After an armistice of Korean War, there were many prisoners of war that preferred to remain neutral.
Years and years after, Korean War prisoners who lived in Brazil and who are on the verge of end of their lives,
are having what might be their last trip back home for the first time in 60 years, like a salmon swimming against the water flow back to where they swam from.
The Korean War prisoners from Brazil, who were unable to dodge themselves from being called as “traitors” and “communists,” didn’t have a country that accepted them and had to live in India for 2 years. They hid their tears and got on a boat in Incheon expecting to never come back.
Panmunjom of neutral zone had to make people who had the identity of neutral line turn their back on their families and hometown. What is known as thumbnails of tragic war between cognates and what is considered as “war within a war,” the Geoje POW camp, as well as far northern homeland that only had to be visited in dreams at night….
2 months of journey back to homeland from Brazil!!
This trip is,
elders’ “far and dangerous trip” of determination to go around the world as well as,
“historical trip” that reflects past ideological confrontation and fratricidal war scars as well as,
“healing trip” that faces the hidden war wounds and deep traumas as well as,
“a trip that everybody has to participate in” for the world peace in the future.
Korean War prisoners who chose to stay neutral, who are they?
During the war, of the 170 thousand war prisoners in Geoje POW camp, some chose to set their neutral identity after armistice under the suggestion from UN. In February 22 1954, 75 North Korean ex-soldiers, 2 South Korean ex-soldiers, total of 77 war prisoners left Korea. Most of these war prisoners were young men who entered the war at the age of 17-18 and spent 2-3 years as war prisoners. These men went to Incheon to get on a boat to India and just had to wait for a neutral aggregation that are willing to accept their arrival. United States declined considering them as part of combatant nation, Swiss refused as well, and countries like Mexico upheld complicated procedure. Finally after waiting 2 years, 51 men went to Brazil, 12 men went to Argentina, 7 men went back to North Korea, and rest remained in India.
Neutral war prisoners who simply made a choice not to choose one side of Korea had to live their lives as ‘traitors’ and ‘opportunist.’ They not only have scars from battlefields but are victims of ideological confliction between North and South who witnessed mass slaughters in Geoje POW camp and Panmunjom. Hence, decline of acceptance and indifference because of their reluctance to make a dramatic decision are severe treatments. Even though they are the ones who made a decision to leave their country, it was the country that made them to have no other choice. The war prisoners’ neutrality was not a “choice” but rather “surrender.”
Did they find ideological freedom in Brazil?
February 6 1956, 51 neutral war prisoners arrived to Brazil. But their wish to heal their mental war scars by living in a country that allowed ideological freedom did not last long. Since Korean immigration to Brazil started in 1963, they began to be called as ‘anticommunist prisoners of war’ again.
Even after 60 years of time, these men still yearn to meet their lost families, suffer from war traumas, remember the smell of blood from the carnage in prisoner camps, and are identified as traitor who abandoned their country, carrying all the burdens left after the Korean War. It is a historic irony how the people who fled to get away from the tragedies of the war are the ones suffering the most.
How are their lives?
12 men in Brazil, 2 men each in Argentina and United states, 1 man each in India and South Korea, the total of 18 men are alive today. Because of their age, their incapability to walk, and other health problems make it hard for them to have a trip back home. Few of the 12 men had visited South Korea, but are recognizing North as a place that cannot be visited in their lifetime. Since they think that North and South unification is far away, they gave up on their trip back home to North Korea.
KIM Myung-bok lives in Brazil Mato Grosso hillside, farm village. Even though he is living a satisfying life with his Brazilian wife and 4 kids, he still suffers from traumas of fratricidal warfare of Korean War in June 25th. This family-oriented man does not listen to his family this time and decides to take a long and dangerous journey back home for the first time in 60 years.
After going to Korean embassy and presidential palace in the capital Brasília and delivering his words, he goes to São Paulo where most of his fellow war prisoners were residing at. There he encounters his mates that experienced everything together for the first time in 50 years. Together they all go to the airport, Rio de Janeiro, the place they first stepped their foot on in Brazil, and immigrant camp. An unfamiliar foreign culture and a trip with lots of ups and downs, how they acted as a sacrifice for the future Korean immigrants and later got criticized as ‘communists’, and how amidst all the war prisoners individuals had to continuously prove their thoughts and principles. They meet other fellow war prisoners like the one who chose to move the Argentina and the one who moved to United States to go on this important journey together as one.
The old men gets on a plane and goes past Abu Dhabi to get to India Delhi, and another fellow prisoner HYUN Dong-hwa greets them at the airport. They visit Chennai, the place they went after their departure from mother’s land and Indian barrack, the place where they stayed for 2 years waiting for other neutral countries. The War Prisoners who were labeled as ‘Indian minorities’ and ‘South America goers’ even in the neutral countries…
HYUN Dong-hwa leaves all the grief behind, and gets on board with his fellow war prisoners.
The old men steps their foot on the Incheon Harbor, the place where they cried their hearts out during their departure!!
They go to Eumseong, “Flower Neighborhood” to visit KIM Nam-soo, but his Alzheimer’s disease makes it unbearable for proper communication. As they get closer to Geoje POW camp, what is now rebuilt as historic monuments, the smell of the place of 2nd war and the memories of communists and anti-communists’ fiercely fighting for ‘non-ideological ideology,’ comes back alive! To reface the reason for their departure to another country, they visit Panmunjom!!
Will they be able to make their dream come true and successfully visit North?
Or will they just go to Dandong, China and look over the sight of their homeland across the Yalu River?
And will they be able to face and reconcile with the history that led them to this day…..?