Art & History

A Civilization of Peace: 

Korea's Past, Present, and Future


Today, Korea calls to all of humanity for peace. 

Rather than an abstract ideal, the striving for peace is concretely represented throughout the long arc of Korean history, appearing in art and culture as well as in the organization of the state. It appears in Buddhist works, in landscapes depicting the sacred mountains and trees of the homeland, and in achievements of science, technology, and language created not for the purposes of destruction, but for peace and the well-being of the people. The geography of the Korean peninsula has situated Korea and its people to absorb broad political, cultural and intellectual influences, which have been synthesized in the renewal and refinement of its unique civilizational characteristics. These civilizational qualities and contributions to world humanity were able to flourish best under the protection of a strong state. 

With the crumbling of the state and occupation of Korea by Japanese imperialism, Korean civilization was disrupted and suppressed, but unbowed. It was only the unparalleled destruction and carnage of society, landscape, and human life by American imperialism in the Korean War that partitioned the peninsula, dividing civilization and separating Koreans living in the Republic of Korea (South Korea) off from their sisters and brothers in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). This art exhibit aims to demonstrate the still-essential unity of the Korean people and civilization through modernity to the present, bound together across time by shared philosophy, art, culture, and politics, and divided only by the machinations of American imperialism. 

We believe that peace in relation to Korean civilization and its division is not just a matter for the people of Korea, or of Asia, but is a matter of world and historic significance to all humanity. Korea, especially in the modern North, stands as an example of the capacity and dignity of the masses of people to contribute to the forward march of human history. The story of Korean civilization, its ideals, and its accomplishments, is one that we in America can learn from to realize a revolution of values and become a people that can rejoin world humanity. In doing so, the American people — also divided and kept apart by the same corrupt, imperialist ruling class — can achieve their nation and make peace in the world. 

By understanding Korean civilization, the Korean War, and the present moment through the worldviews of figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, and Martin Luther King Jr., we hope that this presentation of Korean art and civilization throughout the ages — especially the rarely seen North Korean art — allows the American people to rediscover this powerful arc of human history and the spiritual strivings of the Korean people. 

Three Kingdoms, Silla Unification, Goryeo, and Joseon Dynasties 

1: Three Kingdoms, Unification

The region that came to be known as Korea today was originally populated by various tribes and city-states in its early history. Between the 1st and 7th centuries, the peninsula was ruled by  three kingdoms: the Baekje, Goguryeo, and Silla kingdoms. These three kingdoms witnessed cyclical conflicts and alliances with one another, as well as invasions from neighboring Chinese and Japanese forces, defending themselves each time from foreign invaders, but never venturing beyond the peninsula.

As the first kingdom to adopt Buddhism, due to its proximity to China and the Silk Road, the Goguryeo kingdom produced artifacts like this gold sculpture of the Buddha, the earliest Buddhist sculpture found in Korea. The southwestern Baekje kingdom also adopted and adapted Buddhism to local Korean customs, as demonstrated by this rock cliff carving of a Buddha with curvilinear outlines and a smile — features that had been modified the typical stern, stiffer portrayals of the Buddha found in China during the same time. 

Delicate, richly ornamented gold crowns with jade ornaments were produced by the wealthy southeastern Silla kingdom, which eventually unified the peninsula and established the first dynastic state in Korea’s history (668–935 CE), capable of ensuring a continuous period of peace, development, stability, and exchange with neighboring forces. 

2: Seokguram Grotto

Top left: Seosan Carved Buddha Triad. Baekje Kingdom. (c. 6th century).
Bottom left: Seokguram Grotto interior.  8th century, Silla Dynasty.
Right: Bulkagasa Temple, part of the Seokguram Grotto complex.  8th century, Silla Dynasty.

Buddhism, originating in India and spreading through China, formatively influenced the trajectory of Korean civilization, and Korea made many significant contributions of its own to the Pan-Asian religion. This was especially the case after the peninsula’s unification under the Silla dynasty, which sponsored efforts to establish Buddhist monasteries and monuments, preserve Buddhist scriptures, and advance and disseminate Korean Buddhism among the masses. The Seokguram (석굴암) Grotto-Temple Complex is an impressive example of a Silla-era public work, dedicated to peace and stability under the banner of Korean Buddhism: its pristine temple architecture, detailed stone sculptures, and precise mathematical proportions of the inner chamber, all carved into the side of a mountain, are a remarkable achievement for engineering, architecture, and artistry for Buddhist and Korean art at large. 

3: Tripitaka Koreana, Goryeo Dynasty

A section of a printed scroll of the original Tripitaka Koreana, originally completed in 1087 CE by carving Buddhist scriptures in Chinese characters onto over 81,000 ritually treated woodblocks.

Monk pulling one of the ritually treated woodblock with carved Buddhist scripture verses, which would have been inked and then printed onto paper or silk scrolls for dissemination of the Buddhist teachings.

The Tripitaka Koreana consists of a compendium of 81,258 carved woodblocks, and is perhaps the most complete collection of the Buddha’s original teachings to survive to this day. The original set of woodblocks were copied from Chinese texts, and were completed in 1087 CE with the donations of the common people of the Goryeo dynasty (935-1390) who prayed for divine protection from invading nomadic tribes. These carvings were destroyed by the invading Mongol army in 1232 CE. However, a new set was completed in 1251 on the orders of the ruling King after the invading army was pushed back, as supplication to the Budhha for enduring peace in the land. The woodblocks were made with specially prepared and lacquer-treated silver magnolia wood that has withstood the test of time, and not a single error has been found in the entire collection. 

The Tripitaka Koreana is a testament to Korea’s central role in the preservation of Buddhist canon in all of Asia and the world. The woodblocks function as an pre-modern printing press (predating the European Gutenberg moveable type press) to produce and disseminate paper copies of the sutras. To this day this unique woodblock library is preserved in pristine shape in its original semi-open air temple complex, precisely designed to control airflow and humidity; this ancient knowledge has proved to be superior at preserving the materials than any modern air-controlled warehouse. Today, the Tripitaka Koreana, in its intact and error-free form, has survived several fires, the Japanese occupation, and the Korean War, when the Haeinsa Temple and surrounding area were subjected to multiple anti-guerrilla bombing campaigns. 

4: Joseon Dynasty — Hangul and Written Language; Calligraphy and Print

Calligraphy in Chinese script. Prince Anpyeong. Ink on paper. Joseon Dynasty. 15th Century. 

Life History and Sermon of Buddha Abstracted from Buddhist Scriptures (Seokbosangjeol). Printed book using metal moveable type featuring the newly invented Korean alphabetic script as well as Chinese characters. Prince Sejo. Joseon Dynasty. 1447.

When the Joseon dynasty’s (1392–1910) King Sejong invented the native phonetic-based Korean script hangul in the 1440s, it was a modern leap forward for the Korean language. After centuries of borrowing the complex Chinese character system (hanja) for all written communication (for example, for disseminating Buddhist scriptures), the Korean masses were encouraged to learn the simpler, scientific alphabet (with a total of 24 letters representing 14 consonants and 10 vowels) as a means to increase literacy among the populace and use a script that captured more closely the unique essence of the Korean language. Still, Chinese script remained the language of intellectuals and the royal court, and Korean calligraphic masters continued in the tradition, as seen in the semicursive calligraphic piece by Prince Anpyeong, third son of King Sejong, memorializing Confucian ideals of filial piety. 

In the printed book The Life History and Sermon of Buddha Abstracted from Buddhist Scriptures, Prince Suyang, second son of King Sejong, compiled this set of the Buddha’s sermons in 1447 to not only to commemorate his mother’s passing but also to facilitate the learning of Buddhist teachings more easily by the Korean masses. This was the first book published using the newly invented Korean movable metal type printing press, quickly following the invention of the native Korean Hangul script and innovating upon previous woodblock printing techniques — the production of metal movable typesetting presses required societal commitment to knowledge dissemination over the manufacture of weapons in Korea at the time.

5: Landscapes of the Joseon Dynasty

Jeong Seon (1676–1759). View of Inner Kumgang. c.1740s. Joseon dynasty (1392–1910). ink and light color on silk.

Joseon dynasty (1392–1910) artists of the literati class drew from Chinese and Korean traditions of landscape ink wash brush painting. They conducted arduous pilgrimages to places such as Mount Kumgang, (“Diamond Mountain”), a mountain range of over twelve thousand peaks near the eastern coast of Korea,  to capture the experience of visiting sites that were sacred to Korean civilization. The 17th-19th centuries saw China fall to foreign Manchu rule, the gradual rise of imperial Japan, and the incursions of European missionaries, traders, and eventually militaries into Asia. During this time, Joseon dynasty Korea sought actively to preserve the civilizational traditions of Confucian governance and social systems, ink painting, calligraphy, and literature as a stabilizing force and framework to preserve civilization in the modern era. In this painting of Mt. Kumgang, its painter, Jeong Seon, was known for pioneering a scientific, multi-perspective “true-view” approach to observing and capturing the details of this enigmatic, monumental, and spiritually-charged mountain range. 

Four scenes from Kim Hong-do’s Album of Genre Paintings. Ink on paper. (1745). Top left: ‘Village School’; top right: ‘Plowing the Rice Field’; bottom left: ‘A Dancing Boy’; bottom right: ‘Rice Threshing.’

