Tuesday, June 22, 2010

PBS: "Unforgettable: The Korean War": short historical documentary apparently from Arizona State

A documentary originating at a project at Arizona State University, “Unforgettable: The Korean War”, 52 minutes, directed by Kleespie, aired June 21 on some PBS stations. KPBS has a link here.

One little known fact depicted in the film is that in 1951, President Truman had drawn up some targets in the Soviet Union and China for the use of nuclear weapons if ground efforts failed. We could have had nuclear war then, and it is thought that the Soviets weren’t quite ready to retaliate yet. That would change quickly (look at the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962).

Another interesting aspect is how badly the war went in the beginning, with most of the Korean peninsula under Communist control for a while. Yet the Korean War would fade into memory, with no great novels about it.

The Oxford Journal (Mississippi) has a story about a local veteran, Ennis Miller, who appears in the film, story by Meagan Eagle, link here.

Another interesting matter in the film is the claims about the extreme cold of the Korean winter. The 38th parallel is south even of the latitude of Washington DC; why are the winters, even at sea level, so cold? But I doubt it was much below 0 Fahrenheit.

One anecdote has a young man asking that his draft notice be remailed so that he has time to join the Air Force and avoid Army infantry. That foreshadows the controversy over the Vietnam era draft and student deferments later in the 1960s.

I recall that in July 1950, when I had just turned 7 (and had recovered from measles that had struck a month before while we were at the beach in Ocean City, MD), I was sitting on grandmother’s porch in Kipton, Ohio (near Oberlin) when my mother opened up a Cleveland Plain Dealer (complete with its great coverage of baseball those days) and said, “There’s war in Korea.” (Wikipedia gives the date of the start of the war as June 25, 1950; but I distinctly remember this moment as in mid July; the Battle of Osan occurred on July 5.)

By the time of my own Vietnam era draft (in February 1968 for me), Korea was viewed as a safe and stable duty station. But in the 1990s, North Korea was regarded by the Clinton Administration as probably the nation’s biggest existential threat for a war that could even necessitate a draft (when “don’t ask don’t tell” had been promulgated – and I was writing my “Do Ask Do Tell” book), to the point that the more subtle threat of Al Qaeda and radical Islam just wasn’t followed closely enough.

Wikipedia attribution link regarding a memo about shooting Korean civilians here.

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