Within the United States, the Korean War has never attracted the memory culture that other twentieth-century wars do. Korea is remembered only for not being remembered, as the “forgotten war.” And yet, as commentators continue to characterize the war on terror as an unparalleled era marked by permanent war, literary authors are returning to Korea to tell a different story. Many of these authors trace the rhetorical and material origin of the war on terror back to 1945, when the United States established a military government in Korea, and 1950, when the war began in earnest. It was Korea, they remind us, that provided the rationale for building a permanent standing military and a global network of more than seven hundred military installations around the world. Those mining this history include some of the most acclaimed American novelists writing today: Ha Jin in War Trash (2004), Philip Roth in Indignation (2008), Chang-rae Lee in The Surrendered (2010), and Toni Morrison in Home (2012). In considering the literary afterlife of the Korean War, I begin with an analysis of the biopolitical logic of defense that arose after World War II during a time of American global ascendancy and heightened anticommunism. Second, I discuss the understanding of the Korean War as “forgotten,” an idea first introduced in 1951 but more recently taken up by memory studies scholars, before advancing an alternative narrative theory of the Korean War. And finally, I consider the twenty-first-century literary return of the Korean War through readings of Jin’s War Trash and Morrison’s Home. These novels advance counternarratives of the Korean War. Refusing the bracketed, three-year history of the war, they instead reveal the basis of an enduring warfare state in Korea and locate the war on terror in this legacy.
Joseph Darda; The Literary Afterlife of the Korean War. American Literature 1 March 2015; 87 (1): 79–105. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2865199
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