This selection of highly expressive, intimate genre paintings presents ordinary peasant and folk life, of men, women, and children in late Joseon dynasty (1300s-1890s) by renowned court painter Kim Hongdo of the 18th and 19th centuries. The scenes depicted range from children learning in the village school, musicians and dancers in a circle, peasants and cows plowing rice fields, and laborers at work threshing rice overseen by a landowner smoking his pipe. Kim’s paintings deviated from the usual solemnity typical of Korean painting of centuries before and captured a vivid, lively snapshot of ordinary life during the longest ruling dynasty in Korea’s history, before its collapse by Japanese invasion.

Japanese Occupation (1910-1945) and National Liberation 

6: Japanese Occupation

Left: A photo of occupying Japanese soldiers in Korea, flanked by Korean peasants. Right: Korean students in a Japanese language class, c.1942. One line, at left, reads, “Why is Japan fighting right now?”

With the fall of the Joseon dynasty and the invasion and annexation of the Korean peninsula by the Japanese empire in 1910, the Japanese enforced dehumanizing colonial policies of coerced labor, exploitation of land and natural resources, banning of the use of Korean language, loyalty to the Japanese emperor, and worship of Japanese Shintoism, all in effort to denigrate Koreans’ millennia-old culture and forcibly assimilate Koreans into the Japanese sphere. 

“To me, the tragedy of this epoch was that Japan learnt Western ways too soon and too well, and turned from Asia to Europe. She had a fine culture, an exquisite art, and an industrial technique unsurpassed in workmanship and adaptability. The Japanese clan was an effective social organ and her art expression was unsurpassed. She might have led Asia and the world into a new era. But her headstrong leaders chose to apply Western imperialism to her domination of the East, and Western profit-making replaced Eastern idealism. If she had succeeded, it might have happened that she would have spread her culture and achieved a co-prosperity sphere with freedom of soul. Perhaps.”

— W. E. B. Du Bois, Russia and America (1950)

7: Resistance and the March 1st Movement 

Women wearing traditional Korean hanbok garb, resisting Japanese colonialism and gathering in the streets during the 1919 March 1 Movement.

The ordinary people, all wearing white hanbok dressing, Gathering for declaration of independence from Japanese colonization in Seoul’s Pagoda park.

The March 1 movement of 1919 was an early resistance movement to shake off chains of Japanese colonization and declare independence from Japan, in a widely attended proclamation made in the Tapgol Park of Seoul, Korea. The movement drew from all segments of the Korean population,coming together as one to march peacefully for independence. It was met with brutal repression and massacres by the Japanese forces, whose rule would last until the end of WWII in 1945.  However, Korean resistance would continue throughout these decades, planting seeds for the longer struggle for self-determination against imperialism which was to come in the future.

8: People’s Committees and Liberation

Peasants speaking for land reform in the midst of the period of the formation of People’s Committees across the peninsula, after the expulsion of the Japanese at the end of World War II.

Peasants marching with folk drums traditional to harvest festivals as part of the activities of the People’s Committees.

After the conclusion of WWII and the expulsion of Japanese imperial rule, Korea was divided into a temporary Soviet zone in the North and an American military occupation in the South. People’s Committees sprang up across the entire peninsula as the people self-organized. In the North, under the provisional government led by Kim Il Sung, People’s Committees flourished, organizing and achieving land reform, nationalization of industry, organization of trade unions with an eight-hour workday, abolition of child labor, and equality of the sexes. 

However, the U.S. military in the South suppressed the People’s Committees, demonstrated increasing suppression and hostility amid growing anti-communism and calls for war against the North in the leadup to the Korean War.

9: The Reteaching of Korean Language 

Cards with Diagrams of Korean Alphabet Mouth Movements, for the mass literacy campaigns following Japanese colonialism and bans on the native Korean script. Yu Yeol, 1947.

During its brutal 35 year reign, Japan had actively suppressed the use and learning of Korean language and script in favor of Japanese, but that did not stop Korean language societies from operating clandestinely to preserve and teach the language. After the expulsion of Japanese imperial forces in 1945, these same forces leapt into action to launch a mass literacy campaign. The Joseon Language Society quickly developed these didactic cards, demonstrating the mouth movements corresponding to each Korean language alphabetical character, along with textbooks and other educational efforts, to ensure widespread instruction and systematization of the scientific Korean hangul alphabetical system and pronunciation among the ordinary masses. 

The Korean War (1950-1953)

10: U.S. Imperialism and Partition

Top left: Trucks crossing the 38th parallel, a division drawn on a map by two U.S. army colonels following Japanese surrender to the Allied forces in 1945.
Bottom left: Korean People's Army POWs being led to a prison camp in the south of Korea.
Right: High explosives rip through several spans of a railroad bridge outside Hamhung as United Nations forces blow up the bridge as part of their withdrawal to prevent its being used by Chinese Communists on December 19, 1950.

On August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allied forces, following the inhuman atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On the same day, two U.S. army colonels drew a line on a map which divided the Korean peninsula at the 38th Parallel into a Soviet occupation zone in the north and a U.S. occupation zone in the south. It was agreed that the occupying armies would leave in no longer than 5 years, following democratic election of a pan-Korean government. While the Soviets left in 1948, the U.S. never did. Instead, they established a puppet anti-communist police state in the South, with Syngman Rhee as its leader. This was against the clear wishes of the Korean people who repeatedly petitioned for an independent, peaceful, and unified Korea, as journalist Wilfred Burchett documents in his book, This Monstrous War:

“National independence and national unity was the desire of the entire Korean people… But independence and unity were the last things the Americans wanted – and the things which the pro-Japanese collaborators feared most. The Americans knew that national unity meant real democracy in Korea; it meant the end of penetration by American capital.” 

The crossing of the 38th parallel on June 25, 1950, by North Korean troops cannot be viewed as an act of invasion. Rather, it was an act towards the liberation of the Korean people from imperialist occupation once again by a foreign power and their Korean collaborators. It is crucial to remember that the strivings of the people were for peace, and to see their country as one Korea.

11: The Devastation of the War

B-26 Invaders bomb logistics depots in Wonsan, North Korea, 1951.

A mother with her baby wanders through the wreckage of Pyongyang after one of hundreds of bombing campaigns by the U.S. Air Force in Korea, which leveled cities and killed 20% of the population, according to Air Force General Curtis LeMay.

What could have remained limited to a short-lived civil war was escalated to catastrophic proportions by U.S. intervention in favor of the Rhee regime in South Korea. The Korean war was one of the most brutal conflicts of modern history, claiming over 3 million civilian lives, including women and children.

Wilfred Burchett talks about the inhuman and immoral positions taken by the U.S. government in This Monstrous War

“When MacArthur issued his infamous order for his planes to machine-gun and bomb any person on the roads or in the fields north of the battleline (except, he said, women and children, but his pilots explained later they were unable to make such a fine distinction at 500 miles per hour) he tacitly admitted that America was at war with the entire Korean people. And he went on the record as having issued the most barbarous military order ever issued in the so-called civilized world.”

The U.S dropped more bombs in North Korea than it had in the entire Pacific theater in WWII. More than 32,000 tons of napalm was used in this carpet bombing, often deliberately targeted at civilian and not just military targets. The devastation unleashed on North Korea was far in excess of what was necessary to fight the war. Entire cities were razed to the ground, including the capital city of Pyongyang, millions died, and many more were left homeless and starving. According to Air Force General Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, the U.S, killed off more than 20% of the population of North Korea.

12: Women and Children in War

“As adults, we are easily fooled because we are so anxious to be fooled.  But children are very different.  Children, not yet aware that it is dangerous to look too deeply at anything, look at everything, look at each other, and draw their own conclusions.”  

—James Baldwin, “A Talk to Teachers” (1963)

Countless women were widowed and hundreds of thousands of children orphaned by the Korean War. Images of children amidst the devastation of the war are burned into the world’s memory: crying babies sitting next to the bodies of their dead parents, little girls with their baby brothers or sisters tied to their backs walking from Seoul to Pusan and back again, children on the streets foraging for food and sleeping in the rubble which was once their home. Then there were the host of children fathered by American soldiers, abandoned and deprived of a knowledge of themselves and their identity. What was done to the children of Korea is one of the most unforgivable humanitarian crimes the world has ever seen.

What does war do to the consciousness of children? As Romesh Chandra, one of the great figures of the World Peace Movement, reminds us:

“Children represent life, children deserve a fullness of life, they deserve beauty and the light of knowledge, they deserve to look around themselves and feel optimistic about the future. Joy and happiness are their birthright.” 

War is an antithesis to this fundamental truth. Children in war-torn lands are taught to believe that life is not sacred, and that their lives in particular are worth nothing. We cannot give our children their birthright in a world which is at war, where their lives are taken away before it can blossom and develop to its fullest potential. The struggle for peace is thus our moral obligation to the children of the world.

13: Anti-Communism: An Ideology of Murder

Hundreds of thousands of Korean people were murdered by Syngman Rhee’s regime on suspicion of being communists or sympathetic to the North Korean state. The U.S government was complicit in these anti-communist massacres, which began well before the Korean war and continued throughout its span. This was also the time when the U.S. government, led by senator McCarthy, adopted virulent anti-communist policies at home, viciously attacking  the democratic and civil liberties of the American people.

