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The Korean War: Remembering the Forgotten


Heejin Cho


The Korean War, which started from 1950 and lasted for three years, is often referred as the Forgotten War or the Unknown War. Even though there were about 480,000 Americans involved in it for three years, we do not think of it as big or important as its previous and subsequent wars. We fervently discuss controversies of American involvement in Vietnam, but we usually don’t question why Americans fought for South Korea; only few people would care that U.S and Soviet agreed at Potsdam Conference to divide Korea and back up half of it each.


Instead, if we ever talk about the Korean War, we talk in optimism that Americans had saved South Koreans from the Communist regiem. Claiming that S. Korea’s rapid economic growth in the late 20th century was largely due to the spread of  American ideas, some people use the American involvement in Korea to illustrate succesful "Americanization" of other countries. Or, the war is treated as one of numerous conflicts occured during Cold War era without much significance. In either way, American public generally do not associate Korean War with horrifying tragedy.


However, for all the people who directly or indirectly got involved in the Korean War, it was no more than a conflict. Hundreds of American soldiers died from hunger in foreign land without ever knowing what they were fighting for, thousands of Korean children lost their parents, and Korean soldiers had to shoot another Korean for no reason other than international tension over conflicting ideologies. Even participants in the war could not make its purpose relevant to their lives. Moreover, no generation after it was able to clarify what the war was about and for. Then what were thousands of innocent sacrifices for? Why must they be forgotten?


It was propaganda that purposely obstructed disclosure of American ignorance to reality of the war.  Political atmosphere of the time, McCarthyism, shut public ears with fear: the evil red commies will come to obliterate us! Thus, fearing that they might be accused of being a Communist, Americans dared not to doubt a suspicious cooperation between the politicians and media. Politicians cajoled the public that American boys are fullfilling their glorious duties to secure Democracy and decieved the public even more with a promise to “get the boys home by Christmas” of the first year. However, it took three years for the American soldiers to come home if they ever come back, and there was no glory and proud in them. In addition, the media inserted false impression to the eyes of American public with the images of American soldiers being benevolent and merciful to poor Koreans. Simultaneously, the media portrayed the Americans in the war as a guest and not the involving party; drawing a sharp point that the war was "theirs" and we could always withdraw ourself from it. While Koreans thought the war was about the contest of foreign powers. Since it was nobody’s war, no one remembers it.


There was no peace treaty to settle the Korean War.

The war never ended but paused. We don’t know when it will resume again.

Except for the fact that North Korea has replaced Soviet Union as our foe, nothing has altered since we left the land in 1953.

For the last fifty years, we have forgotten thousands of sacrifices made in the war.

Whose war is it going to be next time? How many precious lives must be forgotten again?

In order not to gain any more to forget, we need to remember what we already have forgotten now.



Created by: Heejin Cho on 11/10/2009

I am a teacher education candidate at the University of Texas at Austin completing my Student as Historian assignment in order to meet course requirements for Secondary Advanced Social Studies Methods.