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[Op-Ed] Higgins’ War

Posted June. 22, 2009 08:44,   


“Bullets suddenly flew from all directions with a big sound. They penetrated and flew through the window and penetrated through the thin walls. A coffee pot on the table got blown away due to the machine gun crossfire. A grenade exploded on the portable wooden bed I slept on.” So wrote Margaret Higgins (1920–1966), the lone female war correspondent in the Korean War. She hid her head as North Korean troops fired at a classroom she stayed in.

Higgins became the New York Herald Tribune’s Tokyo correspondent at age 30 in 1950. As North Korea invaded South Korea that year on June 25, she flew to the South with three other correspondents two days later, even before the U.S. joined the war. She wrote the first book about the Korean War called “The War in Korea” about what she saw, heard and felt. Published in 1951, the book earned her the honor of being the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.

What she had to fight in the Korean War was not just threats to life, hunger and deadlines. She also suffered from pressure from U.S. soldiers questioning her about why she came to the war zone and from lack of understanding from her colleagues. “Hey, young lady, this is no place for you,” said a mean U.S. colonel to her when she arrived at Suwon Airport. When officers made fun of her by saying there was no female hygiene facility (bathroom),” she snapped back, “Korea doesn’t lack bushes.”

“The War in Korea,” a vivid document of the first six months of the war, was translated into Korean under the title “Sacrifice for Freedom.” It is surprising that one of the world’s bestselling books had not been published in Korea, the site of the war itself. Higgins was likened to actress Marilyn Monroe for once working as a model for an ad of a famous cigarette company. The journalist who smeared mud instead of cosmetics on her beautiful face let the world know about the meaning of the war and the defense of freedom through her articles and book. The 59th anniversary of the Korean War’s outbreak is approaching, but holds little meaning for those who have never experienced war. A female journalist provided a first-hand account of the sacrifice of young soldiers from the free world that gave Korea the freedom and prosperity it enjoys today.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)