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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Epilogue to "(De)Memorializing the Korean War: A Critical Intervention"


Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss the liberation period and the Korean War with a PBS team that hopes to produce a documentary on this war. When I mentioned the Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its painstaking work in documenting the myriad of massacres that occurred, they asked me, “What about North Korea? What about their massacres? Doesn’t this end up making the North look better than the South?” The implication was that political massacres, like everything else about the two Koreas, had to be molded in the vice of national division—and that if the North didn’t come off worse, as it always does in the American media, trouble might lie ahead. I said that the North did not have the imprimatur of the United Nations, or cardinal membership in the “free world,” or the continuous support of the United States. Someday, what the North has done will see the light of day, and then we can examine its record. Until then, one should not feel responsible for North Korean behavior, which is almost universally taken to be the worst in the world (whether true or not). Whatever blood is on North Korea’s hands is just that, on its hands. But as Americans we bear a deep responsibility for bringing into being and then supporting to the hilt a murderous regime. The easiest thing in the world is to denounce this or that North Korean crime. What is hard is to scrupulously examine a sordid history, with clear eyes and sincerity. In that way, the scholars in this special issue finally pay the occluded memories of thousands of victims and survivors what is simply their due.

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