During the 1950s a number of private and voluntary aid organizations (PVOs) in the United States mobilized to address the humanitarian crisis caused by the Korean War. However, the activities and roles PVOs played in both providing humanitarian relief in South Korea and shaping American perceptions of the country are poorly understood. This article examines the strategies PVOs employed in their campaigns to convince Americans to contribute aid. The existence of need was a necessary but not sufficient condition. As scholars of humanitarian aid have argued, potential donors might view images of suffering with pity and sympathy but then quickly turn away. Donors must feel a sense of solidarity to move beyond sympathy and act in compassion. This work demonstrates that PVOs tried to create narratives of commonality between Americans and South Koreans. However, a reliance on images of poverty—which were critical to raise money—conflicted with the message that South Koreans were, like Americans, independent and hardworking people. The aid groups’ strategic attempts to mitigate this dissonance by focusing on the supposedly weak (elderly, women, children, and amputees) had the unintended consequence of casting South Korea as an emasculated nation needing to be “saved.”

You do not currently have access to this content.