The Korean War caused a massive displacement of people in both North and South Korea that left many thousands of Koreans in need of new homes. The close military, political, and economic ties between the United States and South Korea’s government during and after the war facilitated the immigration of large numbers of Korean war refugees, war brides, and war orphans to America.
From the early twentieth century until the end of World War II in 1945, Japan ruled Korea as a colony. Japan’s defeat in the war ended its control over Korea, but the Korean Peninsula was then politically divided at the thirty-eighth parallel. The northern portion of the peninsula was occupied by the communist Soviet Union, and the southern portion was occupied by the United States. In 1948, each part of Korea established its own independent government: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north, and the Republic of Korea in the south. Vast differences in the political ideology of the communist north and the Western-leaning south generated friction that eventually escalated into a full-scale war that would involve both the United States and the People’s Republic of China.
The Korean War officially began on June 25, 1950, when North Korea launched a surprise attack across the thirty-eighth parallel in an attempt to reunify the peninsula under its rule. Under
Meanwhile, the war itself had a devastating impact on the peoples of both North and South Korea. Particularly hard hit were large numbers of women and children who lost their families and were left without any means to support themselves.
Both during and after the war, many people fled from both North and South Korea to other countries, including China and the United States. The close military and political ties between South Korea and the United States led the majority of emigrants to choose America. Even North Korean refugees who lacked strong family or regional ties in South Korea generally preferred to go to the United States. A small number of Korean prisoners of war, who refused to be repatriated to either North or South Korea were sent to the United States as well. In fact, the war opened opportunities to all Koreans to emigrate to America. Wives of American servicemen and
The military relations between the United States and South Korea created a new group of immigrants:
From 1953 until 1960, about 500 Korean war brides arrived in the United States annually. In Korea, these women were ostracized by their relatives and neighbors for marrying non-Koreans. After they reached the United States, many of them encountered prejudice from Americans who
Other products of the Korean War were the births of thousands of so-called G.I. babies fathered by U.S. service personnel and the
The number of Korean children needing parents was so great that the South Korean government created a special agency to place them for overseas adoption. This effort gained wide publicity when
The Korean immigrants who came to America after the Korean War were noted for their remarkable heterogeneity. However, most Korean immigrants from that period were directly or indirectly connected with the U.S. military and American economic involvement in the Korean War. For many Americans, the Korean War was a quickly forgotten war, but it left a lasting imprint on both American and Korean society.
Bergquist, Kathleen Ja Sook, et al., eds. International Korean Adoption: A Fifty-Year History of Policy and Practice. New York: Haworth Press, 2007. Collection of multidisciplinary essays on Korean adoption with several articles on Korean adoptees in the United States. Blair, Clay. The Forgotten War: America in Korea, 1950-1953. New York: Times Books, 1987. Well-researched and comprehensive examination of the origins and conduct of the Korean War. Edwards, Paul M. The Korean War. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006. Part of Greenwood’s Daily Life Through History series, this book by a Korean War veteran and prolific scholar details the experiences of the individual troops fighting in Korea. Hastings, Max. The Korean War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987. Detailed examination of military operations of the nations involved in the Korean War, from a British military historian. Includes a chronology of the war. Hurh, Won Moo. The Korean Americans. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. Historical, cultural, and socioeconomic study of Korean Americans. Keller, Nora Okja. Fox Girl. New York: Penguin Books, 2002. Novel about a group of Korean children abandoned after the Korean War and their coming-of-age experiences near American military bases in Korea. Oh, Arissa. “A New Kind of Missionary Work: Christians, Christian Americans, and the Adoption of Korean G.I. Babies, 1955-1961.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 33, nos. 3-4 (2005): 161-188. History of Korean adoption in America that examines adoption as a new missionary work shared by Christians and Christian Americanists. Yuh, Ji-Yeon. Beyond the Shadow of Camptown: Korean Military Brides in America. New York: New York University Press, 2002. First detailed study of Korean military brides in the United States and their oral histories.
McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950
War Brides Act of 1945
World War II