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Jerome De Wit at SOAS: Motivations for Writing during the Korean War

The final free seminar before the Christmas break is as follows:

The War Within: Motivations for Writing during the Korean War

Jerome de WitJerome De Wit (Leiden University)
Date: 7 December 2012
Time: 5:15 PM
Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings
Room: G50


The first few months of the Korean War (1950-1953) saw dramatic shifts in the frontline. Initially the North Korean army advanced rapidly, until their advance was halted by American troops, who had quickly decided to intervene on behalf of the South with permission of the UN. With the rapid buildup of troops, the UN army soon launched a counter offensive in September 1950, which in turn drove the North Korean army back. Now it was the UN army’s turn to advance deep into North Korean territory, with some units even arriving at the Chinese-Korean border at the end of October.

Because of these dramatic shifts in the frontline, the majority of the Korean population had to endure the rule of both the North and South Korean occupier. Many citizens were forced to choose to support a specific regime, but also turned this “choice” around completely when the occupying regime changed. Each time the new occupier moved in, the authorities aggressively searched for ‘reactionary elements’. In this atmosphere of mutual distrust even the slightest suspicion or accusation by friends or neighbours could have dire consequences that could lead to imprisonment or summary executions

South Korean writers were obviously not immune to these dramatic shifts and had to decide which side they were on. In the writers’ recollections on the war period one gets the impression that there were two main reasons as to why the writers decided to write for a specific regime. Either they joined one of the government funded writers’ organisations out of a genuine feeling of patriotism, or to make life in the war-torn country easier, as they would be provided with food. However, such a view ignores the complicated social conditions in which the writers found themselves, both during the initial phase and even before the war had started. A closer inspection of their experiences reveals that there was little possibility in South Korean society to have any other inclination but to become an anti-communist writer and that many writers constantly had to reinforce this image.
Speaker Biography

Jerôme de Wit is a PhD student of the Korean Studies department at Leiden University (Netherlands). His dissertation deals with the way North and South Korean writers perceived and experienced the Korean War and how these aspects are reflected in their wartime works. His research interests are the Korean War, modern Korean literature and modern intellectual history. He has lectured at the Hanguk University of Foreign Studies, Leiden University and Roma University.

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