Unexplored Consequences of Violence against Civilians during the Korean War

By Kang, Woo Chang; Hong, Ji Yeon | Journal of East Asian Studies, November 2017 | Go to article overview

Unexplored Consequences of Violence against Civilians during the Korean War


Kang, Woo Chang, Hong, Ji Yeon, Journal of East Asian Studies


Abstract

In this paper, we examine the extent to which wartime violence against civilians during the Korean War affects people's current attitudes toward South Korea and other involved countries. Using a difference-in-differences (DID) approach that compares the cohorts born before and after the war, we find that direct exposure to wartime violence induces negative perceptions regarding perpetrator countries. As many of the civilian massacres were committed by the South Korean armed forces, prewar cohorts living in violence-ridden areas during the war demonstrate significantly less pride in South Korea today. In contrast, postwar cohorts from those violent areas, who were exposed to intensive anti-communist campaigns and were incentivized to differentiate themselves from the victims, show significantly greater pride in South Korea, and greater hospitality toward the United States than toward North Korea, compared to prewar cohorts in the same areas and to the same cohorts born in non-violent areas.

Keywords

wartime violence, public attitudes, Korean War, anti-communist campaign, South Korea

INTRODUCTION

Many developing countries have experienced complex, often violent, historical paths to stability over the past century. As a result, people's opinions may vary regarding their own state, neighboring countries, and superpower states, depending on their direct and indirect experiences in the past. Exposure to large-scale conflict, in particular, can shape people's perceptions and attitudes in critical ways (Holsti 1992; Lunch and Sperlich 1979). In this study, using data on wartime violence against civilians during the Korean War along with recent survey data, we examine whether such violence affects people's views of their own state and of other participating countries over a half century later.

Many contemporary conflicts involve casualties beyond the combatants themselves. The Korean War constitutes one such example, as civilian deaths surpassed even the number of combatant casualties. (1) In this article, we argue and provide evidence that the long-term impact of conflict on people's views of the perpetrating states varies according to experiences that an individual, a family, or a community had during and after the war. In the context of the Korean War, where multiple parties, including North and South Korea and the United States, engaged in both battles and civilian massacres, perceptions of those war participants should vary widely across individuals and communities, conditioned by exposure to the violence. (2)

To identify the causal effects of wartime violence against civilians, we employ a difference-in-differences (DID) design comparing a pre-war cohort (born between 1944 and 1953) and a post-war cohort (born between 1954 and 1963) residing in areas exposed to violence and in non-violent areas. This empirical design categorizes the subjects into four groups: (1) pre-war generation in violence-affected areas, (2) post-war generation in violence areas, (3) pre-war generation in areas with no violence, and (4) post-war generation in non-violence areas. Then we compare the differences in attitudes between and pre-war and post-war generations in violence areas and to those in non-violence areas. Substantively, this specification effectively differentiates the direct effect of wartime violence to residents in victimized communities, which only pre-war generation in violence areas could experience, from its indirect effect to later-born residents in the same communities, and then compare those findings to the trends in non-victimized areas. In addition, we can also test how post-war politics, particularly the anti-communist drive in South Korean politics, have affected these cohorts differently in violent and non-violent areas. (3)

Our empirical analysis shows that South Koreans' contemporary attitudes toward their own state and the surrounding countries vary significantly depending on whether they reside in areas exposed to violence against civilians during the war and whether they were born before or after the war. …

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