The War Museum vs. …

With a free afternoon, I strolled down to the War Memorial of Yongsan, Seoul, Korea – it’s only 10 minutes way, and if I don’t see at least one museum or gallery a week I feel short-changed. I approached it with breezy abandon; after all, I’d seen plenty of war memorials in the former USSR and they left me unmoved. But it only took a few minutes before my ironic detachment began to crumble.

I started off okay. Look at the funny snub-nosed plane:

But this was in the shadow of a much larger plane:

It wasn’t so much the B-52 on display, as it was how we were encouraged to admire it – to go up to the cockpit and even explore the wheel and bomb bays.

This machine rained death upon the Communists – or more accurately, upon the surrounding civilians. It got harder to appreciate the fine engineering – particularly when the planes themselves looked fairly decrepit:

These poor guys are permanently jumping out of a plane:

They actually pronounce it ROCK:


The Chikasaw. Another in a long line of American hardware named in honour of aboriginals.

My attempt at satire through ironic juxtaposition:

Did the markings really make it scarier?

One of the loudspeakers the ROK used to blast propaganda across the De-Militarized Zone until 2002.

They had the gall to build a traditional performance space in the middle of all this. There were giant drums off to the side:

I spent a second wondering what TOU YAW meant.

Apparently the Americans copied Katyusha rockets from the Soviets. Like all Korean military equipment, it was first donated by the US and later improved upon.

The outdoor museum was full of families, led by excited little boys. I had some sympathy, I used to be one of those boys fascinated by military hardware. I understand the childish desire for power in a world where, as a child, you’re largely powerless. But it was something to see a boy playing in the driver’s seat of one of these transports – he was already big enough to drive it. It was impossible to dismiss it as youthful fantasy; obviously that fantasy can be worked on in adults as well.

In 2002, North Korea sunk a South Korean boat. The army built a full-scale replica – though not an exact one, as I’ve never seen a hull shaped like this:

They did include the bullet holes, though. I was impressed; most militaries don’t like to record their defeats in such excruciating detail:

Helmet-y was on hand to help out:

The outdoor exhibit held 100 items:

But it was a small part of the 13,000 piece main exhibit, housed at the base of a massive colonnade.

The museum only takes up a corner of the U.S. military base nearby:

This is what I came for: the statuary.

And, in particular, the ludicrous sentimentality of said sculpture.

Are they rescuing this old man? Or is he a prisoner and they’re dragging him along?

There was no way to get a shot of the mother’s and children’s faces together; if you saw hers, theirs were blocked out and vice versa. I found that pretty creepy.

Oh yeah, now we know what we’re fighting for. Though judging by the scale, perhaps he’s a fan of ball-jointed dolls?

Another interesting work, the Statue of Brothers.

The blurb says it’s about reconciliation, love and forgiveness, but you don’t need to be a sophisticated reader of body language to figure out the terms under which unity will take place. I circled it and there’s no angle from which you can see the North Korean soldier’s face.

I liked the creative use of Photoshop. It’s not actually surrounded by grass:

At this point I was tired and went to the cafe, at which there was no vegetarian option. So I sipped a drinking yoghurt, ate a chocolate bar and surreptitiously watched the groups of U.S. soldiers nearby out for a field trip. I made eye contact with one shaved-head guy with a furrowed brow and quickly looked away. The gift shop was full of military toys, naturally enough, including mugs that read “Freedom Is Not Free” in sans-serif or handwriting fonts.

I admit it, my visit left me shaken. I don’t like to contemplate the military force so close to where I live, or its less-than-illustrious past. I don’t like to see soldiers, (whom I don’t blame at all for their jobs – the economic draft is alive and well) – repeating the cycle of American imperialism.

All that southern separatism and you still ended up dying for the federal state?

And most of all, I don’t like to see a conflict full of civilian massacres reduced to a bad guys vs good guys cartoon. Look, here’s a selection of the original coalition of the willing.

Apartheid South Africa:

Plucky Luxembourg:

Ethiopia! With their history you’d think they’d know better:

And let’s not forget:

One of the worst atrocities was perpetrated by the South Korean police at the small city of Tae Jun. They executed 7,000 political prisoners while Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. military officials looked on, Cumings said. To compound the crime, the Pentagon blamed the atrocity on the Communists

Three million people died. But hey, cool planes.

Next post I’ll blog about the Toy Museum, from which I left with much better feelings about. So as not to end on a sour note, here was a public karaoke display near the base, with about 20 middle-aged and elderly Koreans listening to local stars. This guy took time out of his singing, from the stage, to tell me in English that the song was about a meeting at a main railroad station:

He might have been getting on in years, but damn, he rocked that white suit.


2 thoughts on “The War Museum vs. …

  1. Don’t be so sad. There were plenty of glorious People’s Weapons on display too! Even a MiG or two! The evil Western stuff was just there as a prop to allow the peaceful Soviet and P.R. Chinese supplied items to be shown!

    • Your sarcasm aside, the history of the Korean War is far more complex than that exhibit gives credit for. I’d suggest consulting Bruce Cuming’s histories of the Korean War for a balanced history of US imperialist interventions.

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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