An Era Defined by Exile: Korean War Photos by Werner Bischof

When an armistice put a halt to the Korean War 60 years ago, on July 27, 1953 — after three years of fighting, millions of deaths (most of them civilians) and neither side claiming victory — people around the world held out hope that the end of the conflict signaled the beginning of stability, and perhaps even long-term peace, in Asia.

That hope, of course, was short-lived, as Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and other Southeast Asian countries were turned into battlefields, and killing fields, in the coming years. In Korea, meanwhile, the cataclysmic splitting in two of an ancient nation caused rifts — military, economic, familial, psychological — that are still immediate and, for countless older Koreans, still torturous today. Here, in a video from Magnum Photos featuring the extraordinary pictures of Swiss-born Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954) and the heartrending stories of Korean men and women, from both North and South, who survived the war and the destruction of their homelands, one sees and hears something of the true nature and immeasurable cost of massive, mechanized, ideological violence.

Bischof’s pictures are especially gripping precisely because, in the context of so much violence, they’re so quiet. Not peaceful. Not placid. But quiet — focusing, as they do, on the “collateral” horrors of battle: starvation; the sudden and permanent sundering of families; countless orphaned children; an era defined by exile.

Of all the voices in the video, however, perhaps the most moving is that of a man who fled the North in the early days of the war and who bluntly distills the experience of heading South to battle the communists, Chinese and Korean, who had destroyed his world: “I was young,” he says, “but I didn’t have any fear, because they took everything from me.”


Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com.


Related Topics: , , , , , , ,

Latest Posts

U Ku Tha La, 38, head monk at Nang Mal Khon Phoe Pyar Monastery. Kaw Ku Village, Kayah State.

Transforming Lives in Burma, One Solar Panel at a Time

In Burma, where only a quarter of the population has access to electricity, solar panels can change lives, as Spanish photographer Ruben Salgado Escudero found out

Read More
Diana Walker—Contour by Getty Images for TIME

An Intimate Portrait of Hillary Clinton in Photographs

LOVED ONE LOST:NAME: Jabril BradleyAGE: 20DOB: 10/6/1990SEX: MaleDATE OF DEATH: 9/1/2011TIME: After MidnightLOCATION: 9th st and Ave of the States, Chester, PACIRCUMSTANCES LEADING UP TO MURDER: Bradley was riding his bike home from a friend’s house on the east side of Chester, September 1, 2011, when an unknown gunman opened fire. He was struck in the back once and continued to ride his bike home. A number of blocks later he collapsed to the ground from blood loss. He bled to death on the street. Bradley’s family claim that he was shot because of mistaken identity. According to his mother, Bradley was supposed to still be in prison. He was serving a sentence for possession of a controlled substance and was allegedly released before his time was up. Within weeks of his murder, the FBI came looking for Bradley at his mothers house, claiming that he got released by mistake. IN PHOTOGRAPH:NAME OF FAMILY MEMBERS: Sister to Jabril Bradley: Danita Harris, 30.Son to Danita Harris: Jah’lil Harris, 3.

Photojournalism Daily: Oct. 23, 2014

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 17,638 other followers