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The Korean War and Its Literary Legacies

Summary and Keywords

Since the late 1990s, a growing number of US authors has been drawn to the Korean War, hoping to undo its status as “The Forgotten War.” The fact that it has served as the focus of novels by eminent Korean American authors like Chang-rae Lee and Susan Choi is not entirely surprising, given that they are the children of immigrants whose early lives had been shaped by the conflict. Given the extraordinarily high number of civilian deaths that resulted from the war and the many families that were fractured, the war is clearly a defining event that helped create a Korean diaspora. It has also become the focus, however, of novels by non-Korean American authors, including Toni Morrison, Rolando Hinojosa, and Ha Jin, which testifies to the fact that it was an event in which a number of domestic histories of race and transnational histories of empire converged. The body of literary works that have emerged around this event can be thought of as constituting an archive of what Michael Rothberg has termed “multidirectional memory,” one that suggests the intimacies of multiple histories involving not only Koreans and Korean Americans, but also other US racialized groups including African, Mexican, Chinese, and Japanese Americans as well as their connections to the complicated formations of empire that have shaped the relationships between Asian nations. Contending with the complexity and range of literary works that have centered on this event enables a reconsideration and expansion of what the proper subjects and objects of Asian American literary criticism are. If the field has outgrown its origins, in which the projection of a cultural nationalist vision of Asian American identity was a paramount goal, the vibrancy of these works stems from their soundings of a subject that is not univocal but multivocal. The political desires they seek to animate in their readers are not reducible to an agenda of combating domestic racism or consolidating a nativist notion of Asian American cultural identity, though they may contribute to such endeavors. More expansively, however, they articulate a multivalent range of progressive political aspirations and proliferate an array of identificatory possibilities.

Keywords: Korean War, cultural memory, US empire, Asian American literature, African American literature, Chicana/o literature, Korean American literature, the Cold War

It is hardly an extravagant claim to assert that the shadows of two wars—World War II and the Vietnam War—fall over the early manifestos defining the Asian American literary tradition, and that these established manifestos were premised on “cultural nationalism and American nativity.”1 The editors of the influential anthology Aiiieeeee! were clearly shaped by the political foment of the Vietnam War era. Writing as that conflict was coming to a close, they asserted that the “authentic” Asian American sensibility they championed was exemplified by authors who were “American born and raised” and

who got their China and Japan from the radio, off the silver screen, from television, out of comic books, from the pushers of white American culture that pictured the yellow man as something that when wounded, sad, or angry, or swearing, or wondering whined, shouted, or screamed “aiiieeeee!” Asian America, so long ignored and forcibly excluded from creative participation in American culture, is wounded; sad, angry, swearing, and wondering, and this is his AIIIEEEEE!!! It is more than a whine, shout, or scream. It is fifty years of our whole voice.2

One of the primary “pushers of white American culture,” and thus a crucial site in which this racist depiction of “the yellow man” had become particularly visible, was obviously Hollywood. Films from the period of World War II figured the Japanese as a racial menace, reflecting “the plain fact,” as film historian Janine Basinger puts it, that Americans “viewed the war with the Japanese as a race war.”3 This was also a conflict in which the US government incarcerated one hundred twenty thousand Americans of Japanese descent, whose racial background allegedly cast their loyalty in doubt, though many were US citizens. The anti-Japanese sentiment that flourished during that war, and the internment experience in particular, has been a foundational object of concern for Japanese American authors to the extent that Asian American literature was thereby tasked with adopting an oppositional stance to that racism as basically literary combatants.

If the Aiiiieeeeee! editors imagined the “voice” of Asian American literature as a wartime cry, one question that emerges is how critics should orient themselves to a body of writing that has emerged, primarily in the past decade or so, which has taken up the topic of the Korean War? While several of these works have been written by Korean American authors, this emergent corpus also includes novels penned by African American, Mexican American, and Chinese American writers. The range of issues addressed in these works include the racism that emerged in a rapidly integrating US military, the devastating effect of US war efforts on the Korean civilian population, the emergence of a liberal integrationist and humanitarian racial logic that justified US neocolonial claims on the Pacific Rim, as well as the intra-Asian legacies of colonial and military violence that stemmed from Japan’s colonial endeavors through the first half of the 20th century.

If these works represent the soundings of a subject who is “wounded; sad, angry, swearing, and wondering,” one shaped by the trauma of the Korean War, the “whine, shout, or scream” she or he issues is not univocal but multivocal; moreover, the cultural memories these authors conjure are neither singular nor exceptional but rather “multidirectional,” to use Michael Rothberg’s phrase.4 As such, the political desires they animate in their readers are not reducible to an agenda of combating domestic racism or consolidating a nativist notion of Asian American cultural identity; instead they articulate a multivalent range of political aspirations and proliferate an array of identificatory possibilities.

The Intimacies of Conflict: Korean American Post-Memories

The generation of Korean American writers and intellectuals who have been drawn to the Korean War number among, to use Min Song’s phrase, “the children of 1965”: the sons and daughters of Koreans who came to the United States after the immigration reforms that catalyzed mass migrations from several Asian countries.5 Grace M. Cho’s Haunting the Korea Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy and the Korean War (2008), is an original and experimental fusion of cultural criticism and life writing about a Korean diaspora that is “transgenerationally haunted by the unspoken traumas of war.”6

The Korean War was an exceptionally devastating conflict in which three million civilians perished, a figure that represents 20 percent of the prewar civilian population.7 This extraordinary death count was due to a significant degree to the counterinsurgency campaigns mounted by both sides, but with particular brutality by the South (generally with US support or approval). Moreover, US bombers engaged in a massive air war on North Korea that decimated its cities and industrial centers. The war’s aftereffects were felt by nearly all the Koreans who survived it, not only by those who suffered under the repressive regimes that took shape in both the North and South, but also by those who began emigrating to the United States in significant numbers after 1965. Given that the Korean War was thus a defining trauma for many Koreans in the diaspora as well as at home, it is unsurprising that Korean American authors have turned their attention to it in the past two decades. In discussing the origins of their Korean War novels, The Foreign Student (1998) and The Surrendered (2010),8 both Susan Choi and Chang-rae Lee recall how they began with a curiosity over what their immigrant parents’ lives in Korea were like and a vague awareness that they must have been shaped in some way by the traumatic war they had lived through.9

One remarkable cultural artifact that has emerged out of this kind of curiosity is Still Present Pasts,

a multimedia exhibit of installation and performance art, documentary film and archival photographs, and oral histories that explores memories and legacies of the Korean War. Embodying life stories of ordinary Korean Americans who experienced the war, the exhibit is a public space of remembering that breaks the silence about a tragic episode in U.S. and Korean history.10

This exhibit emerged out of an oral history project initiated by psychologist Ramsay Liem, who invited Korean immigrants to recount their wartime experiences—most had been children or adolescents at the time. Much of the labor in producing the artwork in the exhibit came from second-generation Korean Americans (including Grace M. Cho), many of whom had intuited that their parents’ silence about their war experiences covered over some rather devastating memories. A major theme that runs through Still Present Pasts concerns the desire for reconciliation, at both the interpersonal and political level. It expresses the hope that confronting the trauma inflicted by the war on the post-1965 immigrant generation might foster a healing of fractured familial intimacies between them and their US-born children. Still Present Pasts also calls upon visitors to engage in political efforts to better relations between the United States and North Korea and to potentially reach a reconciliation between the two Koreas.

