Though we have lived in Korea for over two years, Jared and I had yet to visit the War Memorial of Korea.
It’s a little surprising that we hadn’t been there yet, seeing as how Jared was a history major and I generally like museums. However, it just hadn’t happened for us yet, so we went to visit on Memorial Day weekend. (Yes, we went six months ago, and I am just now posting about it.)
The museum strongly focuses on the Korean War, but does include exhibits about other wars in Korea. There are diaramas, 4D movies, uniform displays, and a large outdoor area with aircraft and tanks. I found a sign about involvement in the Vietnam War interesting. It is entirely about how the war helped Korea, and nothing about how Korea helped Vietnamese. Many of the signs throughout the memorial were like this. I wondered if it was just a bad translation, but, unfortunately, I think this is a perfect example of the how the Korean mindset focuses on the self and self image.
The museum is snuggled between north and south post of Yongsan Garrison. The museum grounds are impressive and well-kept. Statues representing every types of person affected by the Korean war are full of emotion and were in stark contrast to the sunny day. A flag flies for each UN country that aided the South Korean effort. To the left of the main doors is a long white corridor. The walls are lined with plaques bearing the names of every soldier killed during the conflict. As it was Memorial Day weekend, white flowers had been placed at the base of each plaque. You hear about the numbers of dead, but it’s completely different to see the list of names.
The displays about the Korean War take you through the entire conflict. The signs are in both Hangul and English, but I admit I was a little surprised about how certain aspects of the war were represented. There was a lot of “tried our best” and “experience building.” There was very little acknowledgement of mistakes made or flaws in strategy; however, it’s their war and their country, so that generally grants them the ability to write history as they wish.
I was glad that we made the effort to go visit the memorial. It is strange to think about the Korean War as the reason we are in Korea now. That conflict seems so removed from every day life, yet it is the exact reason I have an everyday life in Korea.