[KS] War graves in North Korea

Jim Hoare jim at jhoare10.fsnet.co.uk
Sun Jul 2 06:48:46 EDT 2006

Sorry to be late coming in on this.

One general point. I am no authority on death, wartime or otherwise, but the idea of war cemeteraries always seems to me to be rather a late idea - American Civil War perhaps? You will find no cemeteries for Waterloo or other major battles, though individual monuments can be found in churches or occasionally at battle sites.

On North Korean Korean War dead, apart from the Pyongyang cemetery, the only reference I ever got to war graves was at Kaesong in 2001. There are some tombs visible from the Koryo museum - mounds, not very big but quite distinctive, with walls around. When I asked, I was told that these were officers' tombs from the Korean war but nothing more.

Generally, I would be surprised if much survived the bombing etc.

As to other burials, I think that of the dead in the big cities are cremated. I was told that the ashes are stored in memorial halls, and may be brought out on the death anniversary or at Chusok., where they will be honoured at a family meal. We saw this happening along the banks of the Potang river in 2002 - including one group where an elderly man was bowing formally to the ashes and picture of the deceased.

Elsewhere, there are certainly tombs with grave markers on hillsides or in remote spots - I have photographs of some. At the 'tomb of King Tongmyong', there are many graves from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, but also some more recent ones in the wood behind the king's tomb. In some villages, you can see what is clearly a collective burial site. I remember asking about mortality rates because of the food shortages near Sariwon (?) in 1998. The person I was talking to pointed out the graves on a hill nearby and said that more older people and children had been buried there in recent years. So whatever was happening when Erik Cornell was in the DPRK in 1972, people now do seem to die.

On another point, I agree entirely with Ken Quinones about the MIA programme. Here was a small but effective confidence building measure that was helping both sides, not only in the sense that the North got money and a few American families were able to learn what had happened to their dead, but the US and DPRK military were getting to know each other a bit. The US military were also getting to see bits of the country that other foreigners could not penetrate. A pity it ended.

Jim Hoare
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