The desire to give voice to a “forgotten” trauma experienced by a prior generation is, of course, a familiar one. The most conventional literary narrative to give expression to this impulse is Helie Lee’s Still Life with Rice (1997).11 This memoir and biography (which seems to adapt the template established by Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club) sketches a matrilineal genealogy of its Korean American author and movingly conveys the experiences of a grandmother whose resilience enabled her to overcome some rather staggering obstacles during both the Japanese occupation and the Korean War.

Three other significant Korean American novels that have appeared in the past two decades, however, are not primarily centered on the theme of intergenerational reconciliation. The protagonist of Paul Yoon’s Snow Hunters (2013) is Yohan, a North Korean former POW who emigrates to Brazil after the war.12 The forms of intimacy this novel explores are not so much familial but the more enigmatic ones that emerge between Yohan and other outsiders—particularly with Kiyoshi, a Japanese tailor whose family was confined during World War II in a Brazilian internment camp, and Santi and Bia, two orphaned children who are homeless migrants.

A narrative of intergenerational reconciliation—or at least the beginnings of one—does seem to structure Chang-rae Lee’s The Surrendered. One of its three protagonists, June, is a war orphan who emigrates to the United States and eventually assumes a financially comfortable life as an antiques dealer in New York City. Her son, Nicholas, is depicted as having mirrored in his own psyche the overweening self-reliance of his mother, a sensibility that the novel depicts not as the expression of Korean traditional values but as a kind of reaction formation to the trauma of war. In part, the novel is structured around June’s search for the son from whom she has become estranged. Three decades after the war, June is dying of stomach cancer and journeys to Italy in hope of finding Nicholas, who has been living in Europe for the past eight years. By establishing the war as the shadowy cause of this Korean mother’s estrangement from her American-born son, the early chapters of Lee’s novel set in motion a narrative trajectory that readers might expect to culminate in the intergenerational reconciliation June longs for, one that would heal the hidden wounds of a long-ended conflict.

Ultimately, however, The Surrendered, through some rather extravagant contrivances of plot, does not deliver the intergenerational resolution readers might expect: Nicholas, it turns out, has been dead and someone else has been assuming his identity. Because this narrative strand reaches a dead end, readers’ emotional investments are more forcefully channeled toward the difficult bonds that connect June to Sylvie, the wife of the missionary who ran the orphanage in which she found refuge shortly after the war, and to Hector, the GI who led June to safety and became for a short period June’s husband, facilitating her emigration. As with Snow Hunters, the emotional core of Lee’s novel concerns protagonists who are drawn together into circles of intimacy that do not conform to the usual logics of race, nation, or even of gender and sexuality—moreover, it is not always easy to identify in them the shapes that love and affection customarily take, shot through as they are with aggression, violence, and betrayal. The difficult intimacies explored by The Surrendered are based, ultimately, not on the kinship of ethnicity, race, or nationality, but on a different kind of blood relation altogether. This novel’s power lies in the difficult acknowledgment it demands of its readers of the legacy of violence, brutality, and betrayal that holds those who were shaped by the war together and also leaves them divided. Moreover, it calls on them to recognize their own necessary collaboration in the harrowing history it incites them to claim as their own.

Susan Choi’s The Foreign Student likewise centers on unexpected and incongruous intimacies. Its focus is on the bonds that emerge between its protagonist, Chang Ahn, who survives the war and arrives as an immigrant to the American South in the 1950s, and the white, black, and Japanese Americans he encounters. As he struggles to find his place in the racial landscape of an American South about to be reshaped by the civil rights movement, he falls in love with a white woman. Chang’s assimilation into American culture involves negotiating a complex relationship to white and black southerners as well as to Japanese Americans in Chicago. By depicting Chang as both a Korean War refugee and an ambiguously racialized immigrant and making his story contiguous with more familiar histories of race, the novel opens up for US readers the possibility of claiming what might seem an unfamiliar and seemingly foreign history of civil war and empire as their own. As it does so, however, it underscores an insuperable gap that divides them from an authoritative emotional understanding of what ordinary Koreans like Chang experienced during the war.13

Indeed, both The Surrendered and The Foreign Student foreground in various ways their fictive status, which marks their departure from cultural works like Still Present Pasts and Still Life with Rice. Through various formal devices, they highlight the fact that what they offer are not to be taken as “authentic” expression of a firsthand experience of the war but as literary works of what Marianne Hirsch has termed “postmemory.” Marianne Hirsch’s concept of post-memory, which provides the theoretical foundation for her study of photography and the Holocaust, describes a situation in which “children of survivors of cultural or collective trauma” are haunted by “stories and images” of that trauma “that are so powerful, so monumental, as to constitute memories in their own right.”14 It refers, in other words, to a virtual memory of a past event, the prefix underscoring its “temporal and qualitative difference from survivor memory, its secondary or second-generation memory quality, its basis in displacement, its belatedness.”15 The emotional power of post-memory derives precisely from the fact that “its connection to its object or source is mediated not through recollection but through projection, investment, and creation.”16 It therefore harbors a potential ethical danger, as representations of a past trauma can “lend themselves to the incorporative logic of narcissistic, idiopathic, looking.”17 “The challenge for the postmemorial artist,” she warns, is “to find the balance that allows the spectator to enter the image, to imagine the disaster, but that disallows an overappropriative identification that makes the distances disappear, creating too available, too easy an access to this particular past.”18

These works negotiate in an exemplary way the ethical danger that Hirsch notes, one that is skirted by authors who address an experience of historical trauma that is not, properly speaking, their own and “belongs” instead to an earlier generation. Lee’s and Choi’s novels conjure cultural memories of the Korean War that are self-consciously presented as post-memories. They construct virtual memories of what Korean immigrants may have experienced during the conflict that are visceral, emotionally powerful, and even to a certain degree, monumental. Even as they do so, however, they foreground the “secondary or second-generation memory quality” of their depictions. By thus underscoring a gap between the memories of those who lived through the war and the second-generation post-memory of those who hope to undo its forgetting, they seek to banish the fantasy that one could somehow revisit and rectify a violent and traumatic past solely through a compensatory act of narration. These novels are not primarily concerned, then, with conjuring a discrete Korean American or diasporic identity. Indeed, they resist filling in the absence that is the war with an existential sense of injury—with a wound that some might be tempted to fetishize as the origin and source of their identity.19

The Korean War in Color: African American and Chicana/o Perspectives

In their mappings of the affective bonds that can emerge from the brutality of war and out of its lingering aftermath, Snow Hunters, The Surrendered, and The Foreign Student offer an exemplary and capacious framework for coming to terms with the legacy of war’s violence, for they help to flesh out a collective relation to past suffering that moves away from monoracial or nationalist conceptions of political identity and toward ones that are more ethically and ethnically expansive. Susan Choi’s The Foreign Student, for example, leads readers to ponder the ramifications of the fact that the Korean War coincided with the beginning of massive changes in domestic structures of race that would reshape the lives of African Americans.

