COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — An ongoing speaker series hosted by Columbus State University (CSU) continued on Thursday night. Guests gathered at the National Infantry Museum at 7 p.m. for the third panel and fourth discussion addressing the legacy of the Korean War.
Panelists Dr. Mary Dudziak and Dr. Michael Lynch spoke in a discussion moderated by CSU’s Col. Richard R. Hallock Distinguished Chair of Military History Dr. David Kieran. Dudziak is a law professor at Emory University, historian and author. Lynch currently serves as a research associate and professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute.
“When Americans do think about the Korean War, of course, Americans think about Americans,” Dudziak said.
The conversation was still in its first minutes but the response colored the rest of discussion that followed. Dudziak was hinting at the necessity of decentering the American perspective of the Korean War through alternative cultural lenses and with a critical eye toward history.
Although she acknowledged she wasn’t able to speak for Koreans or their family members which had lived through the war, she told the audience what she had experienced on a trip to South Korea.
“It’s a different kind of history than there are for some other regions because of the fact that the country has been forever divided,” Dudziak said. The panelist recalled a sense of yearning for reunification in her conversations with Korean civilians.
The panel had time to respond to five prompts from Kieran and a few audience questions over the duration of about an hour-and-a-half. Many of Lynch’s responses focused on systematic issues and outside pressures at the time.
“Korea was sort of ground zero for sort of working out the problems, really deep problems of racial discrimination in the context of that sort of first experience of on the ground integration,” said Lynch, a retired Army officer.
He continued, “That’s really an important part of the Korean War history … that really needs to be remembered.”
Lynch spoke about the Korean War in the context of a post-World War II United States, with a diminished force and segregated divisions. There was also the strained relationship between President Harry Truman and General Douglas MacArthur. Plus, the US was navigating its role within the UN for one of the first times.
Rounding out the conversation, Dudziak called for increased acknowledgement of the civilian casualties of the Korean War and the No Gun Ri massacre. The event was investigated and deemed a regrettable mistake by then-President Bill Clinton in 2001, however no apology or compensation were offered.
The comments were met by dissent from one audience member who called Dudziak’s words “ludicrous.” In response, Dudziak affirmed it should not be the war that is apologized for, but specifically the No Gun Ri massacre and civilian deaths involved.
Lynch agreed that the Korean War was “operationally flawed,” especially as American troops faced challenges with supplies and training as they attempted to navigate Korean mountain ranges. He added the No Gun Ri massacre was criminal and should not be dignified, even though the risk of such casualties is a possibility within war.
According to Lynch, the Korean War also provided precedent for future U.S. actions as a member of the U.N. Since this era, the U.S. has not made non-joint decisions and or taken part in non-coalition endeavors, Lynch said. He added the war also showed the value of working with international partners in conflicts.
United States Forces Korea, a combination of U.S. and Republic of Korea forces, formed in 1957 still exists today.
The panel discussion was in-part made possible through CSU’s Hallock Endowment for Military History. In alignment with this speaker series, CSU students will take a trip to Korea in summer 2024. The trip is funded in-part by the Hallock Endowment and charitable donations.
CSU’s “The Legacy of the Korean War” series will continue on Feb. 21, with a discussion by Beth Bailey, a professor and director of the Center for Military, War and Society Studies at the University of Kansas. More discussions will follow on March 11 and 26. The series will conclude on April 4.
A Korean War memorial will be added to the National Infantry Museum this summer.