The War Memorial of Korea: war memories and reconciliation

Oct 1, 2019 – Kanghyun Kwon

Statue of Brothers symbolizes the reconciliation, love, and forgiveness

Regardless of its scale, duration, actors, and implications, war is always saturated with tragedy. The Statue of Brothers created by Korean architect Choi Young-jeep symbolizes the desire for reunification of Korea by showing two brothers meeting in battle during the Korean War: the elder as from South Korea, and the younger from North Korea.

Having this sculpture at the external exhibition area underscores the significance of the War Memorial of Korea not only as the commemorative place for soldiers, but also as the informative museum of tragic memories for future reconciliation in the Korean Peninsula.

The War Memorial of Korea

Located in Seoul, the War Memorial of Korea is designed to be a place for commemoration of soldiers sacrificed in the Korean War of 1950, and peaceful reunification of North and South Korea.

After almost 7 decades since the war had scorched the Korean Peninsula, national scars from the war still remain unhealed and thus extremely sensitive to modern Korean society. The country is still divided into North and South, albeit with several attempts of alleviation of tension between two for peace settlement. The War Memorial of Korea is built to remind the modern society of human insecurity that its predecessors had to endure, and value of security that the current system guarantees, so that there would not be any reoccurrence of similar violent conflict in the future.

Divided into outdoor and indoor exhibition areas, the War Memorial of Korea presents remnants of Korean War in two different categories; one can find sources of military confrontation such as military equipment from the outdoor exhibition area. Indoor exhibition area shows visual information of progression of Korean War from civilian’s perspectives. It tells that everyone, not just soldiers, was involved in this 3 years of tragic event.

Defending the Fatherland show soldiers’ spirit to protect their fatherland

Importance of commemoration

The War Memorial of Korea is often visited by field trip of young generations who wish to study the history of peacebuilding in the Korean Peninsula, and of war veterans and their relatives who fought for democracy of South Korea during the Korean War.

For teenagers and young adults, who have not experienced war and thus feel detached from the terror of war, this place will teach them the tragic background the country had to go through at the beginning of its history, so that they could value the sense of peace they often take for granted in modern society.

For war veterans, the War Memorial of Korea will be the concrete evidence that their service was valuable in the sense that the country which they had protected from the invasion successfully achieved prosperity and did not forget their devotion.

This museum is, in short, a respect for transgenerational humanitarianism. It symbolizes the continuity of virtues which the past generation had protected from threat, and the present and future generations must inherit to their society. As long as this bond between generations stay connected, there will be always the path for peace.

Educating the next generation

The ideal way to incorporate the War Memorial of Korea into educational context is through field trip, because it is a unique place of commemorative spirit. For domestic educational institutions, planning a visit to this place for instructive purpose is an easy task. For those outside of Korea, it would require longer time and more sophisticated planning for visit.

Students from middle school to university who are interested in Korean War would benefit from visiting the War Memorial of Korea. Although high school students or younger might not be able to plan an actual visit to the place abroad, they could apply for commemorative programs for Korean War inside the US, and obtain precious memories from war veterans and representatives from South Korea. University students go even further and visit the place to incorporate the primary resources into their knowledge.

Meanwhile, scholars who explore the early period of Cold War would be interested in visiting this place after reading this post because it is a large database consisting of symbolic remnants as well as records of primary source regarding the early confrontation of the US and Soviet Union.

Clock Tower of Peace

Messages from the war museum

The War Memorial of Korea teaches its visitors the value of peace they often take for granted. South Korea enjoys economic prosperity and democratic peace today, but one must not forget that its foundation was saturated with bloodshed and subsequent devastation. As demand for reunification grows, radical opinions often propose a possibility of war with North Korea to physically overthrow its government and achieve reunification through military means.

As simple as it sounds, it is both politically and morally unreasonable. As a former victim of war, South Korea should not become the starter of war to inflict the same pain it experienced in the past to other countries. Especially if that country is the victim of same war. Moreover, one should not forget that while it is extremely easy to end the existing peace, it is extremely hard to restore the lost peace from the devastation of war.

The War Memorial of Korea opposes the return to Korean War. Any violent means used for conflict resolution in the Korean Peninsula would defy the humanitarian values represented by this place. It is a lighthouse for peaceful reconciliation which navigates the government and civil society actors by asking them the following questions:

> Is it possible to prevent the reoccurrence of Korean War? How can it be avoided?

> Is military means ever going to promote human security? Why is human security important?

> What can the government and society do to arrive at reconciliation?


Kanghyun Kwon is a junior in Global Affairs, B.A., George Mason University.

Images are taken from Prepare Travel Plans (https://preparetravelplans.com/war-memorial-of-korea-guide/), The Seoul Guide (https://www.theseoulguide.com/sights/museums/war-memorial-of-korea/), and Espionart (https://espionart.com/2014/06/27/the-divided-brothers-of-the-korean-war/).

For further information, please visit the official website (https://www.warmemo.or.kr/LNG/main.do?lan=en).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s