The ongoing ceasefire that began after the Korean War (1950-53) and the simultaneous development of South Korea that have exceeded everyone's imagination, may have made living in division a normal state of affairs for most Koreans.
Yet, the war's many atrocities, which pitted brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor, indisputably left a mark on the Korean people. Geopolitically, because it ended in a stalemate, the war is often described as the "forgotten war." But this doesn't mean that everyone has forgotten. Korean War veterans, as well as the public, still exchange their stories from the war
The Syracuse, New York-based Korean War Legacy Foundation has stepped up its efforts promoting the exchange in recent years through the eyes of the American veterans who fought in the war. In 2011, with funding from South Korea's Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs (MPVA), the foundation started with collecting letters and more than 8,000 artifacts, and conducting 800 some interviews, in an effort to digitalize the participation of U.S. veterans in the war. Some 2 million are estimated to have fought in the war. Han Jong-woo, the foundation's president, said that the foundation initially was like a "cyber crypt" where the memory of the veterans were preserved.
"These American veterans are pro-Korean human resources that we now have because we shed blood together," Han said. "They are a base for public diplomacy, meaning that these are people who would willingly say good things about our country."He also said that they are a base that the Korean government should maintain.
On the foundation's website (http://www.kwvdm.org) are recorded interviews with the veterans. One veteran, Daniel Rickert, is seen recounting how his father, originally from Germany, served in the U.S. Navy in World War I, and how he himself joined the Reserves after high school. Because the veterans are now, on average, 85 years or older, the foundation now focuses on educating future generations by putting these materials in classrooms.
From reading his two daughters' textbooks, Han realized that despite Korea's geopolitical and economic rise, not much is written about the Korean War in American textbooks. "There is only one paragraph on the Korean War, despite the growth of Korea, Inc. and the ROK-U.S. alliance," Han said. The foundation created the Youth Corps in 2013 — modeled after John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps — to enable students to continue their parents' legacy in the war.
Coincidentally, one of the Youth Corps members was a history teacher, Samantha Fraser from Georgia, who worked with the foundation to create a Korean War digital history project in 2013 as a possible manual for teaching about the Korean War. The foundation hosts annual conference for history and social studies teachers and the youth corps. This year, the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) signed an MOU with the foundation to endorse the foundation's major projects.
Han recently visited Korea along with 10 teachers to attend MPVA- hosted Peace Camp.
From 2002 through 2010, he along with Syracuse University helped set up the digital library of Kim Chaek University of Technology in North Korea, and this experience helped him establish the foundation. But what inspired him to create the foundation in the first place was Syracuse University's series of lectures in the early 2000s on Ambassador Han Pyo-wook, to which the Korean War veterans came with bags full of photos and artifacts during their service in the war. The foundation had sponsors, including Park Byeong-yeop, vice chairman of Pantech C&I.
However, as a political scientist with a specialization in comparative politics, Han felt it was important to dig deeper into the meaning of the Korean War.
"The Korean War is the root of the new Cold War taking place in Northeast Asia," Han said, pointing out how the U.S. war veterans he interviewed remember mainly fighting the Chinese soldiers along the western front.
Also, according to Han and the veterans, the war, compared to the growth and prosperity that Korea has experienced since, is almost like a bad memory but with a different ending.
Han said when he interviewed the veterans, they remembered a poor, war-torn Korea with the smell of buckets of feces they euphemistically called "honey pots" that men carried on their shoulders, women who always carried big bags on their heads and children who always clamored for something to eat.
Most of the veterans were from the so-called "great generation," or those who grew up during the Great Depression of the 1930s and fought during World War II.
"When they came back to the United States, they were busy with their daily lives, and over the years, they forgot about it (the war). It was also a war that they did not want to remember," he said.
Han is looking to include the 26,000 U.S. servicemen stationed in South Korea in the foundation's digital library as well. Han said there are about three million former U.S. servicemen who served in Korea after the war.
"These people are those who know Korea the best. We need to include them, as the war has not ended and their service in Korea is a pillar of the Korea-U.S. alliance," he said.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United." Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."