The Jeju uprising (April-May 1948) saw mass mobilization of the people of Jeju island against partition of the Korean Peninsula and the U.S. occupation of South Korea. The South Korean regime branded this rebellion as a “communist-led” insurgency. On Syngman Rhee’s orders, the uprising was brutally suppressed, killing over 10% of Jeju’s total population and incarcerating at least 20,000 people.

The Bodo League massacre in the summer of 1950 was another instance of the horrific war-crimes committed by the Rhee regime. Over 200,000 people were summarily executed for being communists or alleged sympathizers, even though many were civilians with no connection to communists or communism. Rhee’s regime made efforts to conceal their involvement in the massacre, threatening survivors, and falsely blaming the North Korean state under Kim Il Sung for the deaths.

Declassified United States official documents reveal that American officers witnessed and photographed this massacre. Although these executions were reported to Washington and to General MacArthur in particular, they were dismissed as an "internal matter" for Korea.

The mass execution at Daejeon is perhaps the most well-documented instance of the Bodo League massacre. Principled journalists like Wilfred Burchett and Alan Winnington recorded for posterity the inhuman war crimes committed in the name of anti-communism, which would continue in the genocidal proportions of the Korean War and its bombing campaigns:

“...the [Daejeon] massacre of 7,000 civilians in a town of 60,000 in the heart of South Korea was commentary enough on the support Rhee could count on from his own people… By September 1950, more than 13,000,000 Koreans over the age of 16 years had signed their names to a petition demanding the [UN] Security Council cease military hostilities and force the Americans to withdraw their forces from the country. But this petition was ignored as any and every demand or expressed wish of the Korean people had been ignored from the first day the Americans set foot in the country.”

 — Wilfred Burchett, This Monstrous War

“Blessed Are The Peacemakers” 

14: W.E.B. Du Bois 

“I believe in the Prince of Peace. I believe that War is Murder. I believe that armies and navies are at bottom the tinsel and braggadocio of oppression and wrong; and I believe that the wicked conquest of weaker and darker nations by nations whiter and stronger but foreshadows the death of that strength.”
W. E. B. Du Bois, Credo to Darkwater, 1920.

W.E.B. Du Bois was one of the primary architects of the Black Radical Tradition, an articulation of the historic strivings of American Negros for freedom and human dignity, which gave to world humanity a revolutionary framework of peace and democracy, and a rich legacy of music, art and literature rooted in the people. Du Bois emphasized that the struggle for racial justice for Black folk in America was a struggle against the white supremacist world order championed by U.S. imperialism, and thus inexorably tied to the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles of Asia, Africa and Latin-America.

In the early 1950s, Du Bois co-founded the Peace Information Center (PIC), which called for an end to the Korean War and withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula. Speaking at multiple peace rallies, Du Bois denounced America’s imperialist adventure in Korea as an attack on democratic aspirations of the Korean people. He also drafted a statement entitled “A Protest and a Plea”, signed by 100 African American leaders, which linked the Korean War to the histories of racism and colonialism in Africa, Asia, and the United States. 

The PIC circulated the Stockholm Peace Appeal, an internationally agreed upon document calling for an absolute ban on nuclear weapons. For this, Du Bois along with other leaders of the PIC were indicted by the U.S. government on false charges of being agents of the Soviet Union, a charge he dismantled in his 1952 work titled “In Battle for Peace” (Bottom Left). The virulent anti-communism that had led to the murder of hundreds of thousands of Korean people, led to the vicious persecution of peace activists like W.E.B. Du Bois at home in the United States. His passport was revoked twice to prevent him from traveling to communist countries, and every effort was made to erase him from scholarship. This led Du Bois to say:

“Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called Communists. Is this shame for the Peacemakers or praise for the Communists?”

16: Newspapers: Langston Hughes and the Nation of Islam (Muhammad Speaks)

Top Right: Langston Hughes was an American poet, freedom fighter and leader of the Harlem Renaissance, a movement for the revival of revolutionary African-American art, music and literature in the 1920s-30s. For Hughes, racism and war were inextricably linked. He was among the first to publicly denounce the use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the role race played in the decision.

Bottom Left: Writing in the Chicago Defender, Langston Hughes warned that the white world would be making a grave mistake if it decided to use nuclear weapons in Korea. He warned them that the forward march of an Asia overcoming centuries of suppression and humiliation could not be halted, and that Asia would fight to the last man to achieve and protect her independence. 

Bottom Right: An article that exposes U.S. provocation of the Korean war, published in Muhammad Speaks, the official newspaper of the Nation of Islam, dated November 1971. The article presents research revealing that an invasion of North Korea from the South, with active support from the U.S. government, had been in preparation for months before the official start of the war on July 25, 1950. 

17: Principled Journalists 

Principled journalists like Wilfred Burchett, Anna Louise Strong, and Alan Winnington dedicated themselves to the world’s oppressed peoples and their revolutionary struggles, especially in Asia. They wrote from a perspective of solidarity, shared humanity, and in pursuit of the truth.

To this day, it is because of Burchett’s meticulous and principled journalism that generations of people will be able to uncover the truth of what America and the West did to suppress Asia’s freedom in the second half of the 20th century. As the United States and Western powers released intense propaganda obscuring the facts of the Korean War, Winnington’s on-the-ground reporting shed light on the reality of the war’s devastating toll on not only the Korean people, but also on American and British soldiers. And Strong’s journey into the north in 1949 gives an indispensable account of the rise of a people’s democracy in Korea, which had to be destroyed by the U.S. to secure a foothold in Asia.

“...what I saw Americans doing in Korea shook me to my heels. I suppose all my life I’ve been listening to propaganda about America being a civilised nation and some of this must have sunk in. Somehow, I never quite thought of Americans doing exactly what the Nazis did until I saw it with my own eyes.”  

— Alan Winnington, I Saw the Truth in Korea  (1950)

“It may well be that history will record that the issue of a third World War or world peace was settled in the shell-pocked mountain ridges of Korea. Whatever the historians record of this period, the peace-loving peoples of the world can never adequately repay their debt to the heroic Korean people who held the front line against the storm-troopers of the aggressors in what was intended to be the opening round of a new world war.”

— Wilfred Burchett, This Monstrous War (1953)

19:  Jawaharlal Nehru, the 1955 Bandung Conference, World Peace Conference, and Women’s International Democratic Federation

India under its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was actively involved in negotiating peace in the Korean peninsula by diplomatic means. Nehru firmly believed that peace and unity in Afro-Asia was the prerequisite for rebuilding modern sovereign states on the ruins of centuries of colonial domination. During the Korean war, India sent the 60th Parachute Field Ambulance Platoon, a mobile army surgical hospital, to treat wounded soldiers, civilians and prisoners of war.  

Nehru was a leading member of the Bandung conference of Afro-Asian unity, organized in 1955 by Indonesia, India, Burma, Sri Lanka and Pakistan (Left). Twenty-nine Asian and African countries, most of them newly independent, and together representing half the world’s population, came together in this historic conference. The conference resolved to strive for enduring peace for world humanity, denouncing war as a threat to their hard-earned freedom and the development and well-being of their people. It upheld the right of the colored world to determine their own political and economic destinies and resolved to lift the globally deprived from poverty and illiteracy. 

Middle: Romesh Chandra; the World Peace Council (Session of the World Congress of Intellectuals for Peace in Wrocław in 1948)

Romesh Chandra was an Indian communist and a stalwart of the Peace movement. He was a leading theorist in the World Peace Council, an international organization that at its height mobilized mass action for global disarmament and self-determination for oppressed humanity. The WPC strove to build a New International Economic Order, that upheld the sovereignty of each country over its natural resources, and championed economic cooperation and peaceful coexistence among nations. 

Right: A delegation of the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF) in North Korea, 1951. The WIDF was established in 1945, with the mandate of striving towards the liberation and welfare of women and children, and towards lasting world peace. Its founding member and first President, Eugenie Cotton, also served as the Vice President of the World Peace Council until her death in 1967. 

The Korean delegation of 1951 had members from Canada, Netherlands, Great Britain, Vietnam, Algeria, China, Cuba, and many other countries. They compiled a report entitled “We Accuse!” in 5 languages, documenting and denouncing the war crimes that had been committed against the North Korean people:

“Every page of this document is a grim indictment. Every fact speaks of the mass exterminating character of this war. More homes have been destroyed than military objectives, more grain than ammunition, more women, children and aged than soldiers. This war is war on life itself.”

20: Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin, and Muhammad Ali

Revolutionary leaders of the Black Freedom Movement like Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin and Muhammad Ali saw their struggle in America as inseparable from the struggle of world humanity against imperialist and colonial domination. They stood in solidarity with the democratic aspirations of the oppressed everywhere, both drawing from and contributing to their strivings for freedom and peace. 

Left: King delivers his speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” at the historic Riverside Church in Morningside Heights, on April 4, 1967.

King and the Civil Rights Movement marked the Third American Revolution, one that laid the basis for the democratic struggle in America and transformed the American people. For King the Black Freedom Struggle was nothing short of a struggle for America’s soul. King saw that war was an enemy of the poor, and his own government was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”. He believed that the path for the American people to achieve their nation was a revolution of values, and the elimination of the triple evils of racism, materialism and war. As he said in Beyond Vietnam (1967):

“A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Middle: Baldwin and King at the Centennial Celebration of W.E.B. Du Bois in 1968.

