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A Tortured Relic

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The Lasting Legacy of the Korean War and Portrayals of ‘North Korea’ in the U.S. Media, 1953–1962

Drawing on national and local news stories, newly declassified documents, U.S. prisoner of war (POW) memoirs, and popular films, this article argues that the legacy of the Korean War in the United States from 1953 to 1962 dramatically shaped how Americans imagined the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). It specifically examines how media portrayals of North Korean atrocities, the alleged misconduct of U.S. captives, and the relationship between the People’s Republic of China and the DPRK affected public perceptions of “North Korea” as a subjective construct. The painful legacy of the Korean War, particularly the experience of U.S. POWs, encouraged Americans to think of North Korea as an inherently violent foe and as part of a broader “Oriental Communist” enemy in the Cold War. When the experiences of U.S. soldiers contradicted these narratives, media sources often made distinctions between “ N orth Koreans,” a repugnant racial and ideological “other,” and “ n orth Koreans,” potential U.S. friends and allies.

Affiliations: 1: Fordham University, bgauthier@fordham.edu

10.1163/18765610-02204002
/content/journals/10.1163/18765610-02204002
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/content/journals/10.1163/18765610-02204002
2015-11-26
2018-04-27

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