|Korean War refugees walk down the road in Daejeon City in this 1950 photo. / Courtesy of Noonbit Publishing|
Photobook presents collateral damage, civilians hit hardest
By Kang Hyun-kyung
A voluminous photobook featuring some 300 pictures taken during and after the Korean War has been published, showing how the war changed the fate of both renowned and ordinary people.
"An Unfinished War: The Korean War" was published by Noonbit Publishing Co. on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the war on June 25.
"The message of this thick book is rather simple. We are against war," Lee Kyu-sang, founder and president of Noonbit Publishing Co., told The Korea Times.
He said the publication is part of his personal effort to right the wrongs of history as South Korea remains "stuck in the past."
Most of the photos used have not been made public before.
Lee said he considers the Korean War unfinished as it still affects the lives of people of the two Koreas, noting he tried to present the lingering fallout of the war which has torn the lives of ordinary people apart.
"Unfinished War" presents various photos taken on the battlefield that show unpaved roads and villagers with fearful eyes near the remains of their bombed houses. A long line of refugees crossing the Han River, children orphaned by the war crying helplessly, U.S. soldiers captured by the Chinese army with their hands raised, prisoners of war, and dead bodies scattered on the road tell vividly the bleak nature of the war that lasted three years.
The book reveals the tale of Korea's chaotic modern history and politics which has been riddled with reversals and denials of past interpretations of key historical events.
Among several other messages, the book also shows that in South Korea, interpretation of historical events is capricious at best, as seen in the example of a military general who was once lauded for his heroic deeds.
|A young couple poses near an unidentified U.S. vessel in the North Korean port city of Hungnam in December 1950. Some 100,000 North Koreans were successfully evacuated in U.S. cargo ships. / Courtesy of Noonbit Publishing|
In "Unfinished War," the late General Kim Paek-il (1917-1951) is mentioned as a Korean War hero. He is one of the key figures who made the miraculous Hungnam Evacuation possible.
General Kim persuaded U.S. X Corps Commander General Edward Almond to evacuate 100,000 Korean civilians in U.S. vessels ― including the 7,600-ton U.S. freighter SS Meredith Victoria ― from the North Korean port of Hungnam in December 1950.
"If we leave them behind here, they will be executed by the North Koreans," Gen. Kim was quoted in the book as having said during a meeting with other generals. "Their lives hinge on us. We should take them to South Korea under any circumstances."
After his death, a statue was erected at the historic site in the southern coastal city of Geoje that once housed a Korean War prison camp to commemorate his heroism.
In 2011, the Korean War hero's name abruptly surfaced in the media as a group of 30 local civic groups tried to purge him posthumously for his activities during the Japanese colonial period. They tried but failed to convince Geoje City to remove the statue. According to the group, Kim was involved in Japan's brutal crackdown on Korean independence fighters in the Manchuria region in the 1930s.
In 2019, next to his statue, the activists erected a monument in which they detailed Kim's role during Japanese colonial rule to deny his patriotism.
|The late General Kim Paek-il (1917-1951) / Korea Times file|
The purge didn't end there.
This year, a few ruling party lawmakers called for a bill to have the remains of Kim and other Korean "colluders" during the Japanese colonial period removed from the national cemetery for servicemen and women. Another Korean War hero Paik Sun-yup is among them.
The campaign to ostracize the "sympathizers of Japanese colonial rule" decades after World War II dates back to 2004 when President Roh Moo-hyun was in power. The Presidential Committee for the Inspection of Collaboration for Japanese Imperialism was established and in 2009, the committee unveiled a list of thousands of Koreans who colluded with the Japanese imperialists. Sixty-three of them are buried in the national cemetery.
The long list haunted the nation. In May, more than a decade later, Lee Su-jin, then a lawmaker-elect of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), proposed a bill to allow the removal of the remains of the 63 in a campaign to right past wrongs.
She said she would team up with fellow lawmakers-elect to prioritize the introduction of the bill once her tenure began on May 31. Fellow lawmaker Kim Byung-kee sided with her, saying if not proper measures taken, the issue will lead to clash between the conservatives and liberals.
Their radical remarks caused a stir.
"Unfinished War" sheds light on the controversial ruling party-led campaign to right the wrongs in history.
Hundreds of photos in the book were taken by photographers affiliated with the U.S. Army Signal Corps, the Marines and Air Force during the war. Those photos were transferred to the U.S. National Archives at College Park, Maryland.
Noonbit Publishing obtained the scanned photos from author Park Do for the anniversary photobook project.
"There exist several different interpretations about the Korean War and who initiated the war," Noonbit president Lee said. "Many of those interpretations were politically motivated as we've seen in the revisionist claim that South Korea invaded the North, which turned out to be untrue.
"This photobook aims to reinterpret the Korean War in the prism of a politically neutral perspective. The implication of the war is clear. Those who were hit hardest by the war were the civilians. They suffered a lot. So the point is that there should be no war in the future."
The Korean War killed 180,000 soldiers, both Korean and U.N. forces, with 550,000 wounded and some 42,000 missing. Nearly 1 million civilians were killed, injured, kidnapped or went missing.
The war orphaned nearly 100,000 children and resulted in the displacement of 10 million people.