Activity: Participating in or organising an event types › Participation in conference
The Korean War (1950-53) is frequently referred to as a 'forgotten war': few novels, films or memorials mark the contribution of 100,000 British and Commonwealth servicemen who served on the Korean peninsula in the early 1950s. Unlike the Second World War, the aims, achievements and conclusion of the Korean War did not fit with the narrative required by post-war or contemporary Britain. Using a range of life-writing material, this paper will explore the roots of the conflict's obscurity in 1950s Britain and trace it to the present day, arguing that we can understand Korea as both an 'alternate' space of war and an alternative narrative of post-1945 Britain. It will first examine the physical space of Korea and how the British public understood its location and significance to global post-war (and Cold War) politics. Numerous hastily-made BBC programmes of summer 1950 show that few people in Britain knew where Korea was when war broke out, and still fewer understood its relevance to Britain. Although many soldiers wrote home speaking of how their voyage to Korea was like a 'Cook's Tour', along the 'Empire Route' to Singapore, the physical reality and harsh climate of Korea was completely unfamiliar to servicemen arriving there. In letters, diaries and prisoner of war material, Korea, its people and its climate were depicted as inhospitable, isolated and insignificant. One National Serviceman even wrote : ‘[The] trouble with this war, is this. There’s no object... No one knows, except something called vaguely the peace of the world and what does that mean to the average soldier? Nothing at all.’ Second, this paper will explore why after 1953 the Korean War had no place within British national narratives of war and conflict. Overall, this paper will argue that the overarching legacies of the World Wars and the Falklands War had a profound impact in making Korea a 'forgotten war', with lasting consequences for its veterans.