Wednesday, January 26, 2005

War Museum - Day 3

Another of the highlights of my trip was my visit to the War Memorial Museum. It took a little bit or organizing getting there as I had to make a visit to Seoul subway station to store my bag in the coin operated lockers. Of course upon arriving at the museum there were spacious lockers for use for free. Murphy’s law you could say.

The War Memorial is a truly awe inspiring place. It must have been built at one heck of a cost to the ROK. From the government website here is a bit about the place….

The construction of the War Memorial of Korea was completed in December 1993. Upon the completion of the interior the War Memorial of Korea opened officially on June 10, 1994, and became the largest landmark of its kind in the world. Located on the old site of Army Headquarters, the War Memorial of Korea accommodates four aboveground floors and two underground floors in the main building, which stands on an area of about 20,000 square meters. 13,000 items are displayed in its six halls under different themes: Memorial Hall, War History, Korean War, Expeditionary Forces Room, ROK Armed Forces Room, and Large Equipment Room, plus the outside exhibition area. It displays various weapons and equipment from prehistoric times to the modern period. About 100 large weapons are displayed in the outside exhibition area.

In the center of the plaza stands the Statue of Two Brothers, the elder a South Korean soldier and the younger a North Korean soldier, which symbolizes the tragic situation of Korea's ideological division.

It was this statue that I began my perusal of the museum. I am not a person that succumbs to emotion readily but upon seeing the statue it showed in a real way the emotion of a ‘fratricidal’ war and sent a few tingles down my body. I sure hope the sculpture(s) were praised for their work. It was amazing. While I was trying (in vain) to take a self timer picture of myself in front of the statue, a kind Korean man approached me and offered to take a picture. He then asked me if I knew the story behind the picture and I mumbled that I had heard that it was about two brothers that met on the battlefield.

It turns out that the man was Chang-kook Kang the Curator of the Korean War section of the museum and he then gave me a fascinating mini-lecture of the statue and the story behind it. He quoted the regiments the two soldiers were in and the exact place where the reunion took place. Due to the foreignness of the place I cant recall the name but nonetheless it was quite surreal to be given a lecture by probably the most qualified authority on the subject. When he found out that I was from NZ he told me that he hopes to go to Christchurch this June. It turned out that the reason that he was standing by the statute is he was waiting for a colleague to arrive. When his colleague arrived he took a picture of us in front of the statue.

The Nations that took part in the Korean war on the ROK’s side are given a special tribute by way of having their flag displayed at the entrance and having their own display within the museum (yep that’s the NZ flag). ((By the way I am in support of the NZ flag being changed. While I respect the flag that NZ has had it is time to move on and continue to assert our independence from the UK))

Inside the museum I was amazed at the scope of the exhibits, I assumed that it would only cover the Korean War in detail but it begins with prehistoric information and covers right up to the Korean Army/Navy and Marines today. Due to my time constraints I skipped the majority of the historical information and looked mainly at the information beginning circa 1945.

The place was truly fascinating and I would certainly not hesitate to go back for much longer (I spent about 2.5 hours and barely scratched the surface of the exhibits). While the Museum has a reasonably respectful attitude to War in a couple of places it glorifies it slightly. It would be very interesting to see what will become of the exhibits if reunification was to ever take place with the North. I noted that the ‘fixed’ things e.g. statues and monuments are completely neutral and honour the bravery and sacrifices of ‘The Korean People’ the moveable exhibits are somewhat more pro The ROK. I don’t know if this is deliberate or not.

After suffering from information overload I headed off to Suwon for the final chapter of my Korean journey.


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