Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The streaking fad of 1974 and student columns on earning money and Western influence from 1968

For my latest Korea Times article, "'Naked in the streets!' - Korea Times reports on streaking fad of 1974", I look at how the fad of streaking, or running naked in public, spread from US college campuses to the rest of the world, including Korea, in the spring of 1974 (and wonder if the fad had perhaps originated elsewhere). Not included in the article is this map of the first streaking incident which took place in Korea on March 13, 1974, by a Korean youth near Korea University. 

The map marks out the location of the first witness to see him (at 8:15 am) and the last witness (at 8:17 am), as well as possible escape routes he took. This is from an article published in the the Kyunghyang Sinmun a week after the first incident, which reported that around 100 plain clothed investigators had been mobilized to find the culprit over the previous week, with no luck. After the first incident took place, 15 investigators were dedicated to the case and hundreds of people were questioned, but with no lead other than the description of the streaker as having long hair, which likely prompted the crackdown on long hair that was announced that day (which made the Korea Times on March 17).

Needless to say, the authorities in Korea were not about to tolerate streaking, and only a handful of incidents were reported after the initial ones in mid-March.

I realize, what with the book coming out, that I never posted about my previous article, "Student opinions on earning money, happiness, Western influence in 1968", about the student columns that first appeared in the Korea Times in 1968. There were hundreds of these columns published over the years, so I imagine they will be the topic of a future article or two.

Here are a few examples of the full columns, from October 27, November 24, and December 29, 1968, respectively:

Friday, May 27, 2022

Called by Another Name

After more than two years of work, David Dolinger’s memoir of his experiences during the May 1980 Gwangju Uprising, which I co-wrote, has been published in English and Korean editions. David served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Korea beginning in 1978, witnessed the violent suppression of citizens protesting a military coup by the military in Gwangju in 1980, and later worked with activist missionaries and Korean dissidents in the democracy movement of the 1980s. David also wanted to highlight the life of Tim Warnberg, another PCV who lived in Gwangju but who died in 1993 before he could finish a PhD in Korean literature, so we interviewed or sought contributions from those who knew him, and also reprinted his 1987 article on the uprising, the first such academic article to be published. I'm glad I got the chance to help David tell his story, and it’s nice to finally have a hard copy of the book in hand. The English edition is available for sale at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, and Kyobo; the Korean edition is also available at Kyobo.

David was interviewed in English by the Korea Times and Asia Times, and for the former article a photo of David and I at the Royal Asiatic Society office was used, which then appeared on the cover of the May 18 edition in a banner promoting the article. 

Needless to say, it's all downhill from here!

David was also interviewed by various news outlets in Seoul and in Gwangju, where he attended the commemoration ceremony at the 5.18 National Cemetery (along with the new president) and was interviewed by Gwangju News and the Gwangju Foreign Language Network.

The Hankyoreh has published a number of translated stories recently:

The latter article describes how the late Rev. Charles Betts Huntley, a chaplain at Gwangju Christian Hospital, took photos of the uprising, along with photographer Kim Yeong-bok, and how those photos eventually were sent to the US (and then returned for the publication of photo books in the late 1980s - including those horrific 'portrait' photos of the dead in the morgue). I found it interesting that one of the people involved in the effort to get the photos out was the head of the hospital’s nursing department, Ahn Seong-rye, who is mentioned (as Ahn Sung-ryea) in this post. The following photo interested me since the caption in the article says it's a Peace Corps Volunteer giving blood.

However, there was only one woman in the Peace Corps who was active in Gwangju during the uprising, and David confirmed it wasn't her, so I suspected - thanks to the explanations given to me in the past by Martha Huntley - that it was seminary student Kathryn Dudley. I asked Martha and she replied:
Yes, that is Kathryn Dudley. She and David [Dudley] were Presbyterian seminary students who took a year off as mission volunteers - great young couple. Here she is giving blood at Kwangju Christian Hospital - all of us missionaries went over to give blood. They wouldn't take mine, however - they said my heart was pounding too hard. I said everyone's heart is pounding right now, but they still wouldn't take it. I think they took all the other missionaries'.
The final photo in the article features journalist Don Kirk. I'd seen the photo before but had no idea Rev. Huntley had taken it.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover this video - a May 26, 1980 CBS