In central Vietnam, there are people who live on with the memory of the 1968 massacre. Every year in February, incenses are lit to mourn the dead. The survivors still offer a ‘Taihan (Korean military)’ memorial ceremony on the day when all inhabitants of the village were murdered at an instance. In the 1960s, Korea participated in the Vietnam War as an ally of the United States, where they have massacred many civilians. Yet, Korea only remembers the war as a springboard for its following economic growth.
Between Vietnam and Korea, between 1968 and 2016, and between the public memory and the private, there lies the memory of state violence. What cannot become ‘history’belongs to a ‘woman’, a ‘blind’, and a ‘deaf’. There they remain, kindling incense and offering a ritual for the victims. The first thing these ‘survivors’, ‘second generation’, and ‘witnesses’ did when they visited Korea was to embrace the Korean comfort women and to cry together with the bereaved families of the Sewol ferry disaster. The memories of those who have survived still hover around us, failing to become public memories. The memories of war become the war of memories.
There have been attempts to investigate the truth behind civilian massacres carried out by the Korean military during the Vietnam war. One day, I had the chance to listen to stories of the Vietnam war from my grandfather. We were speaking of the same Vietnam, but the memories we had of this place were strikingly different. Around the time I found out that my grandfather, who passed away from cancer due to his exposure to defoliants, was a Vietnam War veteran, Mrs. Tan visited Korea. She was one of the survivors of the civilian massacres perpetrated by the Korean military. The moment she held the shoulders of Korean comfort women (enforced sex slaves by Japanese army) and trembled, I thought I could see a glimpse of what a human being should be and should become. Tan, a Vietnamese woman who stood up with firm solidarity despite the terrors of state violence, Lub who was blinded by a remaining landmine after the massacre, and Ggum, who was deaf yet looked directly into the atrocities of the massacre. Through the lives of these people, I could encounter personal memories, distinctive from the public memory. And beyond all, there exists a war of their memory that we must not forget.