The Korean War Memory Tour Wants To Remember Protesters Too

In the spring of 2014 I took a history seminar at Temple for which I was required to use an archive for my research instead of my preferred method of examining monuments, memorials, sand museums. So I went searching for anti-war protests against American involvement in Korea and found out that there was an anti-war movement in the early 1950s but it has largely been forgotten by both scholars and the public. The Korean anti-war movement has been forgotten for several reasons including a focus on the domestic side of the early 1950s in historical films, the association of many key leaders of the protests with the Communist Party, and the fact that two dissertations from the 1970s that detailed the size of the movement were never published, allowing other scholarly views that downplayed the size of the peace movement, such as Lawrence Wittner’s Rebels Against War, to dominate the field, creating an academic paradigm ignoring the protests. Moreover, this forgetting of the peace movement associated with the Korean War further illustrates the degree to which the war itself has not really been forgotten. Though many individuals across the country opposed the Korean War, I’m most interested in a group that I’ve affectionately dubbed the ‘New York Nine,’ in part due to the presence of later ‘Chicago Seven’ defendant David Dellinger among the individuals. In addition to Dellinger (whose jaw was broken at a 1951 protest march by an angry parent of a soldier killed in Korea) the ‘New York Nine’ included other widely known individuals as well as some obscure names. WEB Du Bois was arrested after the outbreak of the war for refusing to register as a foreign agent due to his involvement with an organization called the Peace Information Center. One of Du Bois’ strongest supporters (and co-chair of his defense committee along with former Minnesota Governor Elmer Benson was athlete, actor, and activist Paul Robeson, who would soon have his passport stripped for his support of North Korea and the Soviet Union. After becoming the only Congressman to oppose the Korean War and losing his Lower East Side re-election bid as a result, Vito Marcantonio would serve as Du Bois’ lawyer pro bono during the trial. Obstetrician Dr. Clementina Paolone would found American Women for Peace to oppose the Korean War and appeared on the same party ticket as Marcantonio (and Du Bois) in 1950. Frieda Lazarus, through her role as Executive Secretary for the Metropolitan Board for Conscientious Objectors corresponded with most other members of the Korean Anti-War Movement, though not always collegially as in the case of her letter to Sidney Aberman of the War Resisters League concerning a pamphlet that she saw as advocating draft resistance for purely political rather than religious reasons. Aberman was the second speaker at the 1951 protest march, following Michael Harrington then representing The Catholic Worker but more famous later as the author of The Other America. Also present at the protest was Bayard Rustin who a decade later would advise Martin Luther King, but during the Korean War this last member of the ‘Nine’ would face arrest and prosecution for his sexuality

In addition to individuals, various organizations and publications demonstrate the size of the Korean anti-war movement. Some organizations such as the War Resisters League had been founded decades before and included a nationwide reach as members migrated for education and employment, while others such as Mothers Against War were new organizations created by alumni of groups like the WRL in order to protest the specific conditions caused by the outbreak of war in Korea. Mothers Against War produced a handbill extolling readers against purchasing ‘military toys’ in a form of early post-war consumer protests similar to those described by Lizbeth Cohen in A Consumers’ Republic. Moreover, this nationwide network of anti-war activists included those affiliated with the mostly Methodist Fellowship of Reconciliation, the largely Quaker Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, and the National Service Board for Religious Objectors which largely dealt with Mennonites and other small Protestant peace churches. Leaders of these organizations also produced anti-war treatises including Of Holy Disobedience by the elderly A.J. Muste and the Handbook for Conscientious Objectors partly penned by the youthful Iowa-born Lyle Tatum (and later edited by his little brother Arlo). Beyond New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC the Korean anti-war movement also included a significant nationwide component as evidenced by the large showing at the Chicago Peace Congress as well as by the activities of groups such as the Maryland Peace Council and the Wisconsin Council for Peace, and the Save Our Sons Committee. All of these organizations produced newsletters that I discovered while exploring the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, an extensive archive that includes materials that have otherwise disappeared from public memory including the aforementioned newsletters which are now the only evidence that many of these groups ever existed. Indeed, my day at Swarthmore taught me just how much information a scholar can gain nowadays by spending an afternoon in an archive with a digital camera (a lesson again demonstrated by my most recent trip to the Center for the Study of the Korean War, but to learn more about that you’ll have to read my next blog post). This research is important because remembering the forgotten protests against the Korean War has ramifications for both scholars and activists. For historians the Korean anti-war movement helps to fill in the gap between widespread conscientious objection to WWII and the much more widely remembered Vietnam Anti-War Movement, while also noting the activities of many key Civil Rights activists in the years following the end of the New Deal and potentially pushing back the beginning of the ‘Long 1960s’ all the way to 1950. For activists the Korean anti-war movement serves as a reminder that the active anti-war protests during the Vietnam era were not anomalous but rather typical, while in a way the movement was successful in that the war ended in only a few years instead of dragging on for a decade despite protests as occurred with Vietnam and to a lesser extent Afghanistan. So in a way the biggest reason why the Korean anti-war movement has been forgotten today is that it was so successful at the time that it did not last very long.

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