"War for Peace": Race, Empire, and the Korean War
Kindig, Jessie L.
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The Korean War (1950-1953) offers an apparent paradox in U.S. historical memory. Termed a "war for peace" by President Harry S. Truman and a "forgotten war" by historians, there was not much limited about the Korean War, for its extensive bombing campaign and counterinsurgent ground combat killed two million Korean civilians and displaced five million more. This dissertation asks how the war's scale of violence could become forgotten and unremarkable in American culture. Using the conflict's "forgotten war" moniker as a point of departure, <italic>"War for Peace"</italic> argues that the contradictory processes of mobilizing, justifying, and eliding state violence proved endemic and central to the projection and constitution of American empire after World War II. This dissertation proposes that forgetting was a historical and cultural process that expressed and generated the production of American power, emerging in the post-World War II moment as the application of communist containment policy. <italic>"War for Peace"</italic> first traces the arc of American policy from military occupation to outright war, arguing that this history constituted a continual, repressive, counterinsurgent war against indigenous Korean political formations. In this moment of global decolonization and early cold war positioning in East Asia, American power was exercised through its own contradictions as the U.S. military occupation of South Korea (1945-1948) formed the route to postcolonial liberation, and democracy was practiced and preserved by inflicting wartime, racial, and sexual violence on Asian bodies. The second half of the dissertation examines how the racial and gender violence of the Korean War was both referenced and obscured in U.S. culture, exploring popular films and sociological studies of black soldiers and Asian war brides that used the Korean War as a backdrop to make national claims about racial integration. When peace activists sought to oppose the interlinking violence of the Korean War and American racial politics, anticommunist repression functioned as a mechanism of forgetting, forcing radicals' broader critiques into a nationalist cold war frame. Based on extensive research in archival and published sources--military papers, war correspondents' accounts, activists' pamphlets, popular films, and sociological studies of racial integration--this interdisciplinary study relocates the study of U.S. racial formations across the Pacific. <italic>"War for Peace"</italic> proposes that the U.S. project of liberation and democratization in East Asia sustained and advanced the U.S. empire by expanding its capacity to commit racial and sexual violence on Asian bodies, and that U.S. empire was reproduced through the historical and cultural forgetting of this same violence. This dissertation challenges and expands histories of U.S. power, racial integration, and sexual politics after 1945 and suggests new ways to think about the intersection of military violence, culture, and memory in the United States.
- History