The Korean War’s significance for African Americans should be self-evident, as it was the first in which black and white soldiers fought side by side in integrated units. However, the African American works that have addressed it have mainly been memoirs penned by veterans. Two memoirs by African American veterans of the war—Clarence Adams’s An American Dream (2007) and Curtis James Morrow’s What’s a Commie Ever Done to Black People? (1997)—suggest how some black soldiers came to see the war they were fighting in Korea in terms that resonate with the forms of black protest that became much more visible during the Vietnam War.20 In his memoir, Adams recalls how some African American soldiers “had begun to think that the war was stupid and increasingly questioned the role we were supposed to play. For black soldiers this was sort of a hush-hush thing we whispered among ourselves. . . . among ourselves we said, ‘What do we want with Korea? Korea can’t hurt us.’”21 By contrast, in Charles Bussey’s Firefight at Yechon (2002), the author proudly recalls the numbers of Asian enemies he killed.22 And as historian Daniel Widener has noted, black antiwar sentiment was far more muted during this conflict than it was during the Vietnam War, with far more attention given by black journalists to the racism that persisted in the US military than to the racial aspects of the war itself.23

In 2012, a Korean War novel by the preeminent African American novelist, Toni Morrison, appeared. The protagonist of Morrison’s Home is Frank Money, a black veteran of the Korean War who returns to an America that is as fully segregated as the one he left.24 Morrison’s depiction of Frank in this novel echoes her characterization of Shadrack in Sula, as both are veterans afflicted by posttraumatic stress disorder who return to a country still structured by white supremacy. Both works assert that military participation did not provide an avenue toward equality for the African American men who served. Home, however, highlights not just the broken promise that black soldiering would provide a path to a duly recognized manhood but also the noncombatant victims of military violence—a violence in which African American servicemen were complicit. The unspeakable secret that Morrison’s novel discloses is that, as haunted as he might be by the deaths of his boyhood friends, the primary source of Frank’s psychic disturbances lies in the atrocities that he and other US soldiers inflicted upon Korean civilians.

The Korean War has also been a central object of interest for Chicano writer Rolando Hinojosa, who is himself a veteran of the conflict. Indeed, three of the works in his fifteen-volume Klail City Death Trip might be thought of as constituting a kind of Korean War trilogy. The protagonist of Korean Love Songs (1978), Rites and Witnesses (1989), and The Useless Servants (1993) is Rafa Buenrostro, a Mexican American soldier, and these works focus on his wartime experiences.25 Hinojosa’s writings cast light on a racial history that was nowhere apparent in contemporaneous popular depictions—another forgotten aspect of the forgotten war. While the US military had classified Mexican Americans as white, the racism his protagonists negotiate, both in Korea and back home in South Texas, suggests affinities between their experiences and those of African Americans. These novels reflect that while Chicana/o military service did not bring racism in South Texas to an end, it did afford some Mexican Americans an economic mobility that potentially turned them into potential collaborators in the white supremacist power structure of the border region. Additionally, like Home, Hinojosa’s novels are notable for their depictions of the encounters with Asians that took place during the conflict. The portrayal in his trilogy of Japanese and Korean civilians as well as of North Korean and Chinese soldiers suggests at times a sense of interracial and transnational solidarity while at other times highlighting the fact that colored soldiers during this war directed their violence at a colored enemy.26

The Intimacies of History: Reading Transnationally

What is also instructive about Hinojosa’s Korean War novels is that they encourage readers to reflect on the parallels between that conflict and the US–Mexican War, which ended in 1848 with the partitioning of the long-standing community that resided on both banks of the Rio Grande River. In so doing, they invite readers to think of these two wars, waged a century apart, as part of a continuous history of US empire. To view the Korean War from such a perspective is to depart from the ways in which Americans have generally come to think of it (if they think of it at all, that is), which is simply as a proxy war that took place in four phases within a discrete temporal span, 1950–1953.

From this mainstream perspective, the war had a clear starting point and end point. It began during the early hours of June 25th, 1950 when Korean People’s Army (KPA) forces engaged Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) units on Ongjin peninsula, northwest of Seoul, the South Korean capital, and crossed the 38th parallel, the partition that had been established on the peninsula at the close of World War II. President Harry Truman’s administration’s decision to intervene was given the sanction of the United Nations—the first time that the charter for the newly formed UN had been used to justify military intervention. KPA forces came quite close to achieving a decisive military victory by the end of July, as they had pushed the United States, ROKA, and the UN into the southeast corner of the peninsula, hemmed in at what came to be known as the “Pusan perimeter.”

The tide of the war turned on September 15th when General Douglas MacArthur led a surprise amphibious assault on the port city of Inchon, just west of Seoul. By October 1950, North Korean forces had retreated back across the 38th parallel, and as US-led forces continued northward, KPA forces were pushed to the verge of Korea’s border with China, the Yalu River. What began for the United States as a war of “containment” quickly became a war of “rollback” when its aims shifted from a restoration of the border between the two Koreas to a reunification of the peninsula.

At the end of November 1950, a massive deployment of soldiers from the People’s Republic of China entered the fighting and the tide of the war turned once again. In the subsequent four months, Seoul changed hands two more times. With both sides taking and losing such wide swaths of territory with such rapidity during this first year of the war, multitudes of civilians streamed back and forth seeking refuge from the violence, often unsuccessfully.

By the end of April 1951, the opposing forces had dug in at a point quite close to the 38th parallel. In this fourth and final stage of the war, which comprised the last two years of fighting, little ground was gained or lost, but the violence and destruction continued. Massive numbers of soldiers lost their lives taking and retaking hill after hill. Guerilla warfare and counterinsurgency efforts continued in the South. The North was subjected to a massive air campaign that involved carpet bombing, napalm, the eradication of cities, dams and industrial centers, and a staggering number of civilian and military deaths. Negotiations took place throughout the final two years of the conflict, the major sticking point concerning the repatriation of prisoners of war. While China and North Korea maintained that they be returned to their country of origin, the United States and South Korea insisted that they be allowed to choose the country to which they would be released. The issue was settled through a compromise: the release would be managed by a “neutral nation,” India. On July 27th, 1953, an armistice agreement was signed by representatives from the United States, China, and North Korea. However, while Syngman Rhee, the South Korean president, had agreed to the terms of the armistice, he sent no representative to the signing ceremony, which is why the two Koreas technically remain in a state of war.

While the Korean War had mainly been thought of as the first proxy conflict of the Cold War, historians have come to a more nuanced and expansive perspective on the conflict which views it through the lens of decolonization—a revisionist perspective that was inaugurated by the pathbreaking scholarship of Bruce Cumings. The first part of his two-volume study, The Origins of the Korean War, was published in 1981, and the second in 1990.27 From this standpoint, the Korean War was, at bottom, a civil war—one that emerged out of a longer and quite complicated struggle for national liberation that began in resistance to Japanese colonialism and was subsequently shaped by the imperial aspirations of the two competing global powers emerging at the end of World War II.28

Unlike most novels about the Korean War, Susan Choi’s The Foreign Student advances a more detailed and textured historical perspective that is more or less aligned with Cumings’ scholarship. Although it is hardly a straightforward war novel, The Foreign Student offers its readers an admirably lucid understanding of the significant historical changes that transformed modern Korea.29 It details how the liberation from the Japanese in 1945, the civil conflicts that erupted between 1945 and 1950, and the war itself all shaped the life of its protagonist, Chang Ahn. It is thus critical of US intervention, as is evident in the narrator’s depiction of the “repressive, incompetent, and stupendously unpopular” regime that the United States installed in the South, which was headed by Syngman Rhee.30 The Foreign Student relates how the men who ran the national police and the army had mainly been collaborators with the hated Japanese; and it recounts the horrifically violent counterinsurgency campaigns they waged, accompanied by torture and mass executions. It also points out the devastating effects of the air war ordered by General MacArthur: “He wanted a wasteland. Anything that could be located, within a generous margin of error, was intensively bombed. . . . Towns and factories were bombed flat, burned out, plowed under, removed from the map.”31

