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Korean War Propaganda Leaflet Collection at the Library of Congress


by Sonya Lee, Reference Specialist, Korean Collection, Asian Division




The Korean War Propaganda Leaflet Collection in the Asian Division of the Library of Congress provides a unique look into an aspect of that conflict that is often overlooked: psychological warfare. The aim of psychological warfare, or psywar, is to gain an advantage over one’s enemy by exploiting doubt and fear about their chances of victory. During the Korean War (1950-1953), one of the primary means of influencing North Korean troops and civilians was the production of propaganda leaflets, called ppira (삐라).



An American leaflet bomb is loaded during the Korean War. The container holds 22,500 leaflets. Official U.S. Army Photograph, from the All Hands collection at the Naval History and Heritage Command.


Less than a day after U.S. President Harry Truman decided to send American troops to aid the UN and South Korean forces on the Korean Peninsula, the first ppira were designed, printed, and dropped from an aircraft over the battle area. Frank Pace, then United States Secretary of the Army, strongly endorsed psychological operations, encouraging his men to “bury the enemy with paper.” Pace believed that the Korean situation offered a special opportunity for highly profitable exploitations of psychological warfare (Stephen E. Pease, Psywar: Psychological Warfare in Korea, 1950-1953,” Harrisburg: Stackpole Bucks, 1992, p. 17).


This leaflet’s text reads: “Communists force you into a third winter of war!” (Korean Collection, Asian Division)


Leaflets were designed at the Operations Research Office, founded in 1948 by the U.S. Army and managed under contract by Johns Hopkins University. They ranged in size from 3×5 inches to the size of a newspaper, and were delivered most often by aircraft in a special bomb with a hinged side that blew off after a predetermined amount of time.


This leaflet from North Korea aims to discourage the South Korean army. The text reads in part: “Children are crying over their dead mother as a soldier tries not to hear their cries.” The North’s message is that the poor in South Korea cannot even get proper medical care, which should make them question why they are protecting a society full of pain and resentment. (Korean Collection, Asian Division).



This example of a Safe Conduct Pass produced by UN forces is accompanied by instructions in English on how to properly treat any North Korean or Chinese soldiers who willingly surrender. (Korean Collection, Asian Division)




How many ppira were dropped during the war? According to statistics from the Report of the Far East Command, approximately 120 million leaflets had been printed and scattered across the Korean Peninsula by November 1950. The production of leaflets continued to increase throughout the duration of the conflict, reaching over 1 billion in January 1952 and more than 2.4 billion by the time of the armistice in July 1953. (See Yi Im-ha, Chŏk ŭl ppira ro mudŏra : Han’guk Chŏnjaenggi Miguk ŭi simnijŏn[“Bury an enemy: American psychological warfare during the Korean War”], Sŏul : Ch’ŏlsu wa YŏnghŭI, 2012, p. 69).



“Free World” Special Issue, titled “Communists Reject Peace!” Pictured is General William K. Harrison, head of the Korean Armistice Delegation, no date, 1953, p. 1. (Korean Collection, Asian Division)


During the Korean War, ppira, loudspeakers, and radio operations were deployed to meet three main military objectives, namely, weaken the effectiveness and resistance of the North Korean and the Communist Chinese People’s Army; provide more detailed information about the war to the people of North Korea, including warnings to civilians about imminent bombings; and bolster the morale of the South Korean forces.


The Korean War Propaganda Leaflet Collection was donated to the Library in 1994 by the late Gordon K. Ellis (1926-2013), who served as an American army lieutenant during the Korean War. The collection at the Library may be divided into four groups:

  • Part 1: Leaflets produced by South Korea and UN allies that targeted the North Korean Army and Communist Chinese forces

  • Part 2: Leaflets produced by the North Korean Army and the Communist Chinese forces targeting UN troops and South Korean civilians

  • Part 3: Examples of the Safe Conduct Pass (안전보장 증명서), a typical form of ppira produced by both sides, designed to urge the enemy to surrender with promises of favorable treatment

  • Part 4: Free World (자유세계) newspaper leaflets, produced by US-led forces, which served as a major source of news regarding the war and world events for civilians caught in the war zone


Even after the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, both sides to the conflict continued to send millions of propaganda flyers by balloon, using higher quality paper with photographs or caricatures printed on it. Both North and South Korea stopped spreading leaflets in 2004 as a result of an agreement reached in 2000, fifty years after the Korean War first broke out.


