This article revisits South Korea's mostly forgotten involvement in the Vietnam War and examines lingering effects of the war on South Korea's subimperial nation‐building in general and on its contemporary multicultural policies in particular. The Vietnam War served as a stepping stone for South Korea to transform itself from a war‐torn country to an economic subempire in Asia. Encounters with Vietnamese refugees in the aftermath of the war helped form South Korea's subimperial gaze, solidifying the racial inferiority of South Koreans to the United States but establishing their superiority over the Vietnamese. Further, the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees laid the foundation for the practices of contemporary South Korean multiculturalism. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, South Korea presented itself as a benevolent protector of Vietnamese refugees. The brutal acts committed on the battlefields and the neglect of the Vietnamese refugees living at the margins of South Korean society have been effaced from public memory. Through the work of selective memory, the “multicultural” South Korea presents itself yet again as a caring supporter of Vietnamese migrant wives. It is through this cultural amnesia that the myth of ethnic homogeneity was maintained, allowing the contemporary multiculturalism discourse and practice to be advertised as a novel cultural globalization project that is free of historical guilt or responsibility.

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