ABSTRACT

What is the role of war memorials, monuments and museums, which are the “official” and ultimate means of paying tribute to the patriotic spirit of fallen South Korean soldiers? Who is entitled to define the historical significance and legacy of the war and its veterans, especially in postwar South Korea, a country that continues to experience polarized historical and political circumstances? This chapter examines Heungsoon Im’s exhibition Homecoming Box (2008) and two special exhibitions at the National Museum of Korean History (NMKH), notably A Year of Work to Move Ahead (2016) and Bring Them Home (Returning Homes for 67 years, 2017), in light of James E. Young’s and Erika Doss’s theories on war memorials and monuments in contemporary history. This chapter proposes that Im’s Monument of the Unknown Soldier is a significant example of what Young has called “counter-monuments” related to mass murder and war in South Korea as it brings our attention to the alternative narratives of victims whose disabled bodies, voices, and continued sufferings have been omitted for decades in official memorials and history museums for the sake of patriotic themes of loyalty. Throughout this chapter, one closely examines and compares different ways of dealing with individual soldiers’ experience during the Korean and Vietnam War (another important modern war that Korean soldiers had been involved with) in contemporary arts and history museums in light of shifting historical assessment of veterans in postwar South Korean society. By concentrating on the themes of loss and absence as the central tenets of Im’s exhibition and Bring Them Home, this chapter further points out the ironic role of anti-communist ideologies in South Korean society and participatory and speculative ways for the audiences of the postmemory generation to encounter the (un)bodily images of fallen soldiers sacrificed during the War.