The Korean War Propaganda Leaflet Collection is available onsite in the Asian Division Reading Room for registered readers to study. To view this collection, please contact Korean reference staff through the Asian Division’s Ask-a-Librarian form prior to visiting the Library.

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After seeing a feature segment on the CBS Morning Show I connected with Shelley Brown, editor of Dear Selma: A World War II Love Letter Romance which is authored by her father and WWII veteran. I was intrigued by the similar experiences she and I have had in discovering letters from so long ago that provide a rare connection with our parents’ younger selves. We enjoyed exchanging stories so much that I invited her to share her book here. I hope you will be equally inspired by the fortitude of young love developing over thousands of miles during wartime. – Kathleen A. Cavazzi

I always knew my parents fell in love over the letters they exchanged while my father was in the army during World War II but I didn’t realize the details of their enduring long-distance relationship until I sat down and read each one. When my mother passed away in 2017 my siblings and I helped my dad move out of our family home in Salem, Oregon. It was then that we started reading the letters and realized what a treasure we had. As the Americans took Germany, my father was on the front lines fighting from fox holes. It’s chilling to think that each letter could have been his last. I want to believe that these letters gave my dad the drive and determination to get through the war and back to the woman he had known most of his life and was now falling in love with. I hope you enjoy the heartfelt expressions of a young man (really a boy), homesick but also determined to fulfill his duty. We dedicate this book to all those who didn’t make it back. – Shelley Brown



They fell in love through their letters. Writing daily to his childhood friend Selma, from Army college in Oklahoma, Boot Camps in Georgia and Texas and the WWII front lines in France and Germany, a teenage Bernard’s letters chronicled the young infantryman’s experience during WWII. Through daily letters home to Selma, the reader will watch their young love flourish amidst the background of Bernard’s war experiences. Between 1941 and 1945, a total of 246 handwritten letters to Selma were lovingly saved. “Fate is on our side” is a recurring theme in his letters, as Bernard never faltered in his belief that he would be coming home safely to Selma’s arms.


Buy Dear Selma: A World War II Love Letter Romance by Bernard D. Brown now.


Proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the Ronald McDonald House at the Rood Family Pavilion in Portland, Oregon.

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TIME TO SHARE MORE LETTERS FROM:


Before I Go Berserk, Hon: Tumultuous Love Letters, Comfort Women with VD, and 4 Ton Wreckers


Kathy and Christine started a 12-part series of some of their favorite Jack Cavazzi love letters.

Christine posted six of her favorites. Now, here are Kathy's.


Letter 12 in a series of 12.

May 20, 1953

Songwhan, Korea


My Dearest Anne,


Hello Darling. How are you and Richie today? I hope he is eating better.


Before I forget I want to tell you about a dream I had last nite. In this dream, you thought that I was fooling around with these women over here so you started going out with this man. It took place in a night club and you were doing a strip-tease to get even with me. Crazy isn’t it? Anyway, I tried to explain that I had been faithful but you wouldn’t have anything to do with me. I woke up before it ended so I don’t know if we got things straightened out. And do you know that that dream has bothered me. I keep seeing you with someone else. What makes me think like that? I know that you aren’t fooling around but I keep worrying about it. I think I am going crazy. I can’t stand this life. I miss you so much it is killing me. I need you Darling. I know that my happiness depends on you. I could never live without you Anne. Please keep loving me. Be good for me. You are the only thing that I live for.


I only wish I could put into words the way I feel about you. It is something that can only be felt when I think of holding you or kissing you. I can almost feel you next to me. I get a feeling that I can’t explain. I kind of feel nervous all over. I know that when I come home and have you again that I will be the happiest man in the world.


Honey, try not to miss writing me every day. I am only getting 3 or 4 letters a week from you. I didn’t write last nite because I am doing 2 hours of hard labor every nite for a week. I missed reveille one day and got company punishment. I had a fight with the motor sergeant and they almost pulled my license. If it weren’t for you and the baby I would probably be in the stockade right now. I hate this place. I can’t stand it Anne. I don’t know if I can take it much longer. If I only had you to talk to.


Well Dear, I have to go dig my ditch.

I love you and always will.


All my Love Always

Jackie

P.S. Hello Son

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