The War Memorial of Korea

Posted: June 27, 2011 in South Korea

While it is always fun to complain about missing pennies and point out nuances that stem from cultural, social, and historical differences that I’m learning to adapt to, there’s also a time for more serious explorations.  The week before last, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the War Memorial of Korea as part of the cultural sensitivity training we were receiving as new arrivals to 1st Replacement Company, USAG Yongsan.  While we were only given a limited amount of time to tour the museum, it was definitely an experience well worth the price of admission (free) and a place I will return to when time allows.

Upon entering the facility, the first exhibit you notice is a somber tribute to the 46 Republic of Korea sailors who died when the ship they were manning, the Cheonan, sank due to a March 26, 2010 explosion that was largely believed to be the product of a North Korean torpedo.  While North Korea denied such attack, all details pointed clearly in their direction.

Despite the obvious cultural differences between the United States and South Korea, there is one commonality between the two nations: both countries have experienced war and national tragedy, separately as individual democracies as well as together as allies.  While some may argue the need for a continuous US presence in South Korea, one aspect that cannot be argued is that both countries have experienced losses in their histories — both recently and long ago — and such tragic losses for a nation are painful for its citizens, regardless of the country.

The deeper you delve in to the museum, the more evident it is that South Korea has an ancient and eventful history, much like most Asian nations.  While the style of government has changed throughout time, Korea’s extensive history generally begins in 2333 BC.  Having an ancient history is one aspect of most Asian and European countries that I have found myself to be jealous of as an American.  I firmly believe that the United States is the greatest country in the world and I would never trade being an American; however, we, as a people, have a history that only dates back several hundred years as opposed to several thousand to tens of thousands of years.  We could, of course, look to the Native Americans’ histories in our country or trace our personal ancestry back to Europe and document our history there, but that would require finding direct lineage back to an individual nation and many Americans, like myself, are such a random mix of European nationalities that this is almost impossible.  Thus, we are forced to rely on our relatively short national history (in terms of the growth of civilizations),  although a very proud history in such a short amount of time, and it is interesting to see a nation that dates back as far as the Korean people do here on the peninsula.

While South Korea’s history is rich and very fascinating, what I was most interested in seeing during our tour were the exhibits regarding what we know as the Korean War (or Conflict, depending on who you ask).  My maternal Grandfather was a Korean War veteran and some 60 years later I’m stationed in the same country as he was when he was here during the conflict as a member of the United States Air Force.  What I gathered from the Korean War displays is that South Korea is a nation very grateful for the support of the United Sates and other countries during their fight for freedom and democracy that began 61 years ago.  Unfortunately we lost more than 33,000 Americans during the Korean War but as the anniversary of the start of conflict recently passed, articles on the topic document how progress made during the war in the 1950s continue to this day and those efforts were not in vain.

There are some South Koreans who are old enough to remember a time before democracy on the peninsula while us, as Americans, have been blessed by more than 230 years as a democratic nation.  As evident in the War Memorial of Korea, the people here are fighting for the same freedom and democracy that we have, and continue to do, and the United States’ historical experience lends credibility to the assistance we have given to South Korea.

"In grateful remembrance of the men of the Armed Forces of Member States who died in Korea inservice of the United Nations."

I definitely enjoyed touring the War Memorial of Korea, despite the depressing nature that is inherent in any war memorial.  It was an extremely educational experience, one that I will have again before I leave the country.  As I browsed the exhibits and observed students on field trips and tourists on vacations, I began to realize that Americans share as many similarities as we do differences with the people of South Korea, which is what makes living here for a year such a unique experience.

The Korean War Monument

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