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The Forgotten War: American Memory and Perception of the Korean War from Pammunjom to Present

When the Korean War is discussed in the United States, it is commonly described as the “Forgotten War,” a conflict situated between and overshadowed by World War II and the Vietnam War. The label of the Korean War as “forgotten” is nearly ubiquitously accepted and largely unchallenged when it is used today; however, public perception of the Korean War has changed greatly across time. Our purpose in this project was to describe how the Korean War has been viewed throughout modern American history and how it came to be perceived as forgotten.

Due to its unpopularity and relatively small scale, the Korean War never had the same impact on the American public as World War II and Vietnam. The war was poorly understood in the United States while it was occurring and, afterwards, was understood primarily in military terms, while being more influential in the military and government than amongst the general populace. After the onset of the Vietnam War, the Korean War was largely overshadowed by the extremely polarizing subsequent conflict in Southeast Asia. Although the Korean War was referenced during the Vietnam Era, it was done so in light of the following conflict. Despite the gradual increase in awareness that the war had been forgotten after the Vietnam conflict, the term “Forgotten War” did not have the place in popular American lexicon that it has today. After the Korean War memorial in Washington DC was constructed in 1995, there was a significant increase in public discussion and interaction with the war, largely driven by a common perception that the war had been shamefully forgotten and that its veterans and consequences deserved greater recognition.