Though sometimes labeled America’s “forgotten war,” the Korean War deserves neither that title nor that fate. The conflict, which ended 50 years ago this July, was among the most destructive of the 20th century, claiming the lives of approximately 37,000 American soldiers, up to 1 million Chinese combatants and as many as 4 million Korean soldiers and civilians.
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 8-10, Washington University’s International Writers Center (IWC) in Arts & Sciences — in conjunction with the Missouri Historical Society — will remember the war with a conference called “The Coldest War in the Cold War: The Blood and Politics of the Korean Conflict, 1950-1953.” Events include lectures, film screenings and panel discussions with more than two-dozen scholars and veterans from around the country.
The conference is free and open to the public. Sessions May 8 and 10 take place in the Des Lee Auditorium at the Missouri Historical Society in Forest Park. Sessions May 9 take place in the Ann W. Olin Women’s Building Formal Lounge at Washington University, located on Throop Drive, just off Forest Park Parkway. For more information or a complete schedule, call the IWC at (314) 953-5576 or visit their Web site, artsci.wustl.edu/~iwc.
Thursday’s program includes a screening of The Steel Helmet, Sam Fuller’s classic 1951 Korean War drama, and a keynote address by Bruce Cumings, author of The Origins of the Korean War, titled “War Is a Stern Teacher: On the History & Memory of a Civil War.”
Friday will feature discussions of “The Origins & The Impact of the War” and “The Korean War & The Cold War in America, “as well as two veterans’ panels, one with local veterans and the other addressing “Minority Soldiers & the War.” The day’s program will conclude with a presentation of the film Address Unknown (2001), Kim Ki-Duk’s controversial examination of Korea’s history of Japanese colonialism, civil war and American occupation.
Saturday’s program begins with a lecture on “Women’s Narratives of the Korean War” by Chungmoo Choi, author of Dangerous Women: Gender and Korean Nationalism, followed by a panel on “Korean Perspectives of the War” and, that afternoon, the conference’s third veterans’ panel. The conference concludes with a keynote address titled “What Did and Does the War Mean?” by William Hammond, senior historian with the U.S. Army Center of Military History.
The Korean War looms large with historical importance: It was the first U.N.-sanctioned war; the first war in which the United States deployed integrated combat troops; and the first test of the American policy of containment of communism. It also was the first “hot” flashpoint of the Cold War and the first (if unofficial) U.S. war with China, as well as the first limited U.S. war of the 20th century and the last American war with a front line.
At home, the Korean War raised concerns about the treatment of American POWs and added the word “brainwash” to our collective vocabulary. In 1952, President Harry S. Truman decided not to run for re-election in large part because of the war’s unpopularity, ultimately costing Democrats the White House. That the conflict continues to haunt the American consciousness is evidenced by the lasting popularity of films ranging from The Manchurian Candidate to M*A*S*H and a recent spate of books, including Rethinking the Korean War by William Whitney Stueck and China’s Road to the Korean War by Jian Chen.
Conference ScheduleThursday, May 8 – Missouri Historical Society, Des Lee Auditorium
3 p.m.: Film Showing and Discussion”The Steel Helmet”(1951), directed by Sam FullerIntroduced by Paul Edwards, Center for the Study of the Korean War, andVincent Casaregola, St. Louis University
8 p.m.: Welcome RemarksGerald Early, director, International Writers Center, Washington UniversityRobert Archibald, president and CEO, Missouri Historical Society
Keynote Address”War Is a Stern Teacher: On the History & Memory of a Civil War” Bruce Cumings, University of Chicago
Friday, May 9 – Washington University, Ann W. Olin Women’s Building, Formal Lounge
8-8:30 a.m.: Registration, Welcome RemarksEdward Macias, Dean of Arts & Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis
8:30-10:30 a.m.: Panel I: “The Origins & the Impact of the War”James Matray, California State UniversityWilliam Stueck, University of GeorgiaJian Chen, University of VirginiaModerator, Jerry Cooper, University of Missouri-St. Louis
10:30-11:45 a.m.: Panel II: “Korean War Veterans Association”Nick Zak, Korean War VeteranPaul Philips, Korean War VeteranJoe McMann, Korean War VeteranDwight Henderson, Korean War VeteranWalter Phillips, Korean War VeteranHerman Son, Korean War VeteranModerator, John Walls, Past Commander, Korean War Veterans Association
1:15-3:15 p.m.: Panel III: “The Korean War & the Cold War in America”Marilyn Young, New York UniversityGerald Horne, University of North CarolinaMichael Gardner, P.C., AuthorModerator, Henry Berger; Washington University in St. Louis
3:15-4:30 p.m.: Panel IV: “Minority Soldiers & the War:Perspectives from African American & Native American Veterans”Curtis Morrow, Author, Korean War VeteranGilbert Isham, Korean War VeteranHarold Frogg, Korean War VeteranRobert Pierce, Washington University in St. LouisModerator, Repps Hudson, St. Louis Post Dispatch
7:30 p.m.: Presentation on the film Address Unknown (2001)Directed by Kim Ki-DukIntroduced by Myung Ja Kim, Boston University
Saturday, May 10 – Missouri Historical Society, Des Lee Auditorium
8:15-8:45 a.m.: Registration
8:45 a.m.: Presentation: “Women’s Narratives of the Korean War”Chungmoo Choi, University of California-Irvine
9:30-11:30 a.m.: Panel I: “Korean Perspectives of the War”Chungmoo Choi, University of California-IrvineJae Won Lee, Korean War VeteranMyung Ja Kim, Boston UniversitySang-Ki Kim, Southern Illinois University-EdwardsvilleSeung H. Kim, St. Louis University Moderator, James Davis, Washington University in St. Louis
1-2:45 p.m.: Panel II: “Korean War Veterans on the War”Wilfred Ruff, Korean War VeteranRobert Cameron, Korean War VeteranJack Hamilton, Korean War VeteranModerator, Harry Levins, St. Louis Post Dispatch
2:45-3:30 p.m.: Closing Keynote Address”What Did and Does the War Mean?”William Hammond, Senior Historian, U.S. Army Center of Military History