When a significant power chooses to take over another culture; physically as well as geographically, freedom of thought is the first to be lost. Although, our knowledge of the Indian freedom struggle relies heavily on school text books, or stories of the aftermath (partition) that followed or movies; ‘colonialism‘ has never really been a pretty word. I’m glad we’re born after 1947. I understand the the importance of being ‘Free’. Probably, that’s why, a visit to the War Memorial of Korea was an overwhelming experience for us.
The War Memorial is like a story – unravelling itself in parts. Two soldiers wrapped in a warm emotional embrace, on a cracked globe, each depicting a brother from South and North Korea respectively, is the first exhibit upon entry.
Inside the cracked globe, mosaics depict scenes of war. Maps on the floor represent nations which extended their support during the Korean War. The globe literally shields the rays of the afternoon sun and its worth a short break.
Park benches facing fountains line the museum boundaries. On our way back – we thought. We headed towards the Korean War Monument. The words on the stone walls read as, “Freedom is not Free”, couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t subscribe to war, but, I understand the need to be free and the sentiment that accompanies it.
Each statue in the Korean War Monument depicts an intense emotion. Rage, pride, fear, despair, and haplessness are amongst the most noteworthy. It was difficult to click snaps, on my phone, and take a moment to pause and think – with the sun shining in my eyes.
Wartime exhibits are also displayed at the extreme end of the museum building. The entrance to the museum is lined with flags of countries, either involved during the war, or for humanitarian efforts. And were we surprised to see the Indian flag. Travel makes you realise, how little you know of the world in which you live in.
The War Memorial Museum is pretty vast and it makes sense to visit it when you’re wide awake. Since, we had already spent half a day in Gyeongbokgung Palace (I’m still working on that post), we decided to get a brief gist of the Korean War and proceeded directly to the Korea War Room 1.
An AV unfolds the events leading to the war – with sounds of bombs and screaming. BOOM! And the lights are up. Beneath our feet, a translucent floor displays skeletal remains of war soldiers. Not a great way to start the tour, I thought. Further on, a wall diagram displayed the chronological order of events that took place in World War 2, with an emphasis on the Japanese invasion of Korea and its subsequent surrender (not in this image). Another small room contained boards (image above) explaining the turn of events leading into the split of Korea into two separate nations.
The dim lighting, sounds of war, and exhibits of artillery were successful in making the atmosphere and our moods – sombre. I was tired after a long day of standing in the sun and I could feel the pangs of fatigue and sadness crop slowly.
Each exit leads into another entryway, almost as if giving you an opportunity of re-living the conditions of war again. Scenes of pilots throwing bombs and people vacating their homes in a hurry – were played in front of us through exhibits and paintings.
After the separation of Korea into the North and South; peace was still a distant reality. North Korea launched an offensive attack in June 1950. The Korea War Room 2 details the strategy used during that war. The exhibit above displays the human wave tactics used by their Chinese counterparts.
Life size human statues make the feeling of being in a war zone all the more real. Towards the end, I felt the need to escape, probably, even run. Basil instead was hooked to every word being played.
The path ends in a plaque – with the number of abducted members from South Korea. The last room has a multiple display unit, that plays an audio visual of the meteoric rise of South Korea as a nation. As we exited the museum, it drizzled and Basil and I sat for a while in silence – processing the long day that we had.