Grief and Sorrow in Haktong

Rarely did such an emotional photo emerge from a war. It was taken in the Haktong-ni area of South Korea by career combat news photographer Al Chung on August 28th 1950; the photo showed a grief-stricken American infantryman being comforted by a comrade. The details about his grief were a matter of debate. Some said he just learnt his best friend had been killed, while some say it can be attributed to a more banal reason–he just learnt that his replacement as a radio operator had been killed.

The photo was also a study in contrasts: in the background, it also showed a corpsman sifting through casualty information and filling in the name of the newly fallen, ignoring the emotional outburst besides him as if he was giving his comrades a moment of privacy. The photo was featured in Edward Steichen’s celebrated “Family of Man” photography exhibit in 1955 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and subsequently been reproduced in many newspapers, magazines, books and museums.

Hawaiian Albert Chang covered three wars; as a dockworker in Honolulu, he saw the attack on Pearl Harbor and afterwards served in the Pacific and went on to photograph the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri. In Korea, he cemented his reputation as one of the Army’s finest photographers. In Vietnam, he received the Purple Heart after a Viet Cong bullet hit his left eye. Chang’s famous images included a Vietnamese family driven by oxen cart on a road leaving Saigon that is filled with bustling US tanks and a group of Saigon residents detaining and beating a suspect in a parade bombing who was thought to have belonged to the Viet Cong. But not all of his images were serious: a notable one from Korea showed three soldiers sharing canned poi and dried squid as a ukulele nestles in the lap of one man.


Kim ♥ Kim


It was a summit meeting hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough and ended up disappointing many.  With surprising speed and warmth, the leaders of two Koreas embraced each other in Pyongyang in 2000, early fifty years after the end of the Korean War without a peace treaty. A vague agreement that would reduce the isolation of the North was reached during the second day of the meeting. President Kim Dae Jung of South Korea and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il were shown on South Korean television clinking champagne glasses, shaking hands vigorously and smiling broadly. However, these were merely symbolisms–hollow acts that lead to a brief detente which the North took advantage of to create nuclear weapons.

The engineer of this meeting in Pyongyang was Kim Dae-jung, above right, the pioneer of the South’s “Sunshine Policy” that stressed the need for engagement and interaction rather than trying to isolate the North. It was a bold move that brought Kim many plaudits and secured him the Nobel Peace Prize (his past as a high-profile political prisoner helped too). However, Kim Dae-jung (1925-2009) who died last week was highly criticized when it became clear that ahead of the meeting he paved the way with secret payments of aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars. His obituary in Forbes was extremely scathing.

Dae-jung’s policy clashed directly with those of the then incoming president George W. Bush. Eventually Dae-jung found himself on the losing side. Tired of giving billions of dollars of aid and trade to the Communist North but getting little in return, South Koreans finally abandoned the policies of Mr. Kim and his successor, Roh Moo-hyun, by electing Lee Myung-bak, a conservative leader who promised a tougher stance on Pyongyang.

See Time magazine’s tribute to Mr. Kim’s life here. The photo below made the cover of the magazine’s Asian edition back then, under the title, Kim ♥ Kim.