On our second to last day in Seoul, Sora and I split for the majority of the day. She had some things to do admin wise and I had a blight on my past trip to the city that I needed to rectify. I spent the morning at the Korean War Memorial in memory of my grandfather. He was a medical officer during the war, stationed just outside of Seoul once the South had fought their way back up there and the US had joined the efforts.
I’d been to the memorial before on my last trip to Seoul, and at that time he was alive and so excited I had come here. I remember talking to him on the phone, he asking me what I liked about the city, telling me of his time here during the war. During that trip I didn’t go into the museum, something I rectified today. I’m a bit ashamed that I know so little about the war Poppie was in, and wish now, more than ever, I could talk to him about his time. I know he didn’t talk about it much, and I understand that after spending a few hours there, reading everything I could.
It was a cathartic experience. There’s a memorial hall to the fallen soldiers as well as a computer for Korean to look up relatives who were in the war. Inside the various exhibits the history is laid out with maps, artifacts, and video. As with any war that has ravaged a country so completely, there is a definite slant to how the facts are presented. But I cannot begrudge them that. I did wonder how the Chinese tour group ahead of me was taking it though, has to be an odd experience when your country is vilified on nearly every display.
There are a series of room that display the uniforms of the countries that assisted in the war, or at least who helped the South. I took a moment of pause at the American one, as well as at the medical display, to think of my grandfather, imagining what he would have looked like dressed in such attire.
The indoor museum itself covers all the military history of the conflict and more. Outside it’s all modern warfare on display and they have the tanks to prove it.
The military is nearly everywhere in Seoul. If you’re not reminded of it by the various US bases and servicemen waltzing around Itaewon or seeing South Korean men doing their mandatory military service, the fierce nationalism of the country will attract your attention. Being American, I’m fairly use to that, but more than once even I was surprised. Not necessarily in a bad way, just in a “Oh!” sort of manner.
To me it wasn’t the museum or even all the missiles (eek!) on display that struck a chord with me: it was the statues. They’re raw and have such movement. I found myself transfixed. From soldiers to medical personnel to the elderly and children… they represented everyone who suffered through a war that left a permanent scar.
If you ask many South Koreans today what they think of their northern cousins, they’ll laugh and say that they’re crazy. With mandatory army service for two years for every male in the country plus the ever watchful presence at the DMZ, the South isn’t particularly worried about the North nuking them or trying to invade. But they are ready. As a pacifist myself, I can’t help but to be sad at this, but it’s not my country. I’m also not naive enough to know that the conflict between the Koreas can be solved so easily as a promise not to kill one another. Maybe one day they’ll get there, or perhaps they prefer to be separate forever. In the end, that’s their choice.
I won’t go into any rant about North Korea and the conditions many of its people suffer through. We all know. If anything, I’d hope for help for those people, but the outlook it bleak. I don’t mean to make this such a depressing post, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded of the grimness of the past, our present, and the future. History is only doomed to be repeated by those who do not understand it.
The War Memorial of Korea (website)
Where: 29, Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 용산구 이태원로 29 (용산동1가)
When: 09:00-18:00 (※ Last admission is one hour before closing.) Closed every Monday.
How Much: Free