Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Beginning to Remember Korea

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Beginning to Remember Korea

Article excerpt

The recent unveiling in Washington of an elaborate monument to the Korean War - a mere 42 years after the last shots were fired - triggered the inevitable journalistic cliches about "the forgotten war," unremembered and unappreciated, save by its veterans and the families of the 54,000 American soldiers who died there for reasons long forgotten.

The cliche has a certain truth. The real question, however, is why Americans so quickly forgot a war that, after all, lasted 37 months, brought draft calls and military expansion, overthrew both Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the Democratic Party, and - don't forget - cost nearly as many young men as did the Vietnam War.

There is an answer. It is not a matter of public flightiness. It is one of mind-sets and rigidities, and of failures by the press and academics to explain the new facts of life. Korea represented a head-on collision between the traditional American goal of clear-cut victory and the pragmatic reality of a war that permitted, at best, a draw.

General MacArthur expressed the tradition succinctly. "There is no substitute for victory," he insisted, eager to seek it even by detonating all-out war with Communist China. Many Americans agreed. "Americans love a winner," Patton blares out in Francis Ford Coppola's brilliant film biography. But the Korean War brought neither winners, nor heroes, nor impressive novels or films, nor much that Americans could admire save MacArthur's remarkable landing at Inchon and the splendid withdrawal of the Marines from the Chonjin Reservoir. But withdrawal, after all, is just a synonym for retreat.

Americans reacted to a war that contradicted their sense of victory as a God-given right by retreating from its memory, ignoring it, forgetting it, and refusing to think or learn from it. Americans saw the Korean War as shabby, second-rate, unworthy of attention. …

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