“No black man in chains in his own country, and watching the many deaths occurring around him every day, believes for a moment that America cares anything at all about — the freedom of Asia. My own condition, as a black man in America, tells me what Americans really feel and really want, and tells me who they really are. And therefore, every bombed village is my home town.” 

— James Baldwin, “A Letter to Americans” (read at the Du Bois Centennial Celebration on February 23, 1968; Martin Luther King Jr. also spoke, giving the speech ‘Honoring Dr. Du Bois.’)

Right: Muhammad Ali resists the Vietnam War.

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end.” 

— Muhammad Ali

21: Soong Ching Ling and the Chinese People’s Volunteers 

Left: Soong Ching Ling at World Peace Congress in Vienna, 1952.

Soong Ching Ling was the wife of Sun Yatsen, founder of the Chinese Republic. Among her many titles and roles, she was Vice-Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China and prior to her passing, its honorary Head of State. Through her work, Soong Ching Ling had extensive correspondences with revolutionaries throughout the world such as Ho Chi Minh, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Jawaharlal Nehru.

“The Korean masses are imbued with an idea – they have taken the power into their own hands, and they are going to liberate their country from foreign aggressors and their puppets. They know the mockery that imperialists make of the principle of national self-determination. They know from bitter experience that imperialists would never leave them alone to work out their own destinies, but would remain to perpetuate the shackles of the feudal order and to bind them to misery and endless exploitation. Therefore, in their fighting, they are determined, they are resolute, because they are struggling for their own good earth.” 

— Soong Ching Ling, “What the Korean People’s Struggle Means to Asia”

Right: Chinese People’s Volunteers celebrating with People’s Army.

22: Defecting Soldiers and the Struggle Against McCarthyism and Anti-Communism 

Top Left: In February 1954, dozens of American soldiers defected into China and the DPRK after witnessing the UN forces' war crimes enacted on the Korean people. A significant group included many Black soldiers who did not wish to return to life under Jim Crow. 

Bottom Left: Here, Clarence Adams, a Korean War prisoner of war who refused repatriation to the United States, is shown in a gathering of Chinese soldiers and returning DPRK POWs singing the Internationale January 26, 1954. 

Top Right: The strong opposition of American soldiers to McCarthy’s anti-communist doctrine. These images were taken on January 28, 1954, as American soldiers prepare to leave the demilitarized zone in Korea and head into the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. 

Bottom Right: U.S. intervention in the Korean war was deeply unpopular with American workers. Here American Women for Peace picket in front of the White House where they called for a ban on the use of the atomic bomb, peace in Korea, and admission of the People's Republic of China to the UN. 

Reconstruction: The Transformation of a People

23: Post-War Reconstruction in North Korea

“[...] if you have the people, united behind the party and government, you can quickly reconstruct all that was destroyed. The imperialists do not believe in the strength of the people but we do. It is on this great latent strength that we relied.” The Americans said the DPRK could not rise again in a hundred years. But in that they miscalculated.’ 

— Wilfred Burchett, Again Korea, “Flying Horse”

The war left Korea completely destroyed — Pyongyang, a once lively city, was left with all of two buildings intact because of the 390,000 bombs that were dropped on it. From the outside, fast reconstruction was thought to be an unachievable task. But the Korean people — young, old, women, and men, all embodied the “Chollima” (Thousand-Mile Horse) spirit to rebuild their country from the ashes, working with conviction towards their shared future. With startling speed, North Korea was able to rebuild its infrastructure for industry, agriculture, and economy to be self-sufficient, and repair and retain the fabric of its people. For example, by 1967, the country was already fully self-sufficient in food grains and 95% self-sufficient in industrial equipment. Compared to the years right after the war, when the country was still heavily reliant on Soviet aid to meet basic needs, this was an astonishing achievement. This was all because of the spirit of the Korean people, who worked together with optimism, hope and shared responsibility to reconstruct their country and continually work towards its betterment. 

“I do not believe it an exaggeration to state that no country in history has moved so far and so fast in all fields of development as the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea. The workers and peasants have achieved national dignity; perhaps one has to know Koreans to understand how important this is. They have been pushed around for centuries by foreign invaders, but have always fought back. The last terrible period under Japanese occupation is fresh in the minds of most people.”
– Wilfred Burchett, Again Korea, “Factories and Fields”

Top: The North Korean capital city of Pyongyang in 1964 after reconstruction.
Bottom: The city in 1953, after an estimated 75 percent of it was destroyed by US bombing. 

Women workers rebuilding Pyongyang after the Korean War, during which the majority of the city was razed to the ground by American bombing.

Kim Il Sung, as the father of this new nation, led the country in this difficult phase with developmental plans whose expectations were continually surpassed, visits to the ordinary masses as they worked, and a resolve to build a self-sufficient country that was not dependent on or tied to American empire. Foremost, he believed in the strength and capacity of the people, and he knew that this strength is precisely what would lead to the success of reconstruction. The Korean people’s achievements illustrate that ordinary people have the capacity to govern, to decide their own fate, and to bring about peace and justice. The people’s love for their country, dignity through hardship, and hope for an independent future with freedom, peace, and democracy led them to their great victory and the achievement of their nation. 

W.E.B. Du Bois describes, through the representative category of the Black Worker, how the question of whether the worker has the capacity to self-govern and even to rule is attacked with contempt by the elite. The Black Worker in America was considered backward and incapable of transforming themselves, their people and their society. However, these ordinary, downtrodden people with their undying faith in democracy — whether in America, North Korea, and elsewhere — have demonstrated their capacity and striving in the face of cynicism and doubt, time after time in the history of our world:

“Labor lurched forward after it had paid in blood for the chance. And labor, especially black labor, cried for Light and Land and Leading. The world laughed. It laughed North. It laughed West. But in the South it roared with hysterical, angry, vengeful laughter. It said: “Look at these niggers; they are black and poor and ignorant. How can they rule those of us who are white and have been rich and have at our command all wisdom and skill? Back to slavery with the dumb brutes!”

Still the brutes strove on and up with silent, fearful persistence. They restored the lost crops; they established schools; they gave votes to the poor whites; they established democracy; and they even saved a pittance of land and capital out of their still slave-bound wage.”
— W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction, “The Counterrevolution of Property”

24: The 2nd and 3rd American Revolutions — Black Reconstruction to Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement 

Top left:  Martin Luther King Jr. marching against the Vietnam War.
Bottom left: Anti-poverty march after the assassination King in 1968.
Right: Paul Robeson spoke at “Hands off Korea” rallies opposing America’s role in the Korean War, eventually appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee and getting stripped of his passport by the State Department and banned from traveling abroad.

We find a parallel to North Korea’s overcoming of imperialism and the destruction of the Korean War in America’s Reconstruction period, when the masses of black folk worked to achieve democracy out of the ruins of slavery and the Civil War. In this period, black people in the South made great strides towards democracy, fighting for universal suffrage, land redistribution, and free public education systems. In Black Reconstruction, W.E.B. Du Bois put forward this truth, fighting against the misconception that the setbacks of Reconstruction were due to the ignorance and corruption of the same black people who were, in fact, working to build democracy for America. Du Bois, like Kim Il Sung, saw that it was from within the ordinary masses that true people’s democracy would arise. In Chapter 1 of Black Reconstruction, Du Bois wrote, “the emancipation of man is the emancipation of labor and the emancipation of labor is the freeing of that basic majority of workers who are yellow, brown, and black.” 

Martin Luther King Jr., leading the American nation during the Civil Rights Movement, saw the same truths as Du Bois, and believed him to be one of the most important figures for America. In his speech “Honoring Dr. Du Bois,” King says of Du Bois’s truth about Reconstruction: “He revealed that far from being the tragic era white historians described, it was the only period in which democracy existed in the South. This stunning fact was the reason the history books had to lie because to tell the truth would have acknowledged the Negroes’ capacity to govern and fitness to build a finer nation in a creative relationship with poor whites.” In this vein, the Civil Rights Movement with King at its helm, consciously saw itself as continuing the work of Reconstruction.

King had a great vision for the American people and their possibilities for transformation, which he believed would allow them to build this “finer nation” that Du Bois, too, had envisaged. In his 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam,” he called on the American people to take a stand against the Vietnam War, over 10 years after the end of the Korean war. He saw that America needed a revolution of values, a “shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.” King posed to us a choice between “non-violent coexistence or violent co-annihilation,” seeing that all of humanity is tied together in a single garment of destiny and that peace is the only way forward. Like Du Bois and Kim Il Sung, he saw that it was the ordinary masses, united, that would bring about true positive change, and called upon action based on the love for all of humanity. He warned against seeing this love as just a superficial sentiment: “This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.”

25: Socialist Realism and The Worker’s Desire for Knowledge and Art

The cover of an edition of a children’s magazine, titled “Youth Literature,” featuring short stories, plays, and poems, is decorated with an intergenerational procession led prominently by children carrying the North Korean flag.

A women’s magazine titled “Women of North Korea” (edition from August 1955) cover depicts a Korean woman in traditional hanbok garb alongside a Soviet woman, demonstrating the significance of women’s organizations and mobilization in the DPRK, as well as the involvement of North Korean women in world democratic movements.

