Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the National Museum of Korean History hold a special exhibition called ‘Companion’ until December 31.
Alliances show their true colors in moments of crisis. In the modern and contemporary history of the Republic of Korea, which faced numerous crises, the United States left many traces as the only ally of the Republic of Korea.
The ROK-US alliance is expanding the horizons of cooperation in many areas, including the military, economy, diplomacy, culture, space, health, and climate change. An exhibition was held to comprehensively look at the cooperative relationship between the two countries over 70 years of history, from an unpredictable alliance to a great partnership.
Starting on the 21st of last month, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, together with the National Museum of Korean History, has been presenting a special exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of the ROK-U.S. alliance, ‘Companion’, which takes a three-dimensional look at the achievements and fruits of exchanges between the two countries.
The special exhibition ‘Companion’ is an exhibition that provides a comprehensive look at the background of the signing of the ROK-US Mutual Defense Treaty, the events leading up to the actual signing, the arduous process, the US aid that followed the signing of the treaty, and the continued cooperative relationship between Korea and the US.
We met with Ham Young-hoon, a curator at the National Museum of Korean History and the curator of this exhibition, and heard various stories from the time that Korea and the United States walked together through the special exhibition ‘Companion’.
“We go together”. In this sentence, which became the slogan of the ROK-US alliance, we discover the strong solidarity between Korea and the US as they celebrate the 70th anniversary of the alliance. Curator Ham revealed that the title of this special exhibition was ‘Companion’ in connection with this sentence.
Curator Ham said, “The past 70 years have been a time when the two countries have walked together like ‘friends.’” He added, “To express the ROK-US alliance, which was not always solid, we created various obstacles in the exhibition space, and this space itself was created by installing various obstacles in the exhibition space. “It was created in homage to the Korean War Veterans Memorial Park,” he explained.
In particular, the people in the photos and various scenes symbolizing the ROK-US alliance are depicted in illustrations throughout the exhibition hall. Although the ROK-U.S. alliance is a heavy topic, it shows that attention to detail was paid to ensure that visitors could enjoy the exhibition in a more enjoyable way.
Curator Ham also said, “If other exhibitions related to the ROK-US alliance are centered around dry facts, this is an opportunity to directly experience and learn about the path the two countries have taken together through various senses, such as sight, hearing, and touch, based on those facts.” “We made it possible,” he said, emphasizing the differentiation of this special exhibition.
The Denny Taegeukgi was brought by Denny, an American who served as a diplomatic advisor to King Gojong from 1886 to 1890, when he returned to the United States in May 1890, and is the oldest Taegeukgi among the Taegeukgi currently remaining in Korea. Denny’s Taegeukgi, which was hand-embroidered one by one, has traces of a flag attached to the upper right corner, so it is presumed that it was actually used as a Taegeukgi.
The American flag of the U.S. Forces Korea, displayed alongside the Denny Taegeukgi, was displayed to the general public for the first time outside of the U.S. Forces Korea base specifically for this exhibition. It was actually used by the U.S. Forces in Korea at various events such as commemorative ceremonies and funerals in the honor guard of the United Nations Command, and has a slightly tilted shape and overlapping marks that are quite different from the American flag currently used.
Curator Ham said, “This American flag was brought to Korea when the U.S. Forces Korea was stationed in Korea under the ROK-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty, and we decided to display it in this special exhibition because we thought it contained that history.” He added, “Once the exhibition is over, the U.S. Forces Korea will incinerate this flag.” “It is planned,” he said.
Curator Ham also shared a review of his visit to the Pyeongtaek U.S. military base and the U.S. Forces Korea 2nd Division Museum within the base to rent the American flag. “I remember the complicated procedures I had to go through to enter the US military base,” he said. “It was difficult to contact the public affairs department of the USFK because the war preparation period overlapped with the Eulchi exercise, but they actively helped me despite my urgent schedule, so I was able to rent an American flag.” He said.
The United States has had a large and small influence on Korea’s modern and contemporary history. It is relatively easy to find traces of the United States in modern and contemporary Korean history, such as U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s principle of national self-determination, which provided the ideological background for the March 1st Movement, and the activities of OSS special forces during the Japanese colonial period. This is explained in the prologue of this special exhibition. It is introduced in detail.
And in the space that explains the background to the conclusion of the ROK-US Mutual Defense Treaty, you can see the story of the cooperative relationship between Korea and the US being reborn as a collective security system. Curator Ham introduced, “The ROK-US Mutual Defense Treaty is ultimately a collective security system,” and “It can be said that the United Nations (UN) was the beginning of this becoming concrete.”
The United Nations carried out its first military action on the Korean Peninsula through the Korean War. Among the approximately 1,945,484 UN troops deployed to the Korean Peninsula during the war, US soldiers accounted for approximately 1.78 million. This is why the United States is considered the country that participated the most in the Korean War.
