Posted by: Bob Ringma | June 1, 2011

Our View Of Koreans

The sorting out of the monstrous pile of stores that accompanied us from Seattle gave us insight into how some aspects of logistics were being handled in Pusan.  I was taken aback to see fellow Canadians cussing and yelling at the Korean labourers working for them.  What really bothered me was that I saw no obvious reason for the abuse and figured the Koreans couldn’t understand it, either.  I presumed that they had picked up the attitude and language from the Americans who had landed earlier.  But, within days, some of our own OFP guys were doing the same, yelling, “Kudda, kudda!” (get out of here !) at the Koreans and were calling them “gooks.”

 

Another slang expression in common use at that time was “Hubba hubba.”  As I recollect, in World War 2 it was uttered to show admiration, especially for a beautiful woman.  Strangely enough, in Korea it was used to tell local labourers to “hurry up” or “get moving.”   I have no idea how use of the saying changed in such an extreme way, and there’s little help to be found in Wikipedia.

 

The vernacular used in dealing with Koreans reflected an attitude on the part of Canadians and Americans that Koreans were part of the problem.  Sad to say, this view persisted until much later, when we came into closer contact with Koreans employed to help us, for example as house boys.  When we got to know them and realized that they were not very different from ourselves, we became protective of them.

 

My own outlook was similar to that of my men.  During my year or so in the country, I gradually gained more respect for the locals, but only if we had a definable relationship.  Once, while I was serving with the OFP near Seoul, our CO told me to get rid of the kids begging for food at the mess tent.  Our softhearted cooks, knowing that we had lots of food and that the children were hungry, didn’t hesitate to feed them.  I attended meal parades for several days with my pistol drawn and mouthing, “Kudda, kudda.”

 

A one-legged boy, about thirteen, was the leader of a band of homeless orphans.  When I chased them away from the mess tent, I watched where they went, and saw them disappear like rats into the crawl space of a building.  That sight gave me a pang of conscience.  I understood the CO wanting his unit lines to be orderly and free of civilians, but I also sympathized with the cooks.  There are situations even today where I wonder where exactly to draw the line between practicality and sentimentality.

In the many years since 1952, with the realization that the people of South Korea were lifting themselves by their own bootstraps and transforming their country into a modern democracy, my attitude changed greatly.  Underlining the success of their accomplishments was the comparison with the total lack of human progress in the dictatorship of North Korea.  To this day it is a backward land, plagued with shortages and hunger, while the Korea south of the 38th parallel continues to prosper and evolve as a democracy.

 

Some years after the end of the war, South Koreans, led by a military committee, started inviting UN veterans to visit their country at the expense of the government.  I was able to participate in the program in 1995, and was truly impressed by what I saw.  Flying over the countryside, I looked down at the dirt roads I had driven over forty-some years earlier.  All had been modernized and paved, while new concrete ribbons fanned out across the land.  Instant cities of high-rise buildings had replaced the earlier hovels.  Plastic green houses, visible from the air, produced strawberries all year round.

 

South Koreans, once downtrodden, now have a sense of self-worth and national destiny.  Universities abound and Korean students study in other countries, including Canada and the USA.  Their country is a leading manufacturer of cars, and not all of them for export.  The Republic of South Korea is a success story because of the war, a war that we helped to win.  By contrast, North Korea, one of the last totalitarian communist states in the world, is a disaster area.

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Responses

  1. A very good analysis of the changes over the years in South Korea.

    • I sincerely hope that in the future our troops in Afghanistan will be able to look back on their service there and feel a similar satisfaction – but somehow I doubt it.

      Bob


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