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“I’ve never been pro-war,” says local filmmaker Glenn Palmedo-Smith, whose Korean War documentary Hold at All Costs airs tonight on KPBS (more Reader coverage of the film here).

“I participated in protests against the Vietnam War. And when I was in high school, I always thought of veterans as the mean dads who wouldn’t let their kids stay out past ten o’clock."

But after interviewing something like 50 veterans – from both the American and Chinese military – Palmedo-Smith realized that he "couldn’t have been more wrong. The experience opened me up, and I have tremendous respect for these people who were called upon and who did their duty. The stories the Chinese told matched the Americans’ stories almost exactly. They were young kids, plucked out of their little worlds and dumped in the middle of nowhere for a giant football game, with the only audience the governments of the United States and China.”

Ultimately, the experience of making Hold at All Costs moved Palmedo-Smith so deeply that he was willing to stop documenting and become an advocate.

“There’s pressure to get the American army presence out of South Korea,” he explains. “Young people are squawking; they feel like they’re occupied. And when I was there, and I went to Itaewon – the American section of downtown Seoul – I saw why. The American soldiers would get cocky; they would get drunk and then get abusive with the locals. I would try to intervene and wind up almost getting in fights with both sides. It’s just been going on for so long.”

But, he says, “the older people in South Korea really respect what the Americans did. They can’t believe that all these American men came over and gave their lives; it’s just beyond their understanding. So now that we’ve reached the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, there’s this movement to remind the young of the sacrifices that the Americans made – because if the Americans were to leave, there’s a very real chance that North Korea, with China’s support, might attack. I’m trying, with the help of the government of South Korea, to be a friendly American face” – a goodwill ambassador, highlighting the positive aspects of America’s relationship with the country.

When we spoke, Palmedo-Smith was getting ready to head up to L.A. for an interview with Radio Korea. "It was never my intent, and it’s an extra responsibility, but I welcome it. I really have a mission to reach out to the Korean community.” He hears that his picture is starting to show up in Korean newspapers and is scheduled to appear on Korean television. “There’s going to be a talk show about the movie; we’re expecting seven stations to be there, all Korean market. And, of course, they want to show Hold at All Costs.

For now, they’ll have to wait. Palmedo-Smith and producer Bob Baker first chose to give the film to American Public Television, “which is an arm of PBS in Boston. We had offers to get the film opened in 350 theaters nationwide, but Bob agreed that it’s better to get the film to as vast an audience as possible. Each public television station can air the movie up to four times. Most of the major markets are airing it today. Other stations have chosen to air it on the Fourth of July or Veteran’s Day. Then, after a year, I’m suggesting that we offer it to the History Channel and whoever else wants it. Sixteen nations have inquired about using it for public broadcasting. Even China has reached out to us."

Finally, "We’re giving copies to schools. When I was in school, I think we read, literally, one paragraph on the Korean War. There were whole chapters on the Civil War and World War II but just a paragraph on Korea. We’re trying to rectify that.”

Photo courtesy of Glenn Palmedo-Smith.


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