Academic journal article Development and Society

On the Ruins: Forgetting and Awakening Korean War Memories at Cheorwon *

Academic journal article Development and Society

On the Ruins: Forgetting and Awakening Korean War Memories at Cheorwon *

Article excerpt

A City in Gray

On August 18, 2016 on a field trip with the "Green Peace in the Korean Peninsula" research group of the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies (IPUS) at Seoul National University, I visited Cheorwon for the first time. A small city near the DMZ, Cheorwon is one of the northernmost points in South Korea, and part of what is known as "recovered territory" (subok chigu): areas that belonged to North Korea at the time of the initial partition of the peninsula in 1945 but were claimed by the South by the war's end. We embarked on the field trip with following questions: In what ways do the memories of war continue to pertain to life in Cheorwon? How has the city become the site of what we might call "security tourism," and might the region support the transformation of security tourism into "peace tourism" instead?

With these questions in mind, I prepared a brief questionnaire for the participants of the field trip. The participants were asked to choose one color from the ten given choices that best corresponds to their image of Cheorwon before the departure, and were asked the same question again after the field trip. The respondents were also asked to describe in words particular places or buildings in Cheorwon that they found most memorable.

Our itinerary took us to two observatories within the DMZ, Victory Observatory and Peace Observatory, and Yangji-ri village and Pyeonghwa (Peace) Park in the Civilian Control Line (CCL), Woljeong-ri Station area, as well as the ruins placed outside the Civilian Control Line (CCL). Then we went up to Soe Mountain to take a view of the Cheorwon plain. The result of the survey revealed a stark contrast between the respondents' views of Cheorwon before the field trip and after.

Out of twenty-six responses for the survey taken before the field trip, the most popular answer was gray at ten, followed by green at eight. On the way back to Seoul, the same question yielded twenty-five out of twenty-six responses for green. The supplementary question about memorable places gave us a sense of why the respondents' views had changed so dramatically. Fifteen respondents stated that they found the Cheorwon plain as seen from Soe Mountain the most impressive, followed by five respondents who chose the Workers' Party Headquarters. A one-day field trip to the "city in gray" had clarified its obscure image, and imbued it with a vivid color associated with peace rather than war. Clearly, the view of endless fields of green stretching across the Cheorwon plain had contributed to the change in the participants' perspectives. The ruins remaining in Cheorwon did so as well, though to a lesser degree.

On October 29th, I revisited Cheorwon with a group of students attending the IPUS Peace Academy. This time, we left for the trip on a clear autumn day. The theme of our trip was announced as "Imagining Peace on the Ruins," and in addition to visiting various sites, the program included lectures by artists whose work addressed the theme of peace. The abovedescribed survey conducted before the departure revealed that gray was once again the dominant color associated with Cheorwon-of the twenty-one responses, ten selected gray and five selected green. Unlike the previous trip in summer, however, the survey conducted after the trip revealed that the afterimage of Cheorwon was now bathed in yellow or white rather than green. It may be that the change in season-Cheorwon plains had turned autumnal yellow with the ripening rice harvest-had led to the difference in respondents' views between the two trips, but common to both was the transformation of Cheorwon's image from one predominantly associated with war to another infused by peace.

To be sure, the experiment is far too simple to serve as formal research data, but it would be safe to hypothesize that there is a tendency to associate Cheorwon with the color gray among Koreans who have never visited the city, and that this image undergoes a change after the actual visit to the place. …

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