On behalf of its membership, the Executive Committee of the American Studies Association (ASA), an academic organization with over 5,000 members in the United States and around the world, announced its support for a resolution calling for an end to the Korean War. Against the perception that the conflict ended in 1953, the organization noted the war’s status as one of the U.S.’s longest-running forever wars. It also committed to organizing one of its “freedom schools” around the unresolved war with the Ending the Korean War Teaching Collective, a group of U.S.-based academics, organizers, and activists who initiated the resolution. As ASA President-Elect Cathy Schlund-Vials stated, “the resolution’s critical engagement and pedagogical investments with what has all-too-often been cast as a ‘forgotten war’ should be at the forefront of what we do as an association, programmatically and otherwise.”
Although its 1951 founding coincided with the battle phase of the Korean War, a war of U.S. intervention in which an estimated 4 million Koreans were killed, ASA’s shift to a more critical position on U.S. power did not take place until the Vietnam War era. Following 9/11, the organization has taken notable stances against U.S. foreign policy, including support in 2013 of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In its unanimous endorsement of the current resolution, ASA’s executive council follows on the heels of the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) membership, which in June 2020 voted in favor of a resolution, also introduced by the Ending the Korean War Teaching Collective, urging the United States to “formally end the Korean War, and replace the 1953 Armistice Agreement with a permanent peace agreement.”
“Few people in the United States are aware that the Korean War is not over, yet its irresolution negatively impacts the lives of millions of people on the Korean peninsula, in the diaspora, and throughout Asia and the Pacific,” collective member Christine Hong, chair of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at UC Santa Cruz, stated. Although the July 27, 1953 Korean War armistice recommended that the United States, North Korea, and China to negotiate a permanent peace agreement in three months’ time, the Korean War persists today in the ongoing division of Korea, the continued U.S. military occupation of South Korea, the U.S.-led sanctions regime against North Korea, and the unabating militarization of the larger region. As collective member Crystal Baik, professor of gender and sexuality studies at UC Riverside, pointed out, for Koreans, the costs of ongoing war are stark: “militarized atrocities and continued separation from family and loved ones, [as well as] militarized sexual violence and ecological devastation.”
In 2020, the Korean War’s seventieth year, the Ending the Korean War Teaching Collective inaugurated a broad-based teaching initiative whose focus on critical approaches to the Korean War contrasts with how the war is typically taught in K-12 and university classrooms. The aim of the initiative is to foster critical consciousness through political education about the far-reaching toll of a war most commonly memorialized as “forgotten” within the United States.
As part of the Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea, some of the initiative’s founding members had earlier brought together over eighty scholars principally in the United States in a 2010-13 teaching initiative on the Korean War. Those scholars committed to teaching at least one class per year on the Korean War. The current Ending the Korean War Teaching Collective, which brings together scholars, both graduate students and university faculty, who work in critical ethnic studies and critical Asian studies, makes an “even more sustained educational intervention,” as collective member Monica Kim, the William Appleman Williams Chair in International History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, stated. The syllabus traces “the ongoing Korean War and its ramifications beyond the Korean peninsula,” and is thematically structured, as Kim observed, around “empire, colonialism, race, and militarism.”
The reach of the current initiative is also far broader. As Baik stated, “Many of us who are a part of this teaching initiative are Korean diasporic scholars and also belong to activist, cultural, and community organizing spaces, so we understand how critically important it is that this initiative reaches and is used by a large audience.” Intended for implementation in academic and activist spaces, “the teaching initiative is designed for those who may already teach the Korean War, as well as those who are interested in exploring vital connections between seemingly disconnected spaces, communities, and geographies.”
The public syllabus project will be launched at a virtual event hosted by the Center for Racial Justice at UC Santa Cruz on Friday, September 10, 2021, and it will be housed on the Korea Policy Institute website. Future events featuring the Ending the Korean War Teaching Collective are scheduled for Yale University this fall and UC Irvine and Johns Hopkins University in the upcoming year.
ASA Resolutions: https://www.theasa.net/about/advocacy/resolutions-actions/resolutions
ASA Resolution on the Korean War: https://theasa.net/sites/default/files/ASA-Resolution-on-the-Korean-War-w-links.pdf
Korea Policy Institute: https://www.kpolicy.org/
Center for Racial Justice, UC Santa Cruz: https://crjucsc.com/
Community announcements and events are services that are offered by the ASA to support the organizing efforts of critical constituency groups. They do not reflect the decisions or actions of the association’s governance bodies, the National Council or Executive Committee. Questions should be directed to the committee, caucus, or chapter that has authored and posted this notice.