A documentary about the Korean War by Thames Television that aired in the Summer of 1988 and in the US in August 1990 through WGBH Boston. Including interviews with participants from both ... See full summary »


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Credited cast:
Ho-sang An ...
 Minister of Education, South Korea 1945-1948
Keyes Beech ...
 Chicago Daily News correspondent
Valentin Berezhkov ...
 Himself - Former Interpreter to Joseph Stalin
Wilfred Burchett ...
 Himself - 'Ce Soir' Correspondent
Sung-chul Chun ...
 Lt. Gen., North Korean Peoples Army
Bruce Cumings ...
Philippe Daudy ...
 Agence France Presse Correspondent
Anthony Farrar-Hockley ...
 Adjutant - Gloucester Regiment, British Military Historian (as Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley)
 Maj., US Marine Air Wing
Ernest Gross ...
 Himself - US Ambassador to the UN 1949-1953
Bert Hardy ...
 Picture Post photographer
James Hausman ...
 Lt. Col, Korean Military Advisory Group
Gregory Henderson ...
 US Vice Council, Korea 1948-1950
Louis Heren ...
 The Times Correspondent


A documentary about the Korean War by Thames Television that aired in the Summer of 1988 and in the US in August 1990 through WGBH Boston. Including interviews with participants from both the United Nations (USA, UK), South Korea and North Korea, the documentary was fraught with issues concerning content that might "offend" the American received wisdom concerning the war. Written by Mark Lovmo

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July 1988 (UK)  »

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Did You Know?


Long-time General and former Deputy Under-secretary of Defense (1981-1985) Richard Stilwell wrote to the PBS flagship, WGBH Boston, to comment on the content of the British version of "Korea-The Unknown War." In a critique dated January 15, 1989, Stilwell stated that "the series, in present form, is not appropriate for an American audience." According to sources at WGBH, Stilwell had scared off the original sponsors from backing the airing of the documentary on PBS, and had effectively dictated changes to the US producer, Austin Hoyt. As a result, the US version was edited of content relating to the bombing campaign in North Korea, any mention of atrocities, the US administration's (and not just MacArthur's) willingness to attack China with atomic weapons, and interviews with North Koreans; including the survivor of a US napalm bombing. See more »

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User Reviews

Best Korean War Documentary, depending on which version
17 February 2008 | by (Minneapolis) – See all my reviews

The original Thames Television version of this documentary is clearly the best of the Korean War documentaries. It is much more engaging and informative than both "Fire and Ice" and "The Forgotten War." This amazing documentary, "The Unknown War", includes interviews with over 100 participants and eyewitnesses in the war: Many important soldiers, civilians, historians and policy-makers from the USA, UK, Australia, North and South Korea, China, the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc. This documentary follows the chronology of military events, interspersed with important issues and controversies that make the Korean War a fascinating subject. It is composed of 6 one-hour episodes that were initially shown on BBC's Channel 4 on the following dates:

Episode 1: "Many Roads to War" June 18, 1988 Episode 2: "An Arrogant Display of Strength" June 25, 1988 Episode 3: "There is No Substitute for Victory" July 2, 1988 Episode 4: "An Entirely New War" July 9, 1988 Episode 5: "The Battle for Minds" July 16, 1988 Episode 6: "Armed Truce" July 30, 1988

After much revision and editing of its original content by WGBH/Boston, it was shown on PBS in the USA two years later. Thanks to some intense lobbying efforts, it went on the air with no sponsor, just the support of "PBS viewers like you."

The historical consultants felt that both the Thames and WGBH versions were deficient on the significance of NSC 68, considered by some to be the most important American Cold War document. NSC 68 put forth a policy of direct military confrontation, through massive capital outlays to either contain America's enemies, or eliminate them altogether. It laid the basis for the great expansion of the military and military industrial complex in the USA, one that still takes a huge percentage of the US federal budget. The Korean War was the event that inaugurated this policy change.

While the Thames version makes some astounding suggestions about the Truman-MacArthur controversy (probably the most interesting event of the war to American audiences), the WGBH version waters them down. The Thames version suggested that the Truman Administration wanted to attack China with atomic weapons, and that the firing of MacArthur was not just about civilian supremacy (as the Truman people insisted), but also an effort to get a reliable field commander in place had the president decided to implement his plans to nuke China.

The US version did expand the segment on the Incheon landing and extended the segment on African Americans in the US military in Korea. The WGBH version also added more of the South Korean's viewpoints on the war and subtracted from the North Korean's views relative to the Thames version. That neither of the Korean sides honors the complete truth of the war, or both claim exclusive possession of the truth, was not taken into consideration by the people at WGBH.

On the whole, the Thames version is better, but both versions are extremely important additions to the documentary treatment of the Korean War.

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