The overt outrage at the US role in the Korean War that is evident in Choi’s novel is also discernible in other works of fiction, even if it is not always voiced as the “shout” or “scream” the Aiiieeeee! editors conjured. Lark and Termite (2009), a magical realist novel by Jayne Anne Phillips, a white female author from the American South, mourns the death of a US soldier who died in Korea and traces the traumatic aftereffects of his passing on the family he left behind in Tennessee.32 However, despite or perhaps through its Orientalist trappings, it also invites readers to see Korean civilians not as grateful for US military intervention but as brimming with a vengeful rage. Phillips’ novel offers a fictionalized account of an actual event: a four-day massacre of hundreds of Korean civilians at the hands of US soldiers, which took place near the village of No Gun Ri from July 25th to July 29th, 1950. This event was brought to light in 1999 by a team of Associated Press reporters who were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for their efforts and who later expanded their reporting into a book.33

Several reviewers of Ha Jin’s Korean War novel, War Trash (2004), saw it as using the context of the Korean War to offer a pointed critique of the wars that the United States has been waging since 9/11.34 This novel takes the form of a memoir written by Yuan Yu, an elderly Chinese veteran who spent much of the conflict in POW camps, to his Asian American children. Linda Jaivin, writing in the Los Angeles Times, observes that US guards in the novel “are not averse to putting the boot—or rifle butt, burning cigarette, occasional grenade, flame thrower and even machine gun—into the POWs. Seen from this perspective, Abu Ghraib could be tradition, not aberration.”35

For the most part, however, the abuses inflicted in the POW camps in Jin’s novel come at the hands of other Chinese prisoners. The Nationalists, who essentially run the first camp in which Yuan finds himself, murder and torture those committed to the Communist cause, mutilating the bodies of those whose loyalties they find difficult to discern. One night they knock Yuan unconscious and he wakes to find the words “FUCK COMMUNISM” tattooed on his body. Other POWs receive these markings, which would obviously make life difficult for anyone who returned to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).36 War Trash is critical of the Communists in the camp as well. While Yuan evinces an admiration for their ideals, the novel ultimately presents that ideology as a utopian project, doomed by the ambition, weakness, and self-interest of its proponents. Given that he emigrated after Tiananmen Square and has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, Jin’s less than flattering depiction of Chinese Communists is hardly surprising.

That War Trash is directing at least some of its ire at the United States, however, is signaled by its opening sentence: “Below my navel stretches a long tattoo that says ‘FUCK . . . U . . . S. . . . The skin above those dots has shriveled as though scarred by burns.”37 Indeed, it is possible to see the sentiment conveyed by this redacted tattoo as animating the novel overall, for it issues a condemnation of the role of the US military in Asian civil wars not by highlighting atrocities it directly committed, but by suggesting how the American presence worked to intensify the brutality of these conflicts. The violence that erupts in these camps between Communists and Nationalists seems a miniaturization and extension of the civil war that led to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China—the violence of such conflicts, the novel intimates, was greatly exacerbated by the US role. By having his narrator address his story to his grandchildren in the United States, Jin insists that these Asian wars are part of their legacy as Asian Americans and Americans.

In offering a Chinese perspective on this conflict, War Trash does, to a good degree, affirm the conception of it as a proxy war, the first Asian “hot war” of the Cold War era. It is true that military forces from dozens of countries took part in what the Truman Administration termed a “police action.” The coalition of UN and ROK forces deployed in Korea numbered 941,600: of these, 600,000 were South Korean and 302,000 American. They faced a North Korean military force that numbered 260,000. The country that, by a wide margin, sent the largest number of soldiers into the fighting was the People’s Republic of China: 1,350,000.38

As these numbers attest, the Korean War, whatever else it was, was a Chinese war. Jin’s War Trash draws attention to the fact it marked, from the perspective of the People’s Republic of China, a great victory, as its forces were able to repel what it perceived as an invading US imperial army, successfully coming to the defense of its sister regime to the south. While this conflict is thus hardly a “forgotten war” for the Chinese, Jin’s novel highlights those who have been marginalized in the triumphalist Communist narrative.39 The novel’s sympathies lie with the multiple eponymous subjects named by the novel’s title. The term “war trash” refers, first of all, to the Chinese POWs who, upon their return to the mainland, were treated as pariahs, forever suspect for having surrendered, and, second, to all of the Chinese soldiers whose lives were sacrificed in the war effort.

It also refers, however, to the Koreans themselves. As Yuan acknowledges near the end of a novel which has centered solely on the injustices experienced by Chinese POWs,

the Koreans had taken the brunt of the destruction of this war, whereas we Chinese were here mainly to keep its flames away from our border. Or, as most of the POWs believed, perhaps rightly, we had served as cannon fodder for the Russians. It was true that the Koreans had started the war themselves, but a small country like theirs could only end up being a battleground for bigger powers. Whoever won this war, Korea would be a loser.40

And Yuan later adds: “We thought we had come all the way to help the Koreans, but some of us had willy-nilly ended up their despoilers.”41

War Trash helps to reframe the notion of what a proxy war actually is, highlighting the fact that the “bigger powers” who engaged each other during the Korean War, either directly or through their less powerful allies, were acting as colonial powers. Rather than seeing themselves as saviors or protectors, the United States and the People’s Republic of China should recognize that they had functioned as “despoilers.” War Trash thus also invites readers to locate the fighting that took place from 1950 to 1953 within a longer history of war in modern East Asia. Several other works of Korean War fiction draw attention to a history of empire within Asia and expand the temporal context for understanding this conflict by suggesting a continuity between the neocolonial dimensions of the US intervention and Japan’s overtly colonial dominion over Korea.

The historiographical and epistemological gains from adopting this more expansive temporal and geographical framework for understanding the Korean War are powerfully articulated by cultural critic Christine Hong. To foreground “the longue durée of the unending Korean War” is to see it as

a protean structure, at once generative and destructive, whose formations and deformations, benefits and costs, truths and obfuscations, can be traced on both sides of the North Pacific. Naturalized as “forgotten” in the United States yet seared into national consciousness in both Koreas, the Korean War, as a differentiated and multisited structure of feeling, perception, memory, knowledge, and historical ruin, has persisted some six decades after the signing of the Armistice Agreement. This unfinished war reverberates in the relations between the two Koreas and between North Korea and the United States, and it continues to pose a regional and global quandary.42

One novel that opens out toward this more expansive temporality is a South Korean work, though it is one that has circulated in the United States in an English-language translation and features a Korean American protagonist. The Guest, by the eminent South Korean author Hwang-Sok Yong, was originally published in 2001, and a translated edition was published in the United States in 2005.43 A magical realist novel, The Guest recounts a singularly brutal episode from the Korean War: a massacre that occurred in October, 1950 in Hwanghae province in which thirty-five thousand civilians were killed.44 A series of ghosts who appear to the protagonist, a Korean American minister named Yosŏp Ryu, relate the events. Yosŏp’s journey back to his hometown of Sinch’on—where the most heinous acts took place—provides the novel’s narrative spine. Hwang hammers home in each ghost memory that the violence that took place was of the most intimate kind: that friends and neighbors were tortured, raped, and killed by friends and neighbors.

