The Vietnam War and the Korean War stand as two pivotal events, each leaving indelible marks on the world stage. Yet, the curious reality persists: the Vietnam War is remembered vividly, while the Korean War often fades into collective memory. This piece explores the disparities between these conflicts and uncovers the factors influencing the Korean War’s comparative lack of visibility.

The Vietnam War: A Divisive Global Spectacle

The Vietnam War (1955-1975) stands as a striking example of a war that transcended mere military conflict. Driven by the ideological struggle between communism and democracy, the war affected not only the nations directly involved but also ignited impassioned debates and protests worldwide. At its core, the Vietnam War was a clash of opposing ideologies and a proxy battleground for the larger Cold War struggle. The communist forces of North Vietnam, supported by the Soviet Union and China, sought to expand their influence, while the non-communist government of South Vietnam, backed by the United States and other Western allies, aimed to thwart the spread of communism.

The Vietnam War’s magnitude was underscored by the fierce anti-war protests that engulfed Western nations, particularly the United States. Young people, artists, intellectuals, and a growing counterculture movement rejected the war as unjust and fueled by imperialistic motives. This burgeoning movement found its voice in music, literature, and visual arts, creating an unprecedented surge in artistic expression and activism. The war’s relentless media coverage brought the harsh realities of the conflict into living rooms around the globe, capturing the attention of millions.

anti-war protest
An anti-Vietnam war demonstration taking place at the center of Stockholm | August 1965. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Korean War: A Forgotten Battlefield

In stark contrast, the Korean War (1950-1953) has endured a quieter place in history’s pages. The war’s origins lie in North Korea’s surprise invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950, marking the first major conflict of the Cold War era. This conflict, however, remains relatively overshadowed by its contemporaries, a fact that begs further exploration.

The Korean War’s unique position as the first test of Cold War tensions presents a puzzle. With World War II’s horrors still fresh in the collective memory, the international community was poised for peace and recovery. However, the Korean Peninsula was thrust into turmoil, triggering a multinational response led by the United States under the United Nations banner. Despite its significance in shaping the geopolitical landscape, the Korean War often remains relegated to the periphery of historical consciousness.

The Factors Behind the Forgotten War

A confluence of factors has contributed to the relative lack of attention given to the Korean War:

Proximity to World War II: The Korean War erupted a mere five years after the conclusion of World War II. The world’s focus was primarily directed towards rebuilding, rehabilitation, and preventing further global conflicts. Plus, the collective trauma of the Second World War cast a long shadow, diverting attention away from the Korean Peninsula’s plight. The world had seen enough of war, and the conflict in Korea ran counter to our aspirations of global peace.

Limited Media Coverage: Unlike the Vietnam War, the Korean War played out during a time when media technology was in its budding stages. Television was yet to become a dominant medium, and news coverage was less instantaneous and visually impactful. As a result, the Korean War’s brutal realities were not as immediately visible to the global population.

Lack of Clarity: The Korean War’s origins and resolution are complex and multifaceted. The conflict emerged from a web of geopolitical maneuvering, with shifting alliances and ideological motivations. The war’s inconclusive end, marked by an armistice rather than a formal peace treaty, created a sense of ambiguity, contributing to its less-defined narrative.

“Forgotten War” Label: Paradoxically, the term “Forgotten War” itself has perpetuated the war’s obscurity. Coined to highlight the overshadowing of the Korean War by more significant events occurring later, the label has inadvertently contributed to downplaying the war’s global significance.

Remembering the Forgotten Heroes

While the Korean War may have faded from the forefront of global memory, efforts to remember and honor its participants persist. Both American and international soldiers, alongside the Korean civilians caught in the crossfire, displayed remarkable courage and resilience in the face of great adversity. The Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., stands as a poignant reminder of the many sacrifices made during the conflict.

Efforts to document the experiences of Korean War veterans through oral histories, documentaries, and memoirs play a crucial role in preserving the war’s legacy. These narratives offer a nuanced understanding of the war’s impact on individuals and communities, contributing to a more comprehensive historical account.


Though separated by only a few years and marked by similarly complex geopolitical dynamics, the Vietnam War and the Korean War have experienced vastly different degrees of remembrance. While the former continues to occupy a prominent place in global memory, the latter struggles to emerge from the shadows of history. Recognizing the multifaceted factors contributing to this discrepancy is crucial for rectifying the collective memory lapse and paying tribute to the forgotten heroes who upheld the values of freedom and democracy on the Korean Peninsula. As we strive to bridge the gap between remembrance and oblivion, let us honor the sacrifices of those who fought and shed light on the Korean War’s rightful place in the tapestry of human history.