A monthly magazine (this edition dating to November 1961) dedicated to the eponymous Chollima post-Korean War rebuilding initiative named after the mythical Korean winged horse. A referencing an iconic Pyongyang monument of the same subject is painted in an ink wash style on its cover.

Amid the rapid reconstruction, industrialization, and modernization efforts, the post-war period saw a flourishing of art, culture, and knowledge despite shortages in materials such as paper and ink. North Korean society was thus not only focused on rebuilding infrastructure to meet the basic needs of the material world, but also simultaneously — and most crucially — working to fulfill the people’s social and cultural lifeworlds and ideals. Through decades of brutal repression and exploitation by Japanese imperialism, the people had been hungry for education, democracy, and peace as evinced by the People’s Committees which sprang up out of liberation. Now, North Korean society and people, forged out of the indescribable violence of the Korean War, sought to further nurture and develop the human capacity, morality, knowledge, and culture of its people.

Through the concrete universal of the Black Worker in America, we see the common hunger of the worker — whether in America, or in North Korea — not to own, but to learn, to work freely, and to know the world:

“They were consumed with desire for schools. The uprising of the black man, and the pouring of himself into organized effort for education, in those years between 1861 and 1871, was one of the marvelous occurrences of the modern world; almost without parallel in the history of civilization. The movement that was started was irresistible. It planted the free common school in a part of the nation, and in a part of the world, where it had never been known, and never been recognized before. Free, then, with a desire for land and a frenzy for schools, the Negro lurched into the new day.” 

— W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction, “The Coming of the Lord”

The close partnership between the Soviet Union and the newly established DPRK involved not only sharing of Soviet technical expertise in industry and development, but also in artistic instruction. This gave rise to North Korean experiments with oil painting, adapted from Western painting techniques and socialist realism. This 1955 oil painting titled “The Scenery in front of Daedongmun” by North Korean artist Mun Hak Su illustrates the rapid rebuilding of infrastructure as well as the preservation of the Korean traditional architecture in the distance, just years after U.S. bombings during the Korean War razed nearly all standing structures across the peninsula and utterly devastated the landscape and industry. 

26: Charles White: People’s Democracy and the Black Worker in America 

Top Left: Work (Young Worker). Wolff crayon and charcoal on illustration board by Charles White, 1953.

Top Right: Harvest Time. Pencil and graphite on ivory wood pulp laminate board by Charles White, 1953.

Bottom: The Contribution of the Negro to Democracy. Mural at Hampton University by Charles White, 1943.

The Contribution of the Negro to Democracy in America is a mural produced by Charles White at the Hampton Institute in Virginia, detailing the rise of the African American people as a united laboring mass who produced great democratic leaders for all of America. The mural’s dynamic composition of figures depicts a common, historically constituted narrative between the strivings of the Black worker, as described in Black Reconstruction, beginning with slave revolts on plantations and leading up to the abolition movement as well as laying the groundwork for further mass movements for democracy. It is clear the mural is grounded in an unwavering belief in the capacity of human beings to shape and transform themselves and their destinies, against all odds and forms of oppression, as seen in the inclusion of both recognizable abolitionist and slave revolt leaders of Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Turner, Denmark Vesey, Harriet Tubman; as well as the anonymous, chained hands featured prominently in the center of the mural. 

Charles White’s embrace of communism and lifelong commitment to ideals of socialist realism, even traveling to the Soviet Union in 1951, influenced his realist style of naturalistic figures. Throughout his artworks, White demonstrates time and time again the significance of embracing communist contributions and ideals instead of submission to anti-communism that holds back people’s potential and prevents them from joining world humanity. One can see this inspiration in his 1953 drawing Harvest Talk, depicting the Black worker as a highly capable, conscious, creative, independent collective in deciding the direction of democracy in the agrarian South as well as for the entire American nation. Du Bois described it thus:

“Democracy, that inevitable end of all government, faces eternal paradox. In all ages, the vast majority of men have been ignorant and poor, and any attempt to arm such classes with political power brings the question: Can Ignorance and Poverty rule? If they try to rule, their success in the nature of things must be halting and spasmodic, if not absolutely nil; and it must incur the criticism and raillery of the wise and the well-to-do. On the other hand, if the poor, unlettered toilers are given no political power, and are kept by exploitation in poverty, they will remain submerged unless rescued by revolution; and a philosophy will prevail, teaching that the submergence of the mass is inevitable and is on the whole best, not only for them, but for the ruling classes.

In all this argument there is seldom a consideration of the possibility that the great mass of people may become intelligent, with incomes that insure a decent standard of living. In such case, no one could deny the right and inevitableness of democracy. And in the meantime, in bridging the road from ignorance and poverty to intelligence and an income sufficient for civilization, the real power must be in someone’s hands. Shall this power be a dictatorship for the benefit of the rich, the cultured and the fortunate? This is the basic problem of democracy.”

— W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction

27: A Now Divided Country: Reconstruction in the North vs in the South

The Scenery in front of Daedongmun. Oil painting by Mun Hak Su, North Korea (1955).

The Washing Place. Painting by Park Su Keun, South Korea (1954).

Both the North and South were horribly impacted by the war; though the American genocidal bombing campaign was concentrated in the North, as the war progressed the people in the north built experience, capacity, and even greater resolve to banish the imperialist forces and live in a free and independent Korea. For the people remaining in the South, the original dreams of this unified, independent Korea were largely shattered throughout and after the war, as American troops continued to occupy the South, Syngman Rhee remained in power, and corruption, discontent, and low economic growth dependent on massive American aid made it apparent that postwar reconstruction and social gains lagged behind the North.

Park Soo Keun (1914-65) was a Korean folk artist born during the Japanese occupation, who lived and worked through the Korean War in Seoul. Though he struggled financially throughout his life and did not achieve fame until after his death, he developed his own self taught style. Through his earth-toned, textured paintings of ordinary people and families based on his neighbors and friends, he worked humbly and persistently to portray the quiet, dignified strength of the common people in their daily life and work. A repeated theme throughout Park’s art is the leafless tree of the winter awaiting spring to bloom, reflecting the people’s struggle and resilience through the Korean War. After the Korean War armistice, Park would live and work in South Korea, which under the continued dictatorship of Syngman Rhee, struggled to rebuild and recover after the devastation of the war. Park Soo Keun’s bare, twisted, ‘naked’ tree survives the winter, awaiting spring — the promise of renewal and the return of life after the destruction of civilization.

28: Chosonhwa: “Korean (‘Joseon’) Painting”

Top Left: Mount Kumgang. Choe Chang-ho. Chosonhwa ink painting on rice paper (2010). 

The sacred Kumgang (“Diamond Mountains”) mountain range persisted beyond the Joseon dynasty as the subject of landscape paintings in the chosonhwa style of North Korean painting, as seen in this painting from 2010 by North Korean painter Choe Chang-ho. As Mount Kumgang is located in the southeastern coast of contemporary DPRK, it thus holds a deep significance and resonance for North Koreans and the enduring struggle for sovereignty as well as for South Koreans, who are cut off from the centuries old tradition of conducting pilgrimages to the mountain range, unless greater cooperation and hopes of reunification, unmediated by imperialism and Western intervention, are able to come to fruition.  

Bottom: The Miracle of Chongchon River. Chosonhwa ink on rice paper painting. Produced by six North Korean artists, including Choe Chang-ho, Kim Nam Hun, Park Ok Chol, Hong Myong Chol, Kim Hyok Chol, and Park Nam Chol, belonging to the Mansudae Art Studio of Pyongyang. 

With the development of the juche ideal in the 1950s and ‘60s, the newly established DPRK encouraged the development of unique painting styles such as chosonhwa (the North Korean name for this genre that translates to “Korean painting,” or 조선화). This unique technique synthesizes traditional Asian ink wash painting on rice paper, with socialist realist styles of precision and dimensionality, to lucidly depict subjects and ideals of beauty significant to North Korean society and the masses, such as the dignity of the ordinary laborer (seen in Choe Chang-ho’s 2014 painting A Worker), or documenting the history of the collectivity of workers in scenes of industrial construction and the building of a new, modern worker’s state.  

Mansudae Art Studio is the largest art collective in the world, mobilizing up to a thousand artists of all media, in the city of Pyongyang to produce and contribute artwork across North Korea in a systematic, collective, and ideologically consolidated nature. As such, the production of Chosonhwa paintings with complex, ideological compositions of workers in the midst of intense construction of a hydroelectric dam like The Miracle of the Chongchon River would not have been possible without the accompanying collective artistic collaboration fostered by the Mansudae Art Studio.

Top Right: A Worker. Choe Chang-ho. Chosonhwa ink on rice paper painting. (2014)

29: The Continuation of the Print Tradition in the North

Top left: A construction scene. Artist and date unknown.
Bottom left: Our Spokesperson. Print by In Seongjin. (2014).
Right: Autumn in Anbyon. Print by Kim Kuk Po (1999). 