The Korean novel The Guest explicitly exhorts its readers from the North and South to reckon with the fact that the Korean War was and is, first and last, a civil conflict—a fratricidal war in which the perpetrators of the most appalling atrocities directed their violence at victims who shared a common language, ethnicity, and blood. The Guest challenges the dominant narrative of South Korea that would paint the Christians who killed their countrymen as Holy Crusaders and those who perished as martyrs; it also takes issue with the North Korean account that casts US military forces as the perpetrators of the atrocities committed in Sinch’on. In relation to its domestic aim of Korean reconciliation, it is crucial that the novel’s protagonist is not Yohan, the older brother who actually committed war crimes, but rather Yosŏp, the younger brother who did not. He is clearly an allegorical figure and what legal discourse would term a bystander: a subject who fails to prevent a crime that is taking place before him and who is, furthermore, a beneficiary of that act. Yosŏp thus stands in for South Koreans who have reaped the rewards of atrocities that were committed in their name.

But since the United States serves as Yosŏp’s point of departure and return, it is also clear that The Guest—and especially in its incarnation as a translated and transnational text—highlights the ethical obligations that accrue to readers who are, like Yosŏp, US citizens: having survived the massacre, he is able eventually to emigrate to the United States, become naturalized, and enjoy a comfortable life as a clergyman in Brooklyn. Indeed, a critique of the US role in modern Korean history is integral to the conceit contained in the novel’s title. As Hwang explains in his author’s note, the Korean word for guest, “sonnim,” is also an idiomatic expression for smallpox. He envisioned Marxism and Christianity as ideological counterparts to smallpox.45

The novel’s critique is also leveled at how US troops, though positioned to prevent the slaughter that took place at Sinch’on, not only allowed it to take place but also provided anticommunists with weapons. While The Guest does not issue a direct indictment of US forces, this omission mirrors the nature of their crime, a guilt that accrues to them not because of something they did but because of the catastrophe they engendered by doing nothing.

Finally, The Guest indirectly suggests a continuity between the roles played by the United States and Japan in Korea’s modern history by highlighting the fact that the Christian perpetrators who were responsible for the atrocities—the allies that the US Army had supported and armed—had also emerged during the colonial era as a comprador class, profiting from a social order that depended on the exploitation of the peasants and tenant farmers.

“Show Me One Soul Who Wasn’t to Blame!”: Nationalism, Christianity, and the Intimacies of Civil Conflict

Situating the Korean War within the complex web of transnational histories that this article has sketched out does not entail losing sight of the fact that it was, at bottom, a civil war. As such, The Guest asks its readers to acknowledge that whatever the role played by the ideologies of Marxism and Christianity that had “infected” their country, it was Koreans themselves who bore the primary responsibility for what took place in places like Sinch’on and in the war overall. As Hwang puts it in his author’s note: “As it turns out, the atrocities we suffered were committed by none other than ourselves, and the inner sense of guilt and fear sparked by this incident helped form the roots of the frantic hatred that thrives to this day.”46 And as one of his protagonists asserts in the novel itself, “Show me one soul who wasn’t to blame!”47 Although The Guest clearly indicts Korean Christians for allowing their religion to fuel and justify the egregious acts of violence they engaged in, the novel also opens out to a more expansive and complex account of Christianity’s role in the history of the peninsula, for to reduce that religion to a tool of Western imperialism would simply not register its formidable and contradictory legacy.

The astonishing rapidity of Christianity’s growth in Korea during the late 19th and early 20th century had much to do with the fact that it offered a progressive alternative first to the neo-Confucianism of the Chosŏn government that ruled Korea for more than five hundred years and then to the colonial regime that was imposed by the Japanese. A significant reason why this religion initially had such an appeal to the disenfranchised in Korea was that Protestant missionaries in particular had quite consciously sought to create “a self-propagating, self-governing, and self-supporting church” that promoted “the association of Christianity with the ‘progressive’ West,” and they thus placed responsibility on “local Christians for the growth and support of their churches.”48

In sketching out the genealogy of its protagonist, a Korean American minister living in Brooklyn, The Guest embeds the Ryu family within this history. The Ryus had attained a comfortable level of wealth under the Chosŏn regime, becoming members of the landowning class by the 19th century. Even so, they “had lived in servitude for generations upon end” and “harbor[ed] resentment and envy of anyone with a government post of any kind.”49 Yosop’s grandfather, Samsŏng, had hoped to assume a position in the government, but he soon realized that, given its disdain for residents of Hwanghae Province, his ambitions were certain to be thwarted. His conversion to Christianity constituted an act of rebellion against the Chosŏn social order.

If the Ryus’ Christianity set them against the Chosŏn government, making them enemies of the state, it posed no barrier to their thriving when Korea came under Japan’s colonial dominion. While Japanese colonial authorities seized all of the land that had belonged to the monarchy, the Ryus were able to increase their wealth by serving as agents for the colonial authorities, which is why they had become one of the wealthiest families in the province by the time the Korean War broke out. Through its account of the Ryu family’s ascension, The Guest presents Christianity as originally a progressive formation arrayed against the exploitative hierarchies imposed by the Chosŏn regime that later evolved into the religion of a comprador class. This class thrived through their willing collaboration with the Japanese and embraced the exploitation of the peasant and tenant farmer classes drawn, for understandable reasons, to communism.

The family history of Richard Kim, the author who penned The Martyred (1964), the first Korean American novel about the Korean War, might lead readers to expect that novel to present a more positive view of Christianity.50 Kim’s family was from the North and had been subjected to cruel treatment by the Communist regime for being landowners and Christians: indeed, his grandfather, a minister, was arrested and executed by Communists during the Korean War. Kim himself was forcibly conscripted into the North Korean Army, but he was able to escape and joined the South Korean Army, serving as a liaison officer to US military forces. He emigrated to the United States in 1954 and began writing The Martyred, his first novel, in the early 1960s while at the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop. Given this history, readers might be surprised to find that, while it is hardly a pro-communist novel, The Martyred actually offers a deeply critical perspective on the religion of his family.

The Martyred takes place in Pyongyang during the final months of 1950. Its protagonist and narrator is Captain Lee, a military intelligence officer who is tasked with investigating the torture and execution of twelve Christian ministers by North Korean military forces; the two survivors, Mr. Shin and Mr. Hann, are suspected of having betrayed the others. While the beginning of the novel has somewhat of the feel of detective fiction, readers learn quite quickly that Shin and Hann were not, in fact, Communist collaborators. The North Korean prisoner who confirms their innocence under questioning by South Korean intelligence officers also reveals, however, that the twelve ministers did not die as “great martyrs,” but “[l]ike dogs, whimpering, whining, wailing. It pleased me to hear them beg for mercy, to hear them denounce their god and one another.”51

The central mystery of the novel circles around the figure of Mr. Shin. While readers know he is innocent, he publicly presents himself as a Judas figure who betrayed and was forgiven by the twelve ministers who were killed. Though he knows that they had abandoned their beliefs in the moments before they died, he portrays them as genuine and devout Christian martyrs. Captain Lee is dumbfounded that Shin promotes this myth of courageous piety and assumes he does so in order to prop up the legitimacy of the religion that the twelve ministers actually renounced as they faced death. Lee eventually learns, however, that Shin had actually lost his faith before the war began. The war, however, prompted him to continue professing a religion in which he no longer believed. In ministering to his congregants, whose lives have been shattered by the war, he decides he must give them “the illusion of hope” in order to keep them from succumbing to “the disease of those weary of life, life here and now full of meaningless sufferings.”52 The novel thus reveals Shin to be the novel’s actual namesake, though he is a curious kind of martyr: a nonbeliever who maintains the fictions of religious belief to give comfort to others, even though he himself can take no comfort in them. Ironically, it is the secret apostate Shin who best exemplifies the core ideals cherished by the religion he longer actually believes in—mercy, charity, and sacrifice. Even after learning the truth of Shin’s atheism, which he shares, Captain Lee too refrains from revealing it or the shattered faith of the twelve ministers. In the end, he has come to recognize that in the face of the horrors visited by war, the very human need to believe that suffering has meaning can be satisfied by Christianity, even if the succor it provides is denied to Koreans like himself and Shin.

