An interesting interview at the Daily NK with the Times Korea correspondent Andrew Salmon, author of To the Last Round: The Epic British Stand on the Imjin River, Korea 1951:
It was April 22, 1951 when Britain’s 29th Infantry Brigade was pitted against China’s entire 63rd Army on the banks of the Imjin River. The fighting lasted for four days. The 29th eventually received orders to withdraw, but the path of retreat was cut off for the 750 men of the Gloster Battalion. Only fifty soldiers made it out alive.
Salmon explains in the book that the Imjin River battle was the bloodiest battle fought by British soldiers since World War II, but in the interview he revealed that “in Britain there is generally very little interest in or knowledge of the Korean War. People don’t realize that more British men were lost in this three-night battle than were lost during nine years of fighting in Afghanistan.”
Not only has the Imjin River battle been lost from the collective memory of the British people, the Korean War as a whole remains known as “the Forgotten War.” This, despite the Korean War being the first UN war and the Cold War’s first hot war, and that the UN forces suffered more than 500,000 casualties, as Salmon points out.
Salmon attributes this partially to the timing of the Korean War, immediately following World War II. “People had had enough of war,” said Salmon, “and it was not obvious who or what we were fighting for.” Whereas Stalin and Hitler were very recognizable enemies, Mao Zedong and Kim Il Sung were not.
Indeed, the Korean War even remains largely forgotten to South Koreans, who suffered the destruction of those three years personally....
In any case, Salmon finds it hard to understand the apathy toward North Korea felt by the majority of South Koreans.
Although Salmon agrees that North Korea is an intractable problem without an easy solution, he admits, “the complete disinterest many South Koreans have for North Korea makes me a little bit sad. You’ve got one of the richest countries in the world right next to one of the poorest countries in the world, and yet it’s the same country.” Salmon was moved by “Crossing,” a film about human rights abuses in North Korea, and characterized it as North Korea’s “The Killing Fields,” but laments the fact that even this could not capture the interest of South Koreans.
I can certainly agree about the lack of interest here in the Korean War: I'd never heard of the Imjin River battle. As for South Korean apathy towards the North, here's a piece from yesterday, via One Free Korea:
After speaking recently to a group of young South Korean soldiers about North Korea’s harsh labor camps, former prisoner Jung Gyoung Il — himself once a soldier in North Korea’s massive army — was stunned by the questions from the audience.
One soldier asked how many days of leave North Korean soldiers were given. Another asked if North Korean soldiers were allowed to visit their girlfriends.
No one showed any curiosity about the notorious network of gulags, a signature marker of the North’s brutality toward its own people.
In a rare acknowledgment, the South Korean government recently noted in a report that hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are languishing in the prison camps. But Seoul has made no public effort to exert pressure on Kim Jong Il’s regime over the issue. And many South Koreans, who hold deeply conflicted feelings toward their communist neighbor, are reluctant to even concede that the camps exist.
At universities, Jung said, many students sleep through his lectures about North Korea’s gulags. The indifference still shocks him, five years after he defected to South Korea following three long years in the Yodok gulag characterized by back-breaking labor, a sparse diet and long nights of forced study of former dictator Kim Il Sung’s philosophies.
But such apathy is typical in South Korea, where North Korea’s prison camps have rarely been discussed in public or in the political arena.
“South Koreans say, ‘So what? What’s the big deal about it?’ ” said Kang Cheol-hwan, a former gulag inmate who wrote about his 10-year imprisonment in “The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag.”
“What’s more surprising for me,” added Kang, now the director of the North Korea Strategy Center, a human rights advocacy group, “was that South Koreans did not believe gulags ever existed in North Korea. They thought it was a lie.”