North Korean prints range widely in their content, composition, color palettes, but they are all produced with the spirit of “juche realism” and the intention to convey beauty found in quotidian life and society in the DPRK. As art production is a collective, ideological effort in North Korea, the refined aesthetic qualities of the prints (their composition, color palette, and stylistic renderings) reflect and fit the ideals of beauty and high ideological development of their societies. Prints are made either in woodcut and linocut styles, using either vibrant colors or a subdued color palette, usually with great attention to detail. Agricultural scenes, children and families at play, learning, women at work, (re)construction, and scientific innovation are all subjects depicted in this genre of prints, ultimately displaying the dignity in the masses and their readiness to face and build a new modern people’s society with roots in Korean civilization and the long tradition of print.

Minjung: The People, Democracy, and Unification as a Matter of National Independence

30: Moon Ik Hwan: A Fool for Christ and Leader of Conscience in the South Korean Struggle for Democracy, Peace, and Reunification

Moon Ik Hwan (1918-1994) was a South Korean pastor, theologian, poet, and activist, born in neighboring Jilin, China during the Japanese occupation of Korea. He was childhood friends with famous independence poet Yun Dongju, and gained his master’s degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. Upon his return to Korea, he worked for eight years to translate the Biblical Old Testament directly into the Korean language, as previous translations were from Chinese or Japanese. After the sudden death of his friend Jang Jun-ha, who was a democratization activist, Moon committed himself entirely to the movement in the 1980s for democracy, peace, and reunification. As a representative of Christianity wholeheartedly joining the students, workers, and people in their activities, Moon used the pen name “Late Spring” to symbolize his coming alive for the movement late in life. In the last seventeen years of his life, he went to prison five times, spending more than 10 years in jail, with his first arrest in 1979 at age 59 and his death in 1994 at the age of 77. In prison, he wrote countless letters and poems, expressing the need for peace and denuclearization, the fact that democracy could not be realized without true national liberation on the basis of peace and reunification, and his faith in the love ethic above all.

In 1989, he was the first prominent South Korean to visit the North, where he met with Kim Il Sung, writing an unofficial agreement that would be adopted in substance by the 1991 Inter-Korean Agreement and 2000 Inter-Korean Joint Declaration. On his reasons for going, Moon said, 'I think it is our national disgrace that we have failed to end the division of our land imposed on us by outsiders… I visited North Korea in violation of law hoping to end this national tragedy.' Upon his return, he was jailed for violating the National Security Law, facing a maximum penalty of death, for which he was sentenced to seven years, despite illness. 

Moon Ik Hwan’s wife, Park Yong-gil, and younger brother, Reverend Moon Dong Hwan, also dedicated themselves to the movement. Park Yong-gil also wrote calligraphy of some of Moon’s poems for peace; Moon’s younger brother remarked after his death that while Moon Ik Hwan might have seemed crazy to some, figures like Jesus and Martin Luther King also were seen as fools in their time, because of their love for the people and their faith in God.

Unification is a matter of national independence. Unification is national liberation, and national liberation is national independence. This is something that can only be accomplished by the independent power of the people. This independent power can be called democratic power. Democracy without national independence is trickery, and national independence without democracy is the same trickery… National liberation that does not guarantee the liberation of the people is another type of deception and even false consciousness.”

— Moon Ik Hwan, letter from prison August 9, 1991
(directly translated into English)

“I met the Rev. Moon Ik Hwan only two times during his stay in Pyongyang, but I feel very friendly towards him. The day before he left for South Korea, I visited his lodging and told him that I was worried about him because he would have a hard time of it in prison when he went back to South Korea. He replied that he had already expected it, and that since he had experienced prison life several times, the prison seemed his own home. Moreover, he said that when he returned to South Korea he would probably serve a term of about three or four months in prison, but that he would not be treated so badly as he was on good terms with warders. He said that Roh Tae Woo pointed out in his speech that he did not regard North Korea as a stranger, but considered it a companion and added that because Roh’s remark meant that he was not hostile to the north, he himself came to the north believing that he would be all right even if he visited. As soon as the Reverend return to South Korea, however, Roh Tae Woo had him arrested and imprisoned. Since then, we have taken every opportunity to demand that the South Korean authorities release him. At the North-South high level talks we also raised the problem of setting free the Rev. Moon Ik Hwan, Lim Soo Kyung, and other figures who had visited the north. Nevertheless, Roh did not free them.”

— Kim Il Sung, “The Only Way to National Reunification is the Great Unity of the Entire Nation,” 1993

Reverend Moon Ik Hwan's Poetry

Sleeptalk That Isn’t Sleeptalk

Within this year I’m going to go to Pyongyang

I’m going to go

I’m not sleep-talking; I’m not kidding

This is the truth.

In case anyone might say I’m not a poet

I’m spreading my absurd imagination again

Not at all, that’s not it

Before this year of 1989 fades, I’m really going to go;

I’ve resolved to go

Isn’t there the saying that beginning is half the struggle?

After climbing Moranbong, in the flowing water of the Daedong River,

Think of soaking your breast

Walking down street by street, holding hands with those who come and go

Affectionately reuniting again through the warmth of hands — that’s what it’ll be

Releasing our frozen hearts 

I won’t call them puppets

That said, I won’t call them just the people either

There’s that good word in our language: Friend, Comrade

Calling them comrade and returning to a time 

when I was ten, twenty years old

Oh, how great would it be?

Then when trying to break out of the chains of Japanese imperialism

Twenty million were of one heart & mind:

One spirit.

Yes, with that same united spirit

Our ancestors had defeated a million Tang troops too

Ah, with that one heart

At that point to be certain that seventy million are a single people

In the hot breath in the snowy streets

Maybe we’ll hug each other, hanging around the streets of Pyongyang

For forty-four years, how unjustly we glanced at each other with suspicion

To our shame, stabbing each other to death,

Calling each other ‘puppet,’ ‘running dog,’ becoming enemies to confront

The old shrines chanting philosophy, ideology, policy, 

we broke down

You’re talking about what’s comfortable to your stomach

— Who said they’ll let you go to Pyongyang?

The National Security Law is still freshly living!

Don’t talk nonsense:

I’m telling a story about History now

Not history, but of living — of Life.

That which is possible, the work to do, to sincerely carry through

Then, promising faith, sticking out your neck to persevere and continue —

— What, you think you’ll be decorated for this or something? 

No, not that, no

To live history is

To upend night to day and day to night.

To overturn the sky to the ground and the ground to the sky

To break down boulders with our bare feet walking

And to become buried within all of that:

For the living soul to raise high the flag of freedom 

to flutter 

To knock down a wall seeing it instead as a door

To live in history today in this land is

To refuse division with the whole of your body

To shout that there is no truce line

Whether at Seoul Station or Busan, or at Gwangju Station, to go

And demand a train ticket to Pyongyang

That they hand it over

— This man must be out of his mind!

Sure, I’m out of my mind, and if I’m crazy then I’ve been crazy for a while

You think it’s possible to live in history 

without going a little out of your mind?

All of you still clothed in your right mind,

If you won’t sell me a ticket to Pyongyang, leave me alone!

I will go even if I have to walk

I will go even if I have to swim across the Imjin River.

And if a bullet then happens to strike and kill me on my way

Then what can be done?

Like a cloud, like the wind, the soul will go

At the first dawn of 1989

잠꼬대 아닌 잠꼬대

난 올해 안으로 평양으로 갈 거야

기어코 가고 말 거야 이건

잠꼬대가 아니라고 농담이 아니라고

이건 진담이라고

누가 시인이 아니랄까봐서

터무니없는 상상력을 또 펼치는 거야

천만에 그게 아니라구 나는

이 1989 년이 가기 전에 진짜 갈 거라고

가기로 결심했다구

시작이 반이라는 속담 있지 않아

모란봉에 올라 대동강 흐르는 물에

가슴 적실 생각을 해보라고

거리 거리를 거닐면서 오가는 사람 손을 잡고

손바닥 온기로 회포를 푸는 거지

얼어붙었던 마음 풀어버리는 거지

난 그들을 괴뢰라고 부르지 않을 거야

그렇다고 인민이라고 부를 생각도 없어

동무라는 좋은 우리말 있지 않아

동무라고 부르면서 열살 스무살 때로


아 얼마나 좋을까

그땐 일본 제국주의 사슬에서 벗어나려고

이천만이 한마음이었거든


그래 그 한마음으로

우리 선조들은 당나라 백만대군을 물리쳤잖아

아 그 한마음으로

칠천만이 한겨레라는 걸 확인할 참이라고

오가는 눈길에서 화끈하는 숨결에서 말이야

아마도 서로 부등켜안고 평양 거리를 딩굴겠지

사십사 년이나 억울하게도 서로 눈을 홀기며

부끄럽게도 부끄럽게도 서로 찔러 죽이면서

괴뢰니 주구니 하며 원수가 되어 대립하던

사상이니 이념이니 제도니 하던 신주단지들을

부수어버리면서 말이야

뱃속 편한 소리 하고 있구만

누가 자넬 평양에 가게 한대

국가보안법이 아직도 시퍼렇게 살아 있다구

객쩍은소리 하지 말라구

난 지금 역사 이야기를 하고 있는 거야

역사를 말하는 게 아니라 산다는 것 말이야

된다는 일 하라는 일을 순순히 하고는

충성을 맹세하고 목을 내대고 수행하고는

훈장이나 타는 일인 줄 아는가

아니라고 그게 아니라구

역사를 산다는건 말이야

밤을 낮으로 낮을 밤으로 뒤바꾸는 일이라구

하늘을 땅으로 땅을 하늘로 뒤엎는 일이라구

맨발로 바위를 걷어자 무너뜨리고

그속에 묻히는 일이라고

넋만은 살아 자유의 깃발로 드높이

나부끼는 일이라고

벽을 문이라고 지르고 나가야 하는

이 땅에서 오늘 역사를 산다는 건 말이야

온몸으로 분단을 거부하는 일이라고

휴전선은 없다고 소리치는 일이라고

서울역이나 부산, 광주역에 가서

평양 가는 기차표를 내놓으라고

주장하는 일이라고

이 양반 머리가 좀 돌았구만

그래 난 머리가 돌았다 들아도 한참 돌았다

머리가 돌지 않고 역사를 사는 일이

있다고 생각하나

이 머리가 말짱한 것들아

평양 가는 표를 팔지 않겠음 그만두라고

난 걸어서라도 갈 테니까

임진강을 헤엄쳐서라도 갈 테니까

그러다가 총에라도 맞아 죽는 날이면

그야 하는 수 없지

구름처럼 바람처럼 넋으로 가는 거지

1989년 첫 새벽에

31: The Democratization Movement in South Korea

Top: Moon Ik-hwan consoling a mother at the funeral of a young protestor killed in the 1980s democratization movement.