Despite the fact that The Martyred is clearly a philosophical novel, a somber meditation on the meaning of religion in a modernity coterminous with war, the novel does open a window into the more historically specific role that Christianity has played in the emergence of the South Korean state. Early on, Colonel Chang, Captain Lee’s commanding officer, observes,

“Christians in this country are quite influential these days,” he said with a faint smile. Then, after a pause, he continued with an undisguised tone of acidity. “Everyone seems to be Christian nowadays; it seems fashionable to be one. From the President to cabinet ministers, generals, colonels, all the way down to privates. Why, even the Army has to have Christian chaplains, just to please the American advisors.”53

While the novel does not flesh out Chang’s comments more fully, they point toward a political reality: that the government that took shape in South Korea drew heavily upon the power of that religion in consolidating its power and fortifying ordinary South Koreans against the enemy to the North.

The nature of the South Korean state as it took shape by the time the war officially began is elaborated by Chung-shin Park in his 2003 study, Protestantism and Politics in Korea. As the fictional Colonel suggests, Syngman Rhee, the first president of the Republic of Korea, was indeed a Christian, and he also made use of that religion in canny ways that enabled him to create a government only nominally democratic; what Rhee did “in the first chapter of the republican history of the country was to subjugate the legislative and judicial branches to the executive, place local government under centralized power, and suppress a free and responsible press with the police and the army.”54 Especially pertinent to the massacre that plays such a central role in The Martyred is Park’s observation that

The persecution of Christians in the north redounded to the Rhee regime’s advantage, creating in the south an atmosphere in which anticommunism was upheld as a patriotic ideology befitting a loyal citizen of the Republic of Korea. This atmosphere was strengthened by the numerous refugees from the north.55

Under Rhee, the relationship between the South Korean government and the Protestant Church became, according to Park, not only “amicable” but also “symbiotic.”56 Christian leaders and Rhee developed in concert an enduring “political formula: communism is anti-Christian and hence Christianity is anticommunist. Thus Christianity and the anticommunist political position were practically fused into one.”57

Through Colonel Chang’s commentary, which highlights the nature of the government he serves, The Martyred registers a pointed political critique of how the Rhee regime drew upon Christianity to instill in South Koreans a sense of nationalist solidarity against the Communists, even as it also pursues a more philosophical agenda.58 For the most part, the presidents who followed Rhee—Park Chung-hee, Chun Doo Hwan, and Roh Tae-woo—essentially governed as military dictators, cultivating cozy relationships with established Christian leaders in order to remain in power for many decades.

While The Guest and The Martyred paint portraits of Christianity that are generally critical, both ultimately express ambivalence rather than disdain for the intimate relationship that has developed between that religion and nationalism in South Korea. Kim’s novel does ultimately acknowledge the affective and perhaps even ethical value of Christianity, its capacity not only to give people ravaged by war a compensatory belief that their suffering has meaning, but also to give them a sense of solidarity and fellowship. While The Martyred is critical of the state-sanctioned vision of a religiously infused national community promoted by Rhee and the South Korean leaders who followed him, it does ultimately celebrate a form of solidarity that ironically borrows its shape from a Christian sense of fellowship. Somewhat similarly, The Guest makes a clear ethical distinction between the version of the religion that fueled the massacre at Sinch’on and the sincere piety of its protagonist Yosŏp. Despite Hwang’s explanation in his author’s note that his “twelve-chapter novel is modeled after the Chjongwi exorcism of Hwanghae Province,” his novel is also quite legible from a Christian perspective as a devout pilgrim’s journey to atonement, sacrifice, and redemption.59

Leaving aside personal ambivalence in these authors’ depictions of Christianity, a more historical interpretation might also explain the residual attachment to Christianity that is evident in The Guest. As a dissident writer himself, Hwang Sok-Yong would have been well aware of the fact that many of the leaders of the 1970s and 1980s democratization movements that eventually brought an end to the era of military dictatorships were Christians whose faith had been shaped by the liberation theology that had developed in places like Latin America.60 And as both writers (and indeed all South Koreans) would have been aware, Korean Christians had also played a crucial role a half-century earlier as leading members of the independence movement that sought to bring an end to Japanese colonial domination.61

The Multidirectional Literatures of the Korean War

The Korean War has come to function as a significant memory object not only for Koreans and Korean Americans, but also for African American, Chinese American, and Mexican American writers. It marks the convergence of multiple memorializing impulses. The body of Korean War fiction that has emerged should therefore be thought of as giving expression to what the cultural theorist Michael Rothberg has termed “multidirectional memory,” which “posits collective memory as partially disengaged from exclusive versions of cultural identity and acknowledges how remembrance both cuts across and binds together diverse spatial, temporal, and cultural sites.”62 From such a perspective, cultural memory is viewed “as subject to ongoing negotiation, cross-referencing, and borrowing; as productive and not privative.”63 Moreover, as Rothberg reminds us,

Memories are not owned by groups—nor are groups “owned” by memories. Rather, the borders of memory and identity are jagged; what looks at first like my own property often turns out to be a borrowing or adaptation from a history that initially might seem foreign or distant. Memory’s anachronistic quality—its bringing together of now and then, here and there—is actually the source of its powerful creativity, its ability to build new worlds out of the materials of older ones.64

The Korean War fiction examined here exposes the “jagged” edges of memory and the tense and tender forms of “borrowing or adaptation” which are required to conjure memories of the Korean War, speaking not only to the experiences of Koreans and Korean Americans, but also to those of African, Mexican, and Chinese Americans. While the cultural memory of the Korean War is obviously animated differently by authors in ways that speak to their own racial and national backgrounds, assembling them in what Sau-ling terms “a textual coalition” prevents their being consigned to discrete containers of remembrance.65

As such, what issues from this body of writings is not a singular voice of anger and outrage emanating from a unitary and cohesive Asian American subject. It is, rather, the clamoring of a multitude. Nonetheless, readers should remain attentive to the fact that what remains unheard are the voices of not only the ordinary Koreans who survived, but also those who perished during the conflict. These unspoken voices, and the legacy of suffering they might convey, are what the narrator of Susan Choi’s The Foreign Student asks her readers to imagine in describing the collaboration of Chang Ahn and his father, a literature professor, in rendering foreign language works into Korean. The narrator suggests the possibility of perfect translation, identifying the moment when they would arrive at just the right words: “The thing would emerge and begin to grow buoyant, as if it could read only just as it was. This was what his father wanted: for the original to vanish. Then you knew it was actually there, bled in, letter by letter.”66

Discussion of the Literature

In the third chapter of his The Korean War: A History, Bruce Cumings laments that “if the war exists in American literature, it is usually wallpaper for people who may or not have fought there, but came of age in the 1950s.”67 He surveys a number of white-authored memoirs and novels of the Korean War that by and large pay scant attention to Koreans themselves. Until the early 21st century, there was a comparable neglect of critical scholarship on literature and the Korean War overall, especially concerning its significance for Asians and Asian Americans.

