History, by definition, chronicles and recounts past events of people, countries, and the world at large. It may answer the wh-questions concerning a particular event, reporting from time and place of an event to who and what were involved. However, it does not always perform an excellent job in informing us why an event occurred. Professor Carl Joergen Saxer (Division of International Studies), whose primary interest lies in political science, wanted to shed light on the unexplored domain of history, the big question of why.
The Big Question, Why
History books state that in the 1950s, just five years after the World War 2, the Nordic countries—Denmark, Norway, and Sweden—had participated in the Korean War in the form of medical aid. Denmark and Norway had been occupied by Nazi Germany and Sweden remained neutral. Additionally, until recently, those countries had very limited knowledge about Korea, had no diplomatic relations and was located on the other side of the globe. Yet, they decided to participate in the war by supporting the country with medical supplies. At this point, a question should arise: what led the three countries to participate in a war that went on in a remote, unrecognized land that most Nordic people had never heard about?
Delving into the state archives of the Nordic countries, Saxer disclosed the answer to the question. He accessed to documentations related to decision making process and examined the thought process of what led governments in the first place to participate and what led them to the decision of how to participate. As it turned out, for diplomatic reasons, the Nordic government have always emphasized on humanitarian intervention, out of moral concerns. This means their participation in the Korean War should be on account of the North Korean invasion in South Korea. However, the documents showed otherwise: it was much more of a political matter.
The emphasis on the Nordic countries when it came to participating in the war was actually to do as little as possible, signifying an outside factor that urged its decision: the America. Norway and Denmark had just become members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and were under American pressure to defend Korea under the United Nations flag—perchance this was the reason they only joined the war by supporting the medical supplies and not combat materials.
In other words, the concerns of politicians when they came to participate in the war was not so much about what was going on in the Korean peninsula but rather about the potential of the war to result in another big issue: World War 3. It was very much influenced by the Cold War in European countries that the fear arose in relation to the possible outbreak of another global disaster. Coming down to a summary, moral element intermingled with their international stance in a context of fear of potential World War 3 and insecurity of the Cold War led the Nordic countries to participate in the Korean War in the least aggressive manner.
“I usually don’t research much on history as my interest is more on democracy in politics. But with this research, I was very interested in looking into the documents. I do empirical research, meaning I don’t speculate about how things should or would be in the future but rather how things were or have been. I was very interested in finding out why people act the way they do and how certain decisions are reached,” explained Saxer on his motivation of this research.
Jeon Chae-yun firstname.lastname@example.org Photos by Choi Min-ju