The french philosopher Paul Ricoeur argues, history is about “TRUTH” whereas memory is about “FAITHFULNESS” to what ought to be remembered, what can be forgotten, what might be forgiven. Hence, with Rocoeur’s help we have to take in account that the function of the memorial, is above all, to raise historical consciousness. The right balance between remembering, forgetting and forgiving is thus the main challenge that the architect/artist has to face when designing a memorial. _Nelson Mota
Throughout history, mankind has not enjoyed even a hundred years of peace. So far, of the approximately 100 billion humans that have lived on Earth have suffered the war throughout that period. War made people sacrifice their youth and their lives, leaving families with the confusing and indelible wounds of sorrow. In an instant, conflict can destroyed the peace and morality of everyday life enjoyed by communities, forcing them to live under a time of fear and madness. Most significantly, civil wars between the same ethnic groups with the same roots, as the ancient Greek historian Thukydides describes from his personal experience in A History of the Peloponnesian War, the blood that flows from the wound does not dry up, even after centuries. Throughout history, mankind has witnessed the harmful effects of civil wars and how they can go beyond the dismantlement of communities to the extinction of entire nations. In the twentieth-century, the tragedies of civil war have been repeated in Spain, Korea, Vietnam, and Yemen region, to name a few. Up until only recently, Syria and Yemen have continued to suffer extreme oppression and civil war in their conflict with each other, failing to embrace differences in their ideological and religious beliefs.
Five years after World War II, and two years after the establishment of the new Republic of Korea that freed the country from Japanese Imperialism, war broke out in the Korean peninsula. It was recorded in world history as the civil war that resulted in the greatest causalities in the shortest period. The conflict between South and North Korea expanded into an international war, which even led to a proxy war under the long years of the Cold War. Due to this, the land of KOREA, the country of people who pursue beauty and retain high ideals, was destroyed to a devastating degree over three years. The entire Korean peninsula, which is only 220,000km2, was bombarded with 1.4 times the amount of air raids that were dropped on the entire European continent during World War II. As a result of local warfare, that used up stockpiles of ammunition that could have been used in another world war, sewage treatment plants were transformed into facilities for making conventional weapons. The mountains of Korea became barren mountains where there are no trees – those which used to run with beautiful mountain streams – and only grassroots remaining. Approximately 90% of the 1.5 million civilian victims in the North were burnt to death by napalm bombing and buried at sea due to the destruction of the dams, whereas, surprisingly, approximately 300,000 of the 500,000 civilian victims in the South were killed in massacres led by military police and hostile civilian groups. The South bloc was armed with an anti-communist ideology, and three days following the outbreak of the war, a collective execution in the name of preventive custody was enforced, killing members of the press association, prisoners in the North, traitors from the North occupation period, and prisoners sentenced to 15 years or more in prison. Throughout the war, these executions were committed across South and North Korea. The Korean War resulted in 10 million dispersed families and 5 million war refugees, and yet it is now becoming a forgotten war. Here is a typical example of what happened in Konryeong Gol, Dong-gu-District, city of Daejeon: three days after the outbreak of the Korean War, for ten days, citizens were pulled out of their homes and prisons in the middle of the night, and collectively executed by firing squad without trial, all in the name of preventive custody. Until now, such facts have not been widely known, not only in Korea but also around the world. Fifty years have passed for the government of the Republic of Korea to face up to this reality and to admit the faults committed by the nation’s governmental authority. Twenty years have passed before this development project for the Forest of Truth and Reconciliation could announce an international design competition, in order to finally commemorate this dark past.
In 2005, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established and initiated. For fifteen years, this task from which I sometimes wanted to hide was influenced by a shift in ideology – like a genetic disease that we have suffered since the beginning of the tragedy marked into our land – whenever the opposing parties of the government rotate their power, and the solution to resolve this burden faded away. It is now 2020, and it has been 70 years since the grudges of the dead and the resentments of the survivors were buried and sealed between the nameless mountains and valleys. Before they disappear forever into oblivion, with an invisible helping hand, the support of heaven, and the wishes of the families, we have unsealed this silence and taken the first steps towards creating a forest of truth and reconciliation.
Generally speaking, architects (landscape architects) must face history and scrutinize the years that have shaped the land with a touch of the wind that has constantly blown over such a long time. By revealing the histories of the people who lived here, the promise of youth that disappeared in war, the gleaming ideals, and the sad stories that have long fallen into a deep sleep in this terrain, we must bear witness and acknowledge the lessons to be learnt from such tragedies left by war. Stories that no one ever wants to remember should be recalled and revived as a place of memory, a place that should not be forgotten for posterity.
Born in the year of the outbreak of the Korean War, I first became an advisory member of the government committee at its early stages, and now I gladly accept the role as an master architect(MA) of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I wish that the war crimes triggered at the outbreak of this tragedy and the extreme division between people hat resulted in such massacre will one day disappear from the earth. And I hope that the souls of the dead, who were forced to die in the year I was born, find peace and rest in this memorial park. Lastly, I sincerely wish that the surviving families, who lived a lifetime with their loved ones – those who disappeared in the middle of the night – buried in their hearts, can once again meet these familiar faces with new memories in the great forest of reconciliation that you create. We deeply appreciate architects and landscape architects for participating in this meaningful project, and, with all our hearts, we truly hope to see great results.
Architect, Young-sub Kim