The Land of the Morning Calm: U.S. Army Films from the Korean War

Korea has long been known as the “Land of the Morning Calm”, a reference to the region’s natural beauty and tranquility. This tranquility has been belied by some seven decades of conflict, from the Korean War through to the present day. Today we will take a look at two different eras of that conflict from the perspective of the United States Army. These films come from the DIMOC (Defense Imagery Management Operations Center) collection. DIMOC is a part of the Department of Defense that handles media content produced by the various branches of the United States armed forces. 

The origins of the Korean War can be traced back to the end of World War II and to the start of the Cold War between Communistic Soviet Bloc countries and the Capitalist Western Powers led by the United States. Following World War II, the nation of Korea, which had been occupied by Japan since 1910, was divided along the 38th parallel. Korea north of the 38th parallel would be occupied by the Soviet Union, while the Western Powers would occupy south of the parallel. This division would mirror that of Europe following the war, with the divide between Western Europe and Soviet Occupied Eastern Europe. 

In 1950, when the occupying forces left both North and South Korea, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung attempted to reunify Korea by invading the South. What followed was the Korean War, which lasted for three years (1950-1953), cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers (including 36,000 U.S. troops) and more than 1.5 million civilians. Yet in the United States the Korean War is still to this day referred to as “The Forgotten War.” There are many reasons for this, but the Korean War seems to have been largely overshadowed by the World Wars that preceded it and the longer and more polarizing conflict in Vietnam that came along later.

The first film we’ll be looking at from this “Forgotten War” is Psychological Warfare: A Combat Weapon in Korea (Local Identifier: 330-DIMOC-22933DA). The film was made in 1952, during the height of the Korean War, and depicts the activities of the U.S. Army’s Psychological Warfare (Psywar) branch. Psywar was established on January 15th, 1951, as a special staff agency at the top Army level. 

Propaganda has long been a feature of the conflict in Korea as well as the Cold War in general. This film shows the United States Army’s use of propaganda as part of the war effort in Korea. 

  • Soldiers loading leaflets into artillery shells.
  • Soldiers operating a loudspeaker.
  • A leaflet being designed.
  • A woman speaking into a mircophone, broadcasting from Tokyo, Japan.
  • An artillery shell stamped "PROPAGANDA FILLED".

(Stills from Psychological Warfare: A Combat Weapon in Korea.
View the complete film in our online catalog.)

Psywar is still a part of the United States Army to this day. The film refers to a Psywar training school that was established at Fort Riley, Kansas, and mentions that a more permanent school would be established at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. That school was indeed built and is still in operation to this day as the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. 

This film depicts the activities of the First Radio Broadcasting and Leaflet Group operating out of Tokyo, Japan, as well as the 1st Loudspeaker and Leaflet Company operating out of Seoul, South Korea. 

The second film we have today was made over 20 years later at a different point in the  Korean conflict. To Help Peace Survive (Local Identifier: 330-DIMOC-FTBEL1226) is an orientation film for U.S. soldiers being sent to serve in South Korea. After the Korean War ended, the United States and South Korea entered into a Mutual Defense Treaty. United States servicemen and women serve in Korea to this day to act as a deterrent to any possible aggression against South Korea.

  • North Korean troops charge into battle.
  • Allied and North Korean representatives negotiating an armistice in Panmunjon, Korea.
  • A woman onstage at a Beauty Pageant Seoul, South Korea.
  • Korean women in traditional dress dancing with fans.

(Stills from To Help Peace Survive. View the complete film in our online catalog.)

The film opens with a depiction of the modern history of the conflict between North and South Korea, from the Cairo and Pottsdam conference of World War II, through the Korean War itself and the stalemate that followed the armistice that ended hostilities on July 27, 1953. 

The last part of the film directly addresses the audience of the film, the servicemen and women who would be serving as that deterrent. This section does take time to inform incoming service members of the benefits of a tour of duty in Korea, while also subtly but clearly reminding them of their responsibilities under the Status of Forces Agreement with South Korea.

Further reading:

For more information from the Unwritten Record on the subject of propaganda, see “Spotlight: Propaganda

For more information on the propaganda leaflets, see “Korean War Propaganda Leaflet Collection at the Library of Congress

One thought on “The Land of the Morning Calm: U.S. Army Films from the Korean War

  1. I had an interest, as my father-in-law earned a purple heart in the Korean war. It was not actually issued to him until many years later…long story.

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