Beginning in the early 2000s, a robust body of literary and cultural criticism has contributed to the understanding of Asian Americans and the Korean War. Some of this focused more on the Cold War’s relationship to issues of race and empire, alluding to the significance of the Korean War only in passing; important studies such as Mary Dudziak’s Cold War Civil Rights, for instance, discussed the ramifications of the early Cold War years for African Americans.68 Christina Klein’s Cold War Orientalism: Asia and the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945–1961 is a crucial work in focusing more specifically on mainstream depictions of Asia (and, to a certain degree, of Asian Americans) and how they helped reframe popular perspectives of that region as the United States began to assert itself as a global colonial power. Jodi Kim’s Ends of Empire: Asian American Critique and the Cold War provides a useful complement to Klein’s analysis, as it examines a number of Asian American works that present a pointed critique of the racial optics that underwrote US imperial aspirations as they took shape during the period.

Josephine Nock-Hee Park’s Cold War Friendships: Korea, Vietnam, and Asian American Literature is the only book-length study to make a claim for the coherence of Asian American works that address the Korean War, doing so by connecting it to a body of writings that address the Vietnam War. This literature, Park convincingly argues, illuminates how such works negotiate how Koreans and Vietnamese were constructed in the US imaginary as “friendlies” or as racialized allies who were to be protected from the Communist enemy, who were never truly granted the status of “friends”; rather, they were enlisted in “provisional and weak alliances” based on hierarchy rather than robust ones founded on relative parity.69 In their essay “The Literature of the Korean War and Vietnam War,” Daniel Y. Kim and Viet Thanh Nguyen make a complementary claim about the continuities between these wars and the Asian American writings that address them.70

“The Unending Korean War,” Christine Hong’s introduction to the special issue of the journal positions devoted to the topic, stresses the urgent need to situate the Korean War within a longer temporality than the timeframe of 1950–1953 in which it is contained in official histories; Hong argues that a recognition of its persistence enables a recognition of the pivotal role that the conflict played in the project of “US imperial state building and global capitalist hegemony.” For Hong, the Korean War “fostered a formidable, crisis-generating, self-perpetuating, institutional architecture—the national security state, the military industrial complex, and the perpetual war economy, all cushioned within a self-serving regime of forgetting.”71 Hong’s own essay explores the veritable industry of writings about North Korea that has emerged in the post-9/11 era, much of which has been become incorporated into the arsenal of US propaganda efforts directed against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which constitute “an attempt at rollback within the realm of letters, a destabilizing, reconfigurative claim upon literary space as a political geography in its own right.”72 Other articles included in this issue examine Korean War comic books, Hwang-Sok Yong’s The Guest, and the work of Rolando Hinojosa.73

In “American Literature and Culture in an Age of Cold War: A Critical Reassessment,” Stephen Bellotto helpfully offers a periodization of US Korean War literature. He identifies a “first phase” of works “written in the 1950s and early 1960s generally by white, male Americans who fought in the war, reported on the war, or had some other ties to the US military.”74 He calls for the need not only to read these works critically but also to address a “second phase” of writing that has tended “to be written by first- or second-generation Korean Americans who either experienced the war directly or explored the cultural memory of a war that, some scholars have argued, is a precondition of the very idea of Korean Americanness.”75 Echoing Jodi Kim, Belletto argues that these latter works are “characterized by an explicit exploration and critique of the rhetorical structuring” that has defined dominant US understandings of the Cold War period.76

Further Reading

Casey, Steven. Selling the Korean War: Propaganda, Politics, and Public Opinion in the United States, 1950–1953. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

    Cho, Grace M. Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War. Illustrated edition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.Find this resource:

      Cumings, Bruce. The Origins of the Korean War. Vol. 1, Liberation and the Creation of Separate Regimes, 1945–47. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.Find this resource:

        Cumings, Bruce. The Origins of the Korean War. Vol. 2. The Roaring of the Cataract, 1947–1950. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.Find this resource:

          Cumings, Bruce. The Korean War: A History. New York: Modern Library, 2010.Find this resource:

            Dudziak, Mary L. Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.Find this resource:

              Hanley, Charles J., Martha Mendoza, and Sang-Hun Choe. The Bridge at No Gun Ri: A Hidden Nightmare from the Korean War. New York: Henry Holt, 2001.Find this resource:

                Hong, Christine, and Henry Em, eds. “The Unending Korean War (Special Issue).” positions: asia critique 23, no. 4 (Fall 2015).Find this resource:

                  Jager, Miyoshi, and Rana Mitter, eds. Ruptured Histories: War, Memory, and the Post-Cold War in Asia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

                    Jager, Sheila Miyoshi. Narratives of Nation Building in Korea: A Genealogy of Patriotism. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2003.Find this resource:

                      Kim, Suzy, ed. “(De)Memorializing the Korean War: A Critical Intervention (Special Issue).” Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review 4, no. 1 (2015).Find this resource:

                        Park, Josephine Nock-Hee. Cold War Friendships: Korea, Vietnam, and Asian American Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

                          West, Philip, and Ji-moon Suh. Remembering the “Forgotten War”: The Korean War Through Literature and Art. Armonk, NY: East Gate/M. E. Sharpe, 2001.Find this resource:


                            (1.) King-Kok Cheung, “Re-Viewing Asian American Literary Studies,” in An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 1.

                            (2.) Frank Chin et al., “Preface,” in Aiiieeeee! (New York: Mentor-Penguin, 1991), xi–xii.

                            (3.) Jeanine Basinger, The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 26.

                            (4.) Michael Rothberg, Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization, (Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), 3.

                            (5.) Min Song, The Children of 1965: On Writing, and Not Writing, as an Asian American (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013).

                            (6.) Grace M. Cho, Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War, illustrated edition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 12.

                            (7.) Bruce Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, vol. 2, The Roaring of the Cataract, 1947–1950 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981), 770.

                            (8.) Susan Choi, The Foreign Student (New York: HarperPerennial, 1999); and Chang-rae Lee, The Surrendered (New York: Riverhead, 2010).

                            (9.) Andrew S. Hughes, “Not-so-Foreign Writer Susan Choi Uses Father’s Life in Korea for Story,” South Bend Tribune (Indiana), November 15, 1998; and Chang-rae Lee, “Amazon Exclusive: Chang-Rae Lee on The Surrendered,”, March 1, 2011.

                            (10.) Ramsay Liem, Still Present Pasts: Korean Americans and the ‘Forgotten War’. Multimedia exhibit (Boston College).

                            (11.) Helie Lee, Still Life with Rice: A Young American Woman Discovers the Life and Legacy of Her Korean Grandmother (New York: Scribner, 1996).

                            (12.) Paul Yoon, Snow Hunters (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013).

                            (13.) For an expanded version of this analysis, see Daniel Y. Kim, “‘Bled In, Letter by Letter’: Translation, Postmemory, and the Subject of Korean War: History in Susan Choi’s The Foreign Student,” American Literary History 21, no. 3 (2009): 550–583.

                            (14.) Marianne Hirsch, “Projected Memory: Holocaust Photographs in Personal and Public Fantasy,” in Acts of Memory: Cultural Recall in the Present (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College: University Press of New England, 1999), 8.

                            (15.) Hirsch, “Projected Memory,” 8.

                            (16.) Hirsch, “Projected Memory,” 8.