Inside the exhibition hall, articles published by the New York Times and Kyunghyang Shinmun were displayed at the time, allowing visitors to see how they mentioned the outbreak of the Korean War and the United States’ position on it. In particular, you can view the exhibition in a more lively manner by being able to listen to the re-enactment of Wi Jin-rok, former Seoul Central Broadcasting announcer, who made the first radio report of North Korea’s invasion of the South, in real time.
Throughout the interior, there are illustrations of actual traces of U.S. military participation in the war, and interesting exhibition techniques such as using the lenticular technique, which allows viewing different images from various angles, to depict war orphans adopted by the U.S. and the evacuation of the Meredith Victory during the Heungnam evacuation operation. It shows the friendship between Korea and the United States that blossomed even during the war.
Curator Ham said of the process of signing the ROK-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty, which this exhibition deals with in earnest, “Actually, it is not a very interesting part, but we tried to convey it in a more calm way by focusing on the facts.”
Diplomatic letters exchanged between Korea and the United States leading up to the signing of the Armistice Agreement, as well as the conflicts between Korea and the United States that arose during this process, are presented in detail through various historical documents.
In particular, the desk that was used when the Armistice Agreement was signed on July 27, 1953, attracts attention as it shows traces of use and times past. This desk was used by UN Forces Commander Mark Clark, the representative of the United States, when he signed the armistice agreement, and is currently designated as a registered cultural property.
Next, where the eye is directed, there is a replica of the ROK-US Mutual Defense Treaty on display that can be viewed and read for yourself. As a video taken at the time the treaty was signed is played, you can also get a glimpse of the tension between then-President Syngman Rhee, his cabinet members, and U.S. officials.
Curator Ham said, “I wanted to express that both countries ultimately benefited from the process after the signing of the treaty.”
First of all, the signing of the ROK-US Mutual Defense Treaty resulted in the transfer of US weapons systems to Korea, providing military aid.
Curator Ham explained this, “Because allies must conduct military operations under the same weapon system, after the signing of the treaty, Korea came to follow the U.S. weapons system.” Accordingly, in the past, many Korean junior officers visited the Fort Sill Artillery School in Oklahoma, USA, received training and laid the foundation for the Korean military’s weapons system.
In addition, we were able to see historical sites where American aid was provided in various fields, including education and medical care. Every little everyday item, such as a microscope, syringe, or notebook, could all be used as aid from the United States. The ‘Minnesota Project’, which stands out, is an educational aid project for the University of Minnesota in the United States that was carried out in this atmosphere, and letters from the president and training letters from the time can be seen in person.
In particular, in this special exhibition, the original ‘Brown Memorandum’ was revealed to the general public for the first time for three weeks from the opening day of the exhibition. The Brown Memorandum, officially titled ‘Memorandum from the Ambassador of the U.S. Armed Forces to Korea Concerning Cooperation with the United States in the Increase of Korean Troops to Vietnam’, contains a total of 16 clauses. On March 7, 1966, U.S. Army Ambassador to Korea Brown delivered it to the Korean government and it came to be called the ‘Brown Memorandum.’
As an ally of the United States, it is known that the Korean military’s dispatch of troops to Vietnam was actually the highest among the countries that participated in the Vietnam War. This not only benefited the United States, but also served as an opportunity to develop the ROK-US military relationship into a complementary alliance.
The ROK-US alliance, which has been together for 70 years, is today moving from a military alliance to a cultural alliance. Curator Ham cited the Korean National Treasure Exhibition, which is introduced at the end of the exhibition, as the starting point for the evolution into a cultural alliance.
Curator Ham said, “I see the Korean National Treasure Exhibition, which toured eight cities in the U.S. for two years from 1957 to 1959, as the beginning of the evolution into a cultural alliance.” He added, “As exhibits such as the Bangasyu statue and Silla gold crown were introduced throughout the U.S., Korea became more popular. “Even though we went through this war, I think it was an opportunity to let people know that we are not just a country damaged by war, but a country with cultural potential,” he said.
In this way, the Korean National Treasure Exhibition is introduced in this special exhibition as an opportunity to highlight Korea’s existence as a partner that exchanges culturally and exerts positive influence, rather than simply as a country that receives help from the United States. You can discover the early days of the Korea-U.S. cultural alliance through materials, reports, and videos related to the artifacts exhibited at the time.
Although they are two countries that are different in many aspects, including society, culture, and economy, Korea and the United States have built their unpredictable alliance into the most successful alliance in the world.
The ROK-US alliance has transformed from a military alliance into a global comprehensive alliance. This special exhibition ‘Companion’ shows Korea’s strength, which has become stronger again over the past 70 years of working together with the United States, Korea’s only ally.
By looking at the time the ROK-U.S. alliance has become stronger through turbulent history in the special exhibition ‘Companion’, we hope that those of us who exist in this era will be able to draw a new story of the alliance that will be drawn together in the future.
Source: Policy Briefing Yoon Se-ri / Policy news, link