The Korean War Never Happened: Forgetting a Conflict in British Society and Culture

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Abstract

This article traces the social and cultural significance of the Korean War in contemporary British society, from the initial involvement of British military forces in July 1950 to the unveiling of the first London memorial dedicated to the conflict in December 2014. In particular it explores why the Korean War has been labelled the ‘forgotten war’ of the twentieth century. After an initial surge of concern over the prospect of another world war in the summer of 1950, the Korean War was largely viewed as a distant war on a little-known peninsula and was continually obscured by the memory of the Second World War. Korea continued to be excluded from British national identity and memorial culture into the twentieth century as, unlike the Second World War, it served no purpose to subsequent generations. Moreover, the mantle of the ‘forgotten war’ had a discernible impact on how British veterans of Korea wrote about their experiences and understood their identity as post-1945 servicemen. Using letters, diaries and opinion surveys, as well as contemporary newspaper and television material, this article details how the Korean War was understood in twentieth-century and (early twenty-first-century) British culture. Moreover, this article calls for a wider reappraisal of ‘forgotten voices’ literature in twentieth-century British history writing and a clearer definition of the meaning of ‘forgetting’ to British society and culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-219
Number of pages25
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Volume27
Issue number2
Early online date25 Apr 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016

Keywords

  • Korean War
  • Cold War
  • Memory
  • forgetting

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