finger down the list of the dead until he found what he was looking for. "Tommy Haldane," he said, straightening up. "He lived down the street from me and was in the same class at school. We were called up together. He was killed in a shell hole when he was 19 and he's still out in Korea. He's still out there.”

It's extremely moving to hear that kind of testimony, but it’s also moving, and frustrating, to hear Scottish veterans talk about the way that the Korean war has been largely forgotten. Eric Gurr, a veteran from Edinburgh, told me that whenever he mentioned the war, people would often look at him blankly. "You would mention it and people would say, 'What was that?',” he said.

Part of the reason is that the Korean War has never been a big part of popular culture in the way the Vietnam War has. Eric Gurr was shot under the arm during the war and was taken to a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, or MASH, mention of which conjures up the famous television programme of the same name. The 1970s comedy is pretty much the only popular film or TV series about the Korean War, compared to hundreds of film and TV programmes about Vietnam.

Some veterans also believe that fatigue after the Second World War also played a part. Derek Halley, a Korean veteran from Crieff who was conscripted into the Black Watch when he was 18, told me that he felt he couldn’t talk about what he’d been through when he got back to Scotland.

"You couldn't talk about it at home and say, 'What a hell of a war we've had,' because the man beside you would say, 'I was in a war, too,'" he said. "That's why it's all been thrown under the carpet because, as youngsters coming home and going to work and working alongside a fellow who'd been at, say, Dunkirk, you couldn't compare it. You couldn't talk about it. We were just wee boys. The [Korean] war didn't exist. I more or less stopped mentioning it. We never even got a thank you or an acknowledgment that we had a hard time. I got three medals; that's all. We got nothing. They didn't even say thank you."

One of Halley's clearest memories of Korea is of planes dropping Stalinist propaganda in to the trenches but he didn’t really understand the bigger picture at the time. It's unclear how close we came to nuclear war during the Korean War, but we do know that the American Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur was pushing for the use of atomic bombs. MacArthur had drawn up a list of potential targets after being forced into a retreat by the Chinese in the winter of 1950 and as they ran for their lives, America's nuclear finger started to twitch. It was perhaps only when the UN forces began to win on the ground again that the nuclear threat receded.

Major-General Julian Thompson, editor of the book Understanding Modern Warfare, which examines post-1945 conflicts including the Korean War, believes that on the whole the war was fought well by the Western forces. "The senior command was pretty experienced; all of them had fought in the Second World War and therefore were well trained and knew what they were doing."

But perhaps the bigger question is: was the war worth it? Arguably, America went on to repeat the mistakes of Korea in Vietnam, such as underestimating the abilities and tactics of the enemy. The line that divided the north from the south before the Korean war was also still there after the war and, of course, is still there today. Donald Trump may have taken an historic step over it last year, but other than that, nothing has changed: the stalemate continues, the Cold War has not thawed, there is no peace.

However, in his proclamation issued a few days ago, Donald Trump spoke about the kind of country that South Korea is 70 years on from the war. “The Republic of Korea,” he said, “once decimated in the aftermath of the war, is one of the world’s most vibrant, dynamic, and economically prosperous democracies” and for many veterans that is reason enough to say that the Korean War – largely forgotten as it may be - was worth it.

At the Scottish memorial, Tam Gardner told me that, in some ways, the war was lost by the British. "In a way, we didn't succeed," he said. "The north is as it was then: a dictatorship. But it doesn't mean the war was a waste. The south is a good place now and I reckon it was worth that much." Eric Gurr agreed with that. “I hated every minute of it but I'm immensely proud of it too,” he said.

But a lot of the Scottish veterans are still frustrated that, at home, many people don’t remember what the soldiers did out there. Some people might hear of Donald Trump’s proclamation. They might also see the picture of Kim Jong-un with his officers holding up their commemorative guns. But a better way to remember might be to visit the memorial in West Lothian and follow the path to the pagoda. Through the trees; 1,090 trees.