How long has the Korean War been termed the “Forgotten War”? How was it given this title? There are a few reasons why the war was labeled as such.
In Canada, the term “Forgotten War” likely became widespread because of John Melady’s book, Korea: Canada’s Forgotten War (1983). Melady’s popular account was the first book published since the Department of National Defence released its official history of the Korean War, Strange Battleground (1966). While the term was likely in use prior to Melady’s book, this work undoubtedly further popularized the phrase.
The Korean War was also “forgotten” by Canadians for a variety of additional reasons, including the timing of the war, the number of Canadian personnel who participated, and the war’s location. The Second World War ended in 1945 and five years later, when the Korean War broke out, Canadians in general still had had enough of war. Furthermore, the global war impacted all Canadians, whether because of the one million Canadians that enlisted, through rationing at home, or through connections with family, friends, and neighbours sent overseas. In the Korean War, less than 30,000 Canadians were deployed. Finally, Canadians had little connection to Korea, an agrarian, poor, and isolated country. When the war started on 25 June 1950, many newspapers published small maps to show the peninsula’s location to readers.
The timing of the Canadians’ arrival and the type of combat they faced in Korea also impacted the visibility of the Korean War back home. When 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry arrived in Korea in December 1950, combat was focused around the 38th Parallel. By the end of 1951, the front had stabilized along the Parallel and remained there until the end of the war. Most importantly, Canadian ground forces missed the bulk of the large-scale battles in the early stages of the war and without the excitement of battle action, Canadian newspapers simply did not cover the war to the same extent as during the recent world war.
Moreover, at this point in the Cold War, Canadian foreign and defence policy was not focused on Asia as the new battleground between western democracy and Communism, but rather on protecting Western Europe from the Soviet Union. Indeed, even as the Korean War raged, the Canadian Army created the 27th Infantry Brigade for NATO service in West Germany.
In November 1951, a small article in The Globe and Mail provided an interesting assessment of Canadians’ understanding of the Korean War at the time. The Anglican Archbishop of Edmonton, Reverend W.F. Barfoot, had recently visited Canadian units on the peninsula. While the troops appeared to be faring well, Barfoot commented that “there is an ominous danger that the troops might ‘become infected with the feeling that Canadians at home have relegated the Korean War to a position of unimportance’. An apathetic public knew ‘little about the sharp end of the war’.”