The Korean War in Britain

Citizenship, selfhood and forgetting

Author: Grace Huxford

The Korean War in Britain explores the social and cultural impact of the Korean War (1950–53) on Britain. Coming just five years after the ravages of the Second World War, Korea was a deeply unsettling moment in post-war British history. When North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950, Britons worried about a return to total war and the prospect of atomic warfare. As the war progressed, British people grew uneasy about the conduct of the war. From American ‘germ’ warfare allegations to anxiety over Communist use of ‘brainwashing’, the Korean War precipitated a series of short-lived panics in 1950s Britain. But by the time of its uneasy ceasefire in 1953, the war was becoming increasingly forgotten, with more attention paid to England’s cricket victory at the Ashes than to returning troops. Using Mass Observation surveys, letters, diaries and a wide range of under-explored contemporary material, this book charts the war’s changing position in British popular imagination, from initial anxiety in the summer of 1950 through to growing apathy by the end of the war and into the late-twentieth century. Built around three central concepts – citizenship, selfhood and forgetting – The Korean War in Britain connects a critical moment in Cold War history to post-war Britain, calling for a more integrated approach to Britain’s Cold War past. It explores the war a variety of viewpoints – conscript, POW, protestor and veteran – to offer the first social history of this ‘forgotten war’. It is essential reading for anyone interested in Britain’s post-1945 history.

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‘Huxford’s is [therefore] both an essential book for those interested in the Korean War and the domestic history of the Cold War. It is also a fruitful jumping-off point for future work on how the Cold War was experienced and how historians can approach the topic.'
Twentieth Century British History
March 2020

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