Korean Military Brides

In their November 5, 1951 issue, LIFE Magazine welcomed home Blue, the first Korean war bride to immigrate to the United States. In a sensational, less-than-250-words article, Blue became the symbol of undying love, the Lotus Blossom that had bloomed amidst war and communism and now laid softly in the arms of Sergeant Johnie Morgan.

Blue (Lee Yong Soon) locked in the embrace of her husband and his mother as they share a kiss above her. Featured in LIFE Magazine’s November edition.

In 1994, two Korean reporters tracked down Korean military brides (women who have married U.S. servicemen) in the U.S. for a Korean documentary. Their captured footage confirmed suspicions that the women who chose to leave the “protection” of Korean men now paid dearly for their decision. Exposing their battered bodies and squalid living conditions on national television, the producers verified the Korean military bride as a yanggongju — literally meaning ‘western princess’ but colloquially translating to ‘the foreigner’s whore.’

Korean military brides, however, are more than characters featured on screen or in magazines. They are women who consciously chose to marry, immigrate, and then survive in their newfound lives. Eager to seek a life different from that of their mothers, many Korean military brides considered marriage to U.S. G.I.s as an opportunity to escape the poverty and violence in their war-torn country and oppressive homes.

Notably, for some women, marriage to U.S. soldiers signified liberation from not only the aftermath of war but also sex slavery. Like how the Japanese government believed that providing sex to its soldiers would lower the likelihood of the soldiers raping local women, the Korean government adopted the “comfort women” system to ensure that U.S. servicemen had a steady supply of sex. Thus, for the women who were pimped by their government into prostitution, the decision to marry a U.S. soldier was an act to both liberate and reclaim their violated bodies.

Upon starting a new life in the United States, however, the women quickly realized that the nation and their husbands considerably differed from what they had hoped for in their imagination. Despite the differences in location, socioeconomic status, and personal background, nearly all of the interviewed Korean military brides spoke of experiencing extreme loneliness in both their home and general society.

Many women testified to their husbands policing the domestic sphere in order to ensure that she would not transfer any aspect of her culture to the children. For example, one woman spoke of how her husband had shouted at her for singing a Korean lullaby to their newborn daughter. Despite their husbands’ obsession to create purely “American” home through the monitoring of the women’s activities though, many military brides practiced daily resistance. From erupting into Korean when angry to sending money back home to her family, Korean military brides resisted erasure of their cultural identities and authorities as mothers and women.

The histories of Korean military women range from constant abuse to upper-middle-class comfort. Although no singular narrative exists, each woman has a story of her survival that consists of reclamation of agency, resistance to erasure, and a piece of Asia America of which she helped mold.