UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Where war and home front meet : the shared spaces, traumas, and hopes of North Korean soldiers and civilians during the Korean War Kim, Yee Rem


As the fall of 1950 deepened, the Korean War literally came home with the retreat of the North Korean troops back across the 38th parallel, complicating the distinction between who belonged to the war front or the home front. This thesis examines letters written by North Korean soldiers and civilians that demonstrate their shared experiences, traumas, and hopes. They reflect soldiers’ fluid identity between the war front and the home front and reveal the agency of the authors of the letters who tried to cope with and survive the war, yet remain absent in the history of the Korean War. Through the framework of the history of the everyday life, this thesis recognizes and argues for the shared experiences between soldiers and civilians and their agency to improve their situations as the war theatre was further compressed. Focusing on the first turning point for the Korean People’s Army (KPA) after the successful Incheon Landing Operation by the US and UN forces in mid-September of 1950, this thesis follows the trajectory of the KPA’s frantic retreat and rapidly worsening living conditions for the people when the war zone and the home front merged into one space. Yet instead of suffering as victims of the extraordinary circumstances of war, letters demonstrate how people coped, or at least attempted to, through writing, by taking initiative when help could not be found nearby. North Korean people found ways to navigate war-ravaged terrain and were not silent victims. The thesis examines the literacy campaigns that began before the war, children during the war, physical and psychological merging of the war and the home front, retreat and civilian refugees, and shared challenges that the soldiers and civilians tried to overcome with the failing infrastructure and economy.

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