Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, United Kingdom
September 18, 2004
The exhibits are sensitively presented, beginning with the stark, emotive statue of two brothers - one a South Korean officer, the other a North Korean infantryman - embracing on the battlefield, and the roll call of soldiers killed between 1945 and 1953 on marble walls lining the route to the entrance.
The interior starts on a sombre, historic note with busts of Korean military heroes leading to the domed Memorial Hall; water almost silently dropping over the edges of a bowl shaped container with a flame at its centre commemorating the 170,000 soldiers killed since the founding of the Republic.
The War History Room begins with weaponry stretching back through the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Ages, continuing through Three Kingdoms armour and the Joseon Dynasty's cannons and military manuals, to a scale model of Suwon Hwaseong's Fortress, a life-size replica of one of Yi Sun-shin’s Turtle Ships, and some ridiculously self-aggrandizing uniforms from the dark days of the Daehan Empire and Japanese colonialisation.
The huge Korean War Room is haunting. Among its exhaustively thorough displays are letters from Kim Il-sung to Stalin and Mao, a walk through refugee camp, audio-visual displays on major battles, telegram reports on the fighting, explanations of the background to the conflict from Yalta, Potsdam and the U.S. withdrawal to the uprisings in Jeju Island and Suncheon and the import of Soviet armaments, a North Korean flag from the capture of Pyongyang, and battlefield relics from the retreat and the fight back to an eventual stalemate.
Korean troops have been involved in twelve overseas conflicts, from United Shilla expeditions to U.N. peacekeeping operations in Somalia. The participation of almost 48,000 troops in the Vietnam War is widely covered in the Expeditionary Room, which leads seamlessly on to the history of the R.O.K. Armed Forces and its collection of battle scarred equipment, uniforms, and scenes from modern military triumphs. The most fascinating exhibit is the painting showing the newly formed Air Force in the early days of the Korean War, men dropping bombs by hand from trainer aircraft flying less than a100m above the ground.
The Large Equipment display, most of which is out on the grounds of the museum, is a boy’s fantasy. Take your pick from authentic Chinese fighter planes to Soviet T-34 and U.S. Sherman tanks, a B-52 bomber, armoured personnel carriers, artillery pieces, a mini-submarine and, looking only a little out of place, a 5th-century stone monument moved from what is now China.
From journal Northern Exposure: The Scariest Place On Earth