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  • Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War
  • Barbara W. Kim
Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War. By Grace M. Cho. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. 232 pp. $67.50 (cloth); $22.50 (paper).

South Korea and its citizens emerged from the devastation of the Korean War, and with the economic and military aid from the United States, mobilized at a dizzying pace to establish a democratic government and an industrialized economy that ranked as the world's fifteenth largest in 2008. Meanwhile, Korean Americans, most whom arrived after the post–World War II civil rights movement dismantling of racist immigration and naturalization restrictions, exhibit many markers used to gauge successful assimilation, such as high rates of educational achievements, self-employment, intermarriage, participation in religious life, and naturalization.

Grace M. Cho's study ruptures these metanarratives of postliberation Korea and the "model minority" Asian American experience, and exposes the lingering effects of violence and trauma of the forgotten war, military prostitution, and U.S. imperialism. Drawing from a wide range of sources and methodological approaches, including oral histories, autoethnographic writing, films, novels, and performance art, Cho argues that Koreans in the United States have been haunted by "the traumatic effects of what we are not allowed to know—the terror and devastation inflicted by the Korean War, the failure to resolve it, [End Page 792] and the multiple silences surrounding this violent history" (p. 12) even while they are positioned by mainstream social scientists and Korean Americans themselves as upwardly mobile immigrants and citizens. This ambitious writing project may not be for those expecting traditional social science and methodological approaches. However, Haunting the Korean Diaspora challenges readers to rethink the origins and effects of postwar Korean diaspora and geopolitics within the context of twenty-first-century U.S. military engagement in the Middle East, especially as the location of the Forgotten War shifts from Korea to Afghanistan.

Using Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok's theoretical framework of "transgenerational haunting," which posits that profound trauma does not end with the person who experienced it but is unconsciously passed on to the next generation through silence and secrets, Cho argues that the figure of the yanggongju has haunted US–Korea relations and Korean American experiences. Yanggongju, literally "Western princess," is a term often pejoratively used for women who provide sexual labor for the American military. Over a million women have worked in gijichon, or camptowns, around military bases since U.S. troops arrived on the Korean peninsula in 1945. Camptown sex workers have been pitied as women with few economic options for themselves and their families in the postwar period, shunned as morally ambiguous "bar women," viewed as victims of Korean patriarchal nationalism, and depicted as the embodiment of U.S. imperialism and military dominance in unequal geopolitics.

In chapter 2, Cho revisits the Korean War, the arrival of United States and United Nations armed forces, and the emergence of camptowns around military bases. Cho uses survivors' accounts from two sources: oral histories conducted by Ramsey Liem and interviews published in The Bridge at No Gun Ri: A Hidden Nightmare from the Korean War (2001) written by AP journalists Charles J. Hanley, Sang-Hun Choe, and Martha Mendoza. This is a powerful and gripping chapter whose eyewitness accounts of violence, outrage, and confusion over American military policies dispute the public memory of the Korean War. Cho notes that after the publication of The Bridge at No Gun Ri, the Pentagon opened an investigation into the massacre in 2001 and concluded that this was a tragic but isolated case; historian Sahr Conway-Lanz has since discovered new evidence that disputes the Pentagon report. An additional note that chronicles the intense controversy and debates between the authors of The Bridge at No Gun Ri, other mainstream media outlets, and Robert L. Bateman, the author of No Gun Ri: A Military History of the Korean War Incident (2002), over the [End Page 793] veracity of the AP journalists' key sources and arguments would help readers, especially those unfamiliar with Korean War literature, further understand how the Pentagon and the public continue to remember the rescue "over...


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