                            (17.) Hirsch, “Projected Memory,” 10.

                            (18.) Hirsch, “Projected Memory,” 10.

                            (19.) The most powerful theoretical considerations of this conflation of injury and identity are found in Wendy Brown, States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995)

                            (20.) Curtis James Morrow, What’s a Commie Ever Done to Black People? A Korean War Memoir of Fighting in the U.S. Army’s Last All Negro Unit (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1997); and Clarence Adams, An American Dream: The Life of an African American Soldier and POW Who Spent Twelve Years in Communist China, illustrated edition (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007).

                            (21.) Adams, An American Dream, 33.

                            (22.) Charles M. Bussey, Firefight at Yechon: Courage and Racism in the Korean War (Lincoln, NE: Bison Books, 2002).

                            (23.) Daniel Widener, “Seoul City Sue and the Bugout Blues: Black American Narratives of the Forgotten War,” in Afro Asia: Revolutionary Political and Cultural Connections between African Americans and Asian Americans, ed. Fred Ho and Bill V. Mullen (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), 55–87.

                            (24.) Toni Morrison, Home (New York: Knopf, 2012).

                            (25.) Rolando Hinojosa, Korean Love Songs (Berkeley, CA: Editorial Justa Publications, 1978); Rolando Hinjosa, Rites and Witnesses (Houston, TX: Arte Público Press, 1989); and Rolando Hinojosa, The Useless Servants (Houston, TX: Arte Publico, 1993).

                            (26.) An extended analysis of these works is offered in Daniel Y. Kim, “The Borderlands of the Korean War and the Fiction of Rolando Hinojosa,” positions: asia critique 23, no. 4 (2015): 665–694.

                            (27.) Bruce Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, vol. 1, Liberation and the Creation of Separate Regimes, 1945–47 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981); and Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, vol. 2.

                            (28.) Such a perspective highlights commonalities between the Korean War and the Vietnam War. For accounts of how Asians view Asian American literature in light of these continuities, see Josephine Nock-Hee Park, Cold War Friendships: Korea, Vietnam, and Asian American Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016); and Daniel Y. Kim and Viet Thanh Nguyen, “The Literature of the Korean War and the Vietnam War,” in The Cambridge Companion to Asian American Literature, ed. Crystal Parikh and Daniel Y. Kim (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 59–72.

                            (29.) Kim, “Bled In, Letter by Letter.”

                            (30.) Choi, The Foreign Student, 65.

                            (31.) Choi, The Foreign Student, 186.

                            (32.) Jayne Anne Phillips, Lark and Termite (New York: Vintage, 2010).

                            (33.) Charles J. Hanley, Martha Mendoza, and Sang-Hun Choe, The Bridge at No Gun Ri: A Hidden Nightmare from the Korean War (New York: Henry Holt, 2001).

                            (34.) Ha Jin, War Trash (New York: Vintage, 2005).

                            (35.) Linda Jaivin, “A Scrap Heap Made of People,” Los Angeles Times, October 10, 2004.

                            (36.) For a historical account of the Chinese POW experience, see Philip West and Zhihua Li, “Interior Stories of the Chinese POWs in the Korean War,” in Remembering the “Forgotten War”: The Korean War through Literature and Art (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2001), 152–186.

                            (37.) Jin, War Trash, 3.

                            (38.) These figures have been taken from the website of South Korea’s National Defense Ministry. The figure for the number of Chinese troops has been taken from Shu Guang Zhang’s Mao’s Military Romanticism: China and the Korean War, 1950–1953 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995).

                            (39.) Keun-Sik Jung, “China’s Memory and Commemoration of the Korean War in the Memorial Hall of the ‘War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea,’” Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review 4, no. 1 (2015).

                            (40.) Jin, War Trash, 301.

                            (41.) Jin, War Trash, 303.

                            (42.) Christine Hong, “The Unending Korean War,” positions: asia critique 23, no. 4 (November 1, 2015): 598.

                            (43.) Sok-Yong Hwang, The Guest (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005).

                            (44.) A brilliant account of this novel that contextualizes it in its original moment of publication is Youngju Ryu, “Truth or Reconciliation? The Guest and the Massacre That Never Ends,” positions: asia critique 23, no. 4 (November 1, 2015): 633–663.

                            (45.) Hwang, The Guest, 8.

                            (46.) Hwang, The Guest, 9.

                            (47.) Hwang, The Guest, 162.

                            (48.) James Huntley Grayson, “A Quarter-Millennium of Christianity in Korea,” in Christianity in Korea, ed. Robert E. Buswell and Timothy S. Lee (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006), 13–14.

                            (49.) Hwang, The Guest, 56.

                            (50.) Richard E Kim, The Martyred (New York: Penguin Classics, 2011 [1964]).

                            (51.) Kim, The Martyred, 86.

                            (52.) Kim, The Martyred, 160.

                            (53.) Kim, The Martyred, 7.

                            (54.) Chung-shin Park, Protestantism and Politics in Korea (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003), 174.

                            (55.) Park, Protestantism and Politics in Korea, 176–177.

                            (56.) Park, Protestantism and Politics in Korea, 174, 175.

                            (57.) Park, Protestantism and Politics in Korea, 178.

                            (58.) Kim’s criticisms of the Rhee presidency as well as of the regime established by Park Chung-hee are voiced in Richard Kim, “O My Korea,” The Atlantic, February 1966, 106–117.

                            (59.) Hwang, The Guest, 7.

                            (60.) Park, Protestantism and Politics in Korea, 188–199.

                            (61.) See chaps. 4 and 5 of Park, Protestantism and Politics in Korea.

                            (62.) Rothberg, Multidirectional Memory, 11.

                            (63.) Rothberg, Multidirectional Memory, 3.

                            (64.) Rothberg, Multidirectional Memory, 5.

                            (65.) Sau-ling Wong, Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 9.

                            (66.) Choi, The Foreign Student, 81.

                            (67.) Bruce Cumings, The Korean War: A History (New York: Modern Library, 2010), 67.

                            (68.) Mary L. Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000); and Penny M. Von Eschen, Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937–1957 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997).

                            (69.) Josphine Nock-Hee Park, Cold War Friendships: Korea, Vietnam, and Asian American Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 6.

                            (70.) Daniel Y. Kim and Viet Thanh Nguyen, “The Literature of the Korean War and the Vietnam War,” in The Cambridge Companion to Asian American Literature, ed. Crystal Parikh and Daniel Y. Kim (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 59–72.

                            (71.) Hong, “The Unending Korean War.”

                            (72.) Christine Hong, “Manufacturing Dissidence: Arts and Letters of North Korea’s ‘Second Culture,’” positions: asia critique 23, no. 4 (November 25, 2015): 751.

                            (73.) Leonard Rifas, “Korean War Comic Books and the Militarization of US Masculinity,” positions: asia critique 23, no. 4 (November 1, 2015): 619–631; Youngju Ryu, “Truth or Reconciliation?”; and Daniel Y. Kim, “The Borderlands of the Korean War and the Fiction of Rolando Hinojosa,” positions: asia critique 23, no. 4 (2015): 665–694.

                            (74.) Steven Belletto, “The Korean War, the Cold War, and the American Novel,” American Literature 87, no. 1 (March 1, 2015): 54.

                            (75.) Belletto, “The Korean War, the Cold War, and the American Novel,” 54.

                            (76.) Belletto, “The Korean War, the Cold War, and the American Novel,” 54.