Jesus H. sweet mother of everything. I knew the Korean War was bad -- I didn't know it was that bad. I'm the first to admit I'm a fucking idiot when it comes to history, which I could blame on the abominable American practice of forcing coaches to teach these courses throughout junior high and high school, but is mostly (like much of everything) just down to personal laziness, and my complete inability to "learn" anything unless I follow impossible threads back to the beginning of time. I always convince myself that I can't properly judge this event, without understanding the entire history of all particularly involved parties, get overwhelmed and then just give up. I'm neurotic, basically, and don't trust any sources independently ever, always convinced that everyone has a bias, a motive and a reason why they feel compelled to say anything at all. I don't like having to trust historians, because I don't, basically.

But it's no excuse to just sit back and do nothing, which is what I do much of the time. It's an embarrassment that I've lived in this country for over a year and am just now getting down to starting to understand this stuff. I've much preferred, over the last year, to sit back and complacently take in first-hand accounts of things (such as the Gwangju massacre), hearing straight from the people who were there at the time, who had real life engagement with these issues and, although possibly more biased than any other source, who are at least speaking from a place of personal truth.

However, sitting down with a fresh pack of Marlboros and a pot of coffee this afternoon and forcing myself to read through an account of the entire Korean War, start to finish, without moving -- without stopping to read more about this general or that skirmish, this political organization or that foreign influence -- was....

Overwhelming. And heart-breaking. But more than that, it was stomach-wrenching.

And, as an American who obviously views all history through the American lens, just a huge missing piece in the puzzle of the progression of American military and international political practices from the end of WWII to the beginning of the Vietnam War (both of which I obviously -- being an American -- know much more about).

It's hard to get outside of that, though. To stop viewing the Korean War as part of American history and start seeing it as Korean history. I don't know how to do that yet -- to stop paying more attention to the decisions of American politicians and military personnel. To stop focusing on the atrocities and utter stupidities committed by "my people", and what it has meant for the development of what the United States has become, right on up into the present day. That's where I still get stuck.

At any rate, I now find myself faced with the task of trying to find something to do with myself for the evening that doesn't involve staring blankly at the walls, and won't feel somehow farcical in comparison to the reading I've just spent the better half of the day doing. Cleaning the bathroom, perhaps? Hm.

What I'd really like to do is something I've only done a handful of times since I've been here, which is call my family. But, given the fact that it's currently about 3:30 in the morning back home, I'd best not.


Mr Nameless said...

My grandfather was called up to serve in Korea as part of Britain's UN force. He'd been a professional soldier from 1938-1945, so he was still on the call up list. From what I know of his experiences, which is little, it was hell. The winter was killing men as much as the enemy and I guess it was more intense than WWII had been - considering his WWII had been mostly spent fighting the Japanese in Burma, which must been awful, it lends it some weight to think of the Korean War as 'hell'. He had a lot of 'fond' memories of his WWII, from being part of the BEF in Europe until the British evacuation at Dunkirk to fighting from India through Burma against the Japanese, but he had none for Korea. One can only imagine what it was like for Koreans to have their nation torn in two.

Mr Nameless said...

BEF = British Expeditionary Force, by the way.

Anonymous said...

you may call your family anytime you want to, Elizabeth.

We will always be happy to hear from you.

Kosaru said...

I'd really like to recommend the book "Aquariums of Pyeongyang" to you. It's an account of a North Korean in more recent history, but you get an idea of a North Korean perspective on the war as well. Not to mention it's an incredible book. I wish there were more English translations of accounts like this. Anyway, for me it really helped me step out of my American perspective and gave another face to Korea.

I'm no Picasso said...

Billy -- that does speak volumes. And to take that and change it to, and this is your country, and your family and your home and your loved ones.... well.

Kosaru -- Thanks for the suggestion. I've definitely seen that one around. I'll be sure to pick it up.

Kel said...

OMG I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN...My AP History teacher in 11th grade was the cheerleading coach. Every single day for an entire year, she told us to "read the book" for the 55 minute class period while she not even remotely discreetly played Solitaire on her computer. It was ridiculous...other than that I completed my "social sciences" credits with Geography. Psychology, and Economics (where we watched movies almost every day). So, in summation, I have not actually learned history since 8th grade, which was 1994. Embarrrrrassing. Your latests posts have kind of inspired me. Where do I even begin!?

I'm no Picasso said...

God. American history "teachers". Videos were the name of the game. Those classes were aka study hall/write notes to your friends detailing all the vital high school social drama that was going on that day.

Uhhh. What the Book? has a pretty decent Korean related section on the site, or if you dare to tempt The Curse, you can always just "borrow" all these books I've got laying around now.