[KS] War graves in North Korea

Ruediger Frank rfrank at koreanstudies.de
Mon Jul 3 03:37:48 EDT 2006

Indeed, fascinating thread. Maybe our colleagues from former socialist countries could contribute a bit of their own 
experience. As far as I remember, but I might be wrong here, in the Soviet Union with its 20 millions of War dead after 
WW II there were no endless rows of, well, tombstones (crosses would have not been politically correct anyway). There 
were cemeteries, but the main focus was usually the eternal flame on the grave of the unknown soldier.
Now, the Soviet Union had won the War which it had not started. Very different situation from NK, but similar dealing 
with the War dead. I wonder what that means. Is there a connection to Christianity that is missing in socialist countries?

Best wishes to everyone,


Afostercarter at aol.com schrieb:
> This is a fascinating thread. Many thanks to Heonik Kwon
> for starting it.
> Let me attempt a possible answer to his latest question:
> One obvious difference is that the modern West has gone
> so far down the road of informalization (Norbert Elias),
> individualization, emotional privatization, narcissism (C Lasch),
> subcultural segmentation and so forth, that the very idea of
> explicit shared public binding memorials arguably now runs
> counter to the whole ethos of our age.
> South Korea similarly, I'd hazard, is rapidly leaving behind
> the twin collectivist heritages of both Confucianism and the
> Park regime's highly activist state- and ideology-building.
> Especially among the young, the new norm is the atomized
> individual at his/her computer, or in their MP3 cocoon; or at
> best, sustaining ephemeral micro-solidarities via endless
> banal text messages and similar largely pointless chatter.
> (Or am I just getting old and grumpy here?)
> Hence in our postmodern societies, it takes a positive, active
> effort by the state (or whoever), very much against the current,
> to sustain or recreate any strong Durkheimian sense that,
> /pace /Lady Thatcher, there _is_ such a thing as society; and hence
> that on occasion we all should, or even must, drop what we are
> each doing for a moment and come together, solemnly, to remember
> or for some other shared, macro-social purpose.
> (We can just about manage an annual two minutes silence.)
> Or perhaps sport nationalism (ugh) has usurped this function.
> North Korea, by contrast, is the very opposite extreme from all this.
> There, even in 2006, a powerfully proactive state subjects all its
> citizens, continuously, to pervasive socialization and indoctrination,
> inculcating a single and singular militant worldview.
> In that context, what would the Kim dynasty want with war graves?
> - with the risk, as Chris Springer said earlier, that this would remind
> people of the sheer scale and pointlessness of their human loss.
> After all, they already have the carefully named and arranged
> Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum; where the regime's
> version of events - there is of course no other - is rammed home,
> as it likewise is in school, political education, and so on, all the time.
> In sum: In the West, war graves fill a gap, and make you think.
> The DPRK has no such gap, and does not want people to think.
> How ordinary North Koreans 'consume' what they are thus force-fed
> is a fascinating question. But the balance of evidence from defectors
> seems to be that they mostly accept it; to the point of having problems
> adjusting their received worldview, even after they become exposed
> to other versions - eg as to who invaded whom in 1950.
> Best wishes
> Aidan
> Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea, Leeds 
> University
> Home address: 17 Birklands Road, Shipley, West Yorkshire, BD18 3BY, UK
> tel: +44(0)  1274  588586         (alt) +44(0) 1264 737634          
> mobile:  +44(0)  7970  741307
> fax: +44(0)  1274  773663         ISDN:   +44(0)   1274 589280
> Email: afostercarter at aol.com     (alt) afostercarter at yahoo.com      
> website: www.aidanfc.net
> [Please use @aol; but if any problems, please try @yahoo too - and let 
> me know, so I can chide AOL]
> _____________________
> In a message dated 02/07/2006 05:01:55 GMT Standard Time, 
> hkwon at skynet.be writes:
>> Subj:*[KS] War graves in North Korea *
>> Date:02/07/2006 05:01:55 GMT Standard Time
>> From:hkwon at skynet.be <mailto:hkwon at skynet.be>
>> Reply-to:koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws <mailto:koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
>> To:koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws <mailto:koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
>> /Sent from the Internet /
>> Thank you so much, all of you, for your very engaging responses.
>> I knew about the Revolutionary Martyrs' Graves and the Patrotic 
>> Martyrs' Graves that Stephen mentions. Studying their images in fact 
>> made me wonder where the other thousands postcolonial war heroes of 
>> that country are buried.
>> Chris's comments are amazing and the notion of an ideologically 
>> deathless land is deafening (I've just ordered your book). Your idea 
>> of absent memories of mass war death as an instrument of a militant 
>> political order is really interesting. However, it seems that 
>> something is not right. War cemeteries are not necessaily evidence of 
>> mass suffering but can be a powerful instrument of political 
>> legitimation and social mobilization. Those in Europe were originally 
>> invented precisely for these grand purposes, meant to function to 
>> translate the meaning of tragic loss of human lives to a heroic 
>> sacrifice for the collective, and this certainly applies to the 
>> dominant culture of commemoration in the southern part of Korea. Why 
>> did the DPRK leaders decide to conceal the Korean War mass death 
>> instead of using it?
>> For Kenneth, I once again thank for your illuminating story. Let me 
>> add that in this wild political world, it seems DPRK is not the only 
>> state that forgets how to use the remains of war constructively.
>> heonik kwon

More information about the Koreanstudies mailing list