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'Ghost Flames' soothes souls of dead

By Lee Kyung-man

Pulitzer Prize winner Charles J. Hanley told the story of the Korean War, one of the most barbaric conflicts in history, in "Ghost Flames: Life and Death in a Hidden War, Korea 1950-1953" in 2020 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the war, according to the weekly magazine, "The Main Actor Review."

The book begins with a Korean proverb, "A shrimp's back gets broken in a whale fight." The implied meaning of the proverb is that capitalist and communist states joined forces in World War II to beat imperial and militarist states, and in the Korean War, capitalist and communist countries duked it out in the final match.

The Korean War was the first major armed conflict of the Cold War and remains the last armed conflict between great powers. U.S. President Harry S. Truman, who mobilized military forces to oppose the spread of communism, also joined the war unprecedentedly quickly, without congressional approval. It made the United States become a permanently militarized nation and turned China into a global power. The seeds of today's nuclear crisis around the world were planted. And the Korean War is truly an unfinished war, having ended in an armistice but without a peace treaty.

The main characters of the book are 20 eyewitnesses to the war, including soldiers from the two Koreas, the United States, and China, as well as female Korean refugees, Korean and British journalists, displaced mothers, social figures in Seoul, and Chinese interpreters from the truce talks.

Protagonists also witnessed or were caught up in the war's atrocities, including the secret mass executions of tens of thousands of political prisoners in South Korea; the Americans' massacre of hundreds of southern refugees at No Gun Ri; the U.S. aerial strafing of southern refugee columns; the indiscriminate U.S. bombing of northern civilian centers; and the North Korean summary "people's court" executions of police and other southern officials.

In addition, through testimony from the chief military commanders of each country, such as Matthew B. Ridgway (U.S. Army deputy chief), Yu Song-chol (People's Army general), Peng Dehuai (Chinese People's Liberation Army general), the book also shows how political circumstances, strategic military situations, and economic aspects affected the warring nations throughout this war.

The title of the book became "Ghost Flames" because many of the dead were left to decay on the slopes and in the valleys of mountains. In particular, the people of Nogun-ri said they saw "ghost flames" or "soul fireworks," and watched the killing fields at night. Above all, this book is dedicated to helping soothe the memory of the restless dead in hidden wars and their anxious souls.

In particular, as Bill Shinn, a Korean journalist, and Alan Winnington, a British journalist, testified, sufficient justification was found for the book in the truthful testimony of the witnesses representing both camps. Therefore, as I read this book, I came to see the Korean War as an objective fact. In particular, Charles J. Hanley is thought to have created this vast book to inform others of the little known. I am writing this to show my gratitude to Charles J. Hanley.


Lee Kyung-man, Ph.D. in policy administration science, is a newspaper columnist.




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