Middle: Thousands of Seoul university students occupying a major road in a sit-in demonstration for about 40 minutes during the 1980s.

Bottom: University students launching an anti-government protest in the 1980s. The banner reads 'Bring the dictatorship down with the defiant spirit of the April protests.'

The South suffered through nearly four decades of U.S.-backed military rule, which had erupted in protests such as the 1948 Jeju Uprising against separate elections in the north and south, and the 1960 April Revolution to remove Syngman Rhee. These dictatorships had linked the South to American empire through neocolonialism, leading to uneven economic development, the suppression of civil liberties, and violence against political opposition. The military coup and usurpation of power by general Chun Doo-hwan in 1979 and the imposition of martial law ignited the longstanding mass discontent among South Koreans.  This was especially clear for students and youth, who were no longer willing to continue to accept such rule, and were ready to reignite the struggle for people’s democracy and reunification which had been suppressed in South Korea for three decades since the Korean War. 

Broad segments of South Korean society joined the struggle for democracy during this decade: Buddhists, Protestants, and the Roman Catholic church; miners, shipyard workers, farmers, and teachers; and  above all, students in the tens of thousands, often called “the conscience of the nation,” all marched in the streets. Their demands for a unified Korean society free of American imperialism, exploitation, and anti-communism, coalesced into a wide-ranging people’s movement crystallizing the deep strivings for democracy and reunification. However, they were viciously repressed with state violence in atrocities such as the May 18 Gwangju Massacre of 1980, which killed, brutalized, tortured, and disappeared tens of thousands of protestors throughout the decade, with the covert support of the U.S. state. While this movement exposed the injustice of the American-backed dictatorial South Korean state and led to large scale democratic reforms, the question of reunification, peace, and liberation from U.S. military imperialism on the peninsula remain on the table to this day for South Korea.

32: Minjung Art

Union World 2. Woodcut print by South Korean minjung artist Hong Song-Dam (1989).

The decade-long South Korean democratization movement of the 1980s gave rise to the Minjung art movement — meaning “folk” or “people’s art.” The prints, banners, murals, and other public artworks belonging to this movement, blended a search for the roots of Korean civilization through traditional folk art influences, and the demand for democratic reorganization of society against the longstanding South Korean military dictatorship and their attempts at Western cultural, economic, and political modernization of South Korean society. As the minjung movement was a result of an explosion of militant youth activism against the repressive South Korean dictatorship, it thus lacked the space and time to develop fully in the way North Korean public art practices could flourish with the state’s support. The best of the minjung movement’s artmaking practices and demands were compatible and connected thematically with those of North Korea in their mutual strivings for peace, democracy, and the revival of the Korean essence of civilization in a modern age. 

Woodcut prints like that of Hong Seong-Dam’s Union World 2, which depicted the Gwangju uprising and the police clampdown that the protestors faced, were among the artwork created by student activists, artists, and labor organizers who participated in such democratization movements. In addition to Korean folk art traditions, their sources ranged from Mexican muralism, Chinese woodblock prints, and socialist realism. Although many factions arose among this spontaneous movement, these artists played a critical role in striving for reunification and seeking unity and contact with North Korea. They envisioned a renewal of South Korean society through its rediscovery of its civilizational heritage, rejoining with their compatriots in the North, and thus actively participating in world progressive movements. 

During this time, activist-artists in 1989 sought to depict the enduring struggle for Korean liberation in a public mural cycle, titled the “History of the National Liberation Movement.” Taking three months to complete, the mural cycle spanned 11 panels and illustrated people’s movements of Korean history, such as the 1980’s Gwangju student uprising, the 1890’s peasant uprising against Japanese imperial domination of the peninsula, and more. The murals were collectively produced by a wide range of artist collectives and over 200 individual artists, echoing Joseon dynasty-era traditions of collective public Buddhist rituals and activation practices. 

The murals were exhibited at Seoul National University briefly before being burned by the South Korean police. However, before it was destroyed, South Korean student artist Hong Seong-dam secretly documented the work and mailed the resulting slides through several countries, including Los Angeles and Tokyo, to reach the DPRK in time for the World Youth Festival of 1989 in Pyongyang. There, advancing the initial strivings of the South Korean student activists who originally conceived of the murals, professional North Korean art studios quickly got to work using the slides to recreate the murals within six weeks and publicly displayed them in an outdoor exhibition of South Korean art during the Festival. 

33: The 1989 World Festival of Students and Youth

In Carousel Order: 15 Day Hunger Strike at the UN in New York City, led by young Korean Americans for peace and reunification (1990); Young Koreans United march from New York to Washington DC, passing through Pennsylvania Avenue (1989); South Korean student Lim Soo Kyung embracing and meeting Kim Il Sung; Poster for the International World Youth Festival held in Pyongyang in 1989; Lim So Kyung marching through Pyongyang during the International March for Peace and Reunification from North Korea’s northern border to the demilitarized border zone with South Korea (1989); Kickoff event for the International Peace and Reunification March in Pyongyang with Damu Smith, an African American lifelong peace activist, at the helm (1989); Poster of the International Conference for Peace and Reunification in Korea, with a ring of figures dressed in traditional Korean garb forming a yin-yang symbol or circle representing reunification (1989).

The year 1989 witnessed two monumental events for reunification: the week-long gathering of youth people from all over the globe for the largest World Youth Festival ever attended (22,000 participants), hosted in Pyongyang, North Korea; as well as the International March for Peace and Reunification of Korea from North Korea’s Mount Baekdu to the demilitarized zone border with South Korea. Twenty-one year old South Korean student Lim Soo Kyung courageously participated in both events, traveling through dozens of countries for weeks to reach North Korea itself and defying South Korean attempts to suppress all contact between South and North Koreans. There, in Pyongyang, she not only met youth delegates from over 177 countries, she also met North Korean leader Kim Il Sung and marched at the helm of the International March for Peace and Reunification. As she insisted on returning to her home country through the DMZ, as the first person to do so since the Korean war, she was jailed for five years upon her return to South Korea. The cry for reunification from the youth and masses resounded across the world, amplified by sister marches held in solidarity globally, including in the United States by Korean Americans. 

From April in 1988 to June 1989, a group of Koreans in the U.S. including Young Koreans United (YKU) and the Korean Alliance for Peace and Justice (KAPJ) gathered more than 100,000 signatures for the withdrawal of nuclear weapons in the Korean peninsula. The campaign enabled YKU and KAPJ members to speak with more than 300,000 people concerning the need for a nuclear-free Korea. These signatures were then carried as a part of a U.S. Peace March that began at the UN headquarters in New York and proceeded on foot to Washington, DC. In seven days, YKU members marched more than 150 miles.

From the Korean peninsula to the diaspora, Koreans came together as part of a larger world movement for peace and nuclear disarmament, connected with their country’s ongoing struggle for independence and reunification.

“To develop a powerful struggle for national reunification, our compatriots in the United States must solidly unite. There are now over one million Koreans in the United States, and that is a greater number than that of Koreans in Japan. If the Koreans in the United States closely unite, they will be able to make a great contribution to hastening national reunification. If over one million Koreans in that country demand that the US government can support the proposal for national reunification through federation, they can produce good results.”

— Kim Il Sung, “On the Need for the Koreans in the United States to Unite and Step Up the Movement for National Reunification,” a talk to Koreans from the United States in 1993, as “Team Spirit 93” US-SK joint military exercises were being staged.

In Carousel Order: President Ahmed Sékou Touré, Kenneth Kaunda, and Kim Il Sung at the April Spring Friendship Art Festival in Pyongyang, DPRK (1982); President Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam receives Kim Il Sung at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi (1958); Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India and Kim Il Sung; Statesman Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia and Kim Il Sung; Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Kim Il Sung (1980); President Fidel Castro of Cuba and Kim Il Sung (1986); Che Guevara and Kim Il Sung (1960); Chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Kim Il Sung (1984), clipping from Muhammad Speaks, October 1969.

34: The Dawning Age of Humanity

North Korea has often been depicted as either an isolated hermit kingdom or a puppet satellite of the Soviet Union or China, but this is to the detriment of our own country’s knowledge; the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea maintains diplomatic relations with 164 independent states, with close friendships across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Starkly absent from these relationships is the United States and Western Europe, which claim authority despite standing in the great minority of world humanity. 

Historically throughout the 20th century, North Korea supported various national liberation movements around the world, from Vietnam and Libya, to Angola and Palestine, seeing each fight against imperialism as their own out of a common concern for humanity. In 1966, Kim Il Sung said, "the Korean people regard US imperialist aggression against Vietnam as one against themselves and they regard the struggle of the Vietnamese people as their own” — this principled internationalism and shared striving for peace, freedom, and democracy was the basis for cooperation and friendship.

In the United States, despite the imperialist ruling class, both the Nation of Islam and Martin Luther King Jr. understood the unity of darker humanity and its strivings, and its significance to the world, including to the American people: 

“All over the world like a fever, freedom is spreading in the widest liberation movement in history. The great masses of people are determined to end the exploitation of their races and lands. They are awake and moving toward their goal like a tidal wave. You can hear them rumbling in every village street, on the docks, in the houses, among the students, in the churches and at political meetings. For several centuries the direction of history flowed from the nations and societies of Western Europe out into the rest of the world in “conquests” of various sorts. That period, the era of colonialism, is at an end. East is moving West. The earth is being redistributed… Something within has reminded the Negro of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the spirit of the times, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers in Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice.”

— Martin Luther King Jr., “The World House” (1967)

"Democracy must not only be the basic ideal of state administration for championing people’s right to independence, but also a common ideal of world politics for ensuring equality and cooperation among countries…

Today, humanity finds itself at a turning point in historical progress. The old age of domination and subjugation that lasted for thousands of years has come to an end, and a new age is being ushered in, the new age when all countries and nations shape their destiny independently. Mankind is now faced with the common task of strengthening the historical current and building a free and peaceful new world.

In order to build the new world aspired to by mankind, it is necessary to abolish the unequal old international order in all fields of politics, the economy and culture and establish an equitable new international order. There are large and small countries in the world, but there cannot be major and minor countries; there are developed nations and less developed nations, but there cannot be nations destined to dominate other nations or those destined to be dominated. All countries are equal members of the international community and as such have the right to independence and equality…

Peace is the common aspiration of humanity, and only when peace is ensured can the people create an independent new life… Building a free and peaceful new world is the mature requirement of our times. Today, domination and subjugation, aggression and war can benefit nobody; for the peoples of all countries to develop independently and live peacefully together is the correct way for humanity to take. Historical progress may suffer setbacks, but the forces of independence and peace will grow in strength as the days go by, and the just cause of creating a new world will triumph without fail.” 

— Kim Il Sung, “For a free and peaceful new world,” 85th Inter-parliamentary Conference, 1991

35: Our World House

In 2018, South Korean president Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed agreements towards peaceful cooperation between the two nations (Top Left). They did this against a dramatic backdrop of a painting of Mount Paektu, one of the sacred mountains to Korean heritage located in the DPRK, serving as a reminder of the shared basis for Korean civilization across the peninsula and the promise of reunification.

Later that year, President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un crossed the demilitarized zone and border between North and South Korea together, making Trump the first American president to visit the DPRK (Top Right). Along with the meetings between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un, the year 2018 represented the potential for reunification and peace on the peninsula, along with the beginnings of U.S. imperial withdrawal from Asia and the world at large.  

Our world today is changing quickly: humanity is on the brink of achieving a new paradigm of global relations. Responding to such a moment in his own time, Martin Luther King wrote in “The World House” (1967):

“Nothing could be more tragic than for men to live in these revolutionary times and fail to achieve the new attitudes and the new mental outlooks that the new situation demands. One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of the status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. The large house in which we live demands that we transform this world-wide neighborhood into a world-wide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools.

To see ourselves as part of a world revolutionary process is to recognize and affirm our own moral imperative to embrace the North Korean people as our sisters and brothers, and to fight for peace to rejoin world humanity. In particular, we realize our responsibility toward the younger generation who will soon decide the future. We face the task of educating our children and youth about the true history of the world’s people and their struggles; of imbuing them with the knowledge of who they come from and what they can make of the beautiful traditions which are theirs to inherit. By committing ourselves to this, we move toward a greater clarity of understanding about what our people are striving for, what compels them to perform acts of moral courage, what is beautiful about their lives and struggles, and what spiritual and human reservoirs exist for them to find hope for the future.

It is with a spirit of optimistic, indomitable striving — not unlike the winged Chollima that aroused the people of Korea to resurrect their homeland — that we stand on our history, looking to the future with clear eyes.

“It would take a new way of thinking on Asiatic lines to work this out; but there would be a chance that out of India, out of Buddhism and Shintoism, out of the age-old virtues of Japan and China itself, to provide for this different kind of Communism, a thing which so for all attempts at a socialistic state in Europe have failed to produce; that is a communism with its Asiatic stress on character, on goodness, on spirit, through family loyalty and affection might ward off Thermidor; might stop the tendency of the western socialistic state to freeze into bureaucracy.”

 — W.E.B. Du Bois, Russia & America (1950)

On The Way Home, Choe Yu Song, a Chosonhwa ink on paper 2016 painting of middle school girls expressively sharing snacks and stories on the roadside under the shade after a day of classes. The idyllic painting, depicting universal themes of friendship and youth, invites us to consider North Korean social relations between children and students achieved under a socialist state. 

Night of the Capital City. 2020 Oil painting by Ri Tong Jun and Han U Chol. A painting of modern day Pyongyang, featuring Pyongyang’s modern skyline and highway system connecting the Victory Arch commemorating the Korean War, to the iconic Chollima mythical winged horse statue symbolizing the accelerated rebuilding and modernization campaign following the Korean War. 

North Korean artist Kim Sunghee’s “Bongsan Talchum” is an ink and color painting, annotated with lines of writing, depicting a traditional Korean masked dance rooted in shamanistic, animistic traditions to symbolize supernatural or natural forces, demonstrating the preservation of traditional literati ink painting and calligraphy dating to the Joseon era in contemporary North Korea.

Pyongyang in Spring. Painting by DPRK artists Jo Won Nam and Ri Myong Chol (2021).


Throughout this exhibit, we have been motivated by the purpose of recognizing the incredible achievements and contributions of Korea — especially the North after the Korean War — to Korean civilization, world humanity, and to peace. Here, as we stand at the end, we seek to bring the conversation back to Black America and the city of Philadelphia as a thread in King’s “Single Garment of Destiny.” The City of Brotherly Love — its people and children — is in dire need for peace in the streets; plagued by gun violence, drug addiction, poverty, crumbling infrastructure and education systems, the American people cry out, ready to build a new democratic society built on peace for the flourishing of the masses. 

Imperialism stands between our building of true democracy in America: it obstructs the forward march of the American people in achieving our nation, keeping us from joining hands with world humanity for a more just world. The Korean War is a stain on the very soul of America: a burden the people are forced to carry because the ruling minority betrayed the revolutionary principles of freedom that this country was founded on. But as demonstrated by the spectacular rise of the North Korean people from the ruins of war, humanity’s stride towards peace and justice cannot not be halted; if only given the opportunity, the masses of people who make civilization can continually make ever-greater contributions to world humanity.

America produced a W.E.B. Du Bois, who studied the life-worlds of the darker races of Asia, Africa and Afro-America, and brought forth the truth about their capacity to create beauty and civilization. It produced a Paul Robeson, who showed us the common humanity of the world’s people as reflected through their folk traditions, art and music. It produced a Martin Luther King Jr. as America’s salvation: the father of a new nation and a new American people rooted in the ethic of revolutionary love, with the belief that human life is sacred and that all human beings are tied together in a single garment of destiny. These Giants who walked before us teach us to see the Korean people as human beings: to witness their beauty, their artistic and cultural accomplishments, and their unconquered striving for self-actualization and peace. They teach us that the struggle for peace is the struggle to preserve the beauty and vast diversity of human life, so that it may flourish and develop its unbounded potential. 

The history of the Korean people has something to teach us today, as we enter a new era and behold a new world. What legacy will we leave behind for our children, whose coming into this world holds within it the promise of a never-ending tomorrow? The great task of building a truly democratic international order demands the courage and sacrifice of the American people. It demands that we take a stand for the Truth and for History. Most importantly, it demands that we rejoin world humanity in its struggle to stay the hand of war. The struggle for peace is not a choice, but the moral imperative of our times, our obligation to the immortal child who will inherit this earth.

All men are interdependent. Every nation is an heir of a vast treasury of ideas and labor to which both the living and the dead of all nations have contributed. Whether we realize it or not, each of us lives eternally “in the red.” We are everlasting debtors to known and unknown men and women…

The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing to prevent us from paying adequate wages to school- teachers, social workers and other servants of the public to ensure that we have the best available personnel in these positions which are charged with the responsibility of guiding our future generations. There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen whether he be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid or day laborer. There is nothing except shortsightedness to prevent us from guaranteeing an annual minimum—and livable—income for every American family. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from remolding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the earth are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of Communism and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary spirit. Communism is a judgment on our failure to make democracy real and to follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.” 

— Martin Luther King Jr., “The World House” (1967)