A good Twitter friend recently asked me why I thought The Korean War is so much a forgotten war, in general, because it is. Forgotten is a harsh word, because we should never forget the lives lost and loves buried in bloody battle and honor. Having grown up in America, and having listened to the stories my grandparents told me I don’t blame them for wanting to forget that war. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of The Korean War, and there are commemorating events happening right now in many parts of the world.
The thing with Korea is…it was split in half the first time in 1945, as a result of World War II. Koreans didn’t even get a say in it then, because Korea got no respect as a country in times of war. Korea was easy pickings because it’s a peninsula. So when The Korean War broke out five years later, North Korea had China and Soviet Union in their corner while the U.N. backed South Korea. Obvious. The United States swept in and fought for South Korea, and saved the day, and in the end Korea was split in two all over again. That’s the pretty summary.
The ugly reality is well over a million people died in total, during The Korean War. Babies bled-out and mass children were orphaned. Some people lost limbs and minds at the same rate that they lost weight. Virginity was wasted on prostitution camps popping up around army bases, and there was a whole subset of Korean children of mixed race conceived for a decade at least. Most soldiers never even knew or denied they’d fathered a Korean child, and those children grew up fatherless and brutally branded bastards by the Korean community. Some soldiers married their Korean baby mamas and gave them a new life in America, and U.S. citizenship. Those marriages didn’t always work out, and in the ugliest ways. War is not kind before or during or after, just never.
When North Korea first advanced south in attack, South Koreans fled further south. We know this because of film footage and photos and textbooks in school, but I know this because my grandparents used to tell it to me. They never told me enough, but they shared in flashes and snippets. The only reason my grandparents had gotten married in the first place, was to strengthen their two already-powerful families so they’d be richer after the war. They’d planned ahead, but they hadn’t planned on seeing so many dead people around them year after year as the war raged on. Most everyone they knew they never saw again, once the dust settled.
When the war ended in 1953, it didn’t mean a better life for anyone right away not even the rich. My grandparents and parents, and aunts and uncles, come from a generation where unpleasantries are not talked about but best forgotten. They certainly would never blog about it. This is my attempt at answering the question as to why The Korean War seems so distant from the spot light. The Korean people, as a whole, bury things deep and I’m not just talking about kimchi.
As a newer generation Korean, I’m thankful for all the stories and memories and veterans who helped keep my family line alive 60 years ago. I’m sorry that things are the way they are between the two Koreas, and that so much blood shed couldn’t reunify the country I was born in. I’m grateful and proud to have been raised in America, but Korea is my birthplace and motherland.
I took this photo with my grandparents in 2010 and although my grandmother is still with us, my grandfather passed away just four months after taking this photo. I miss him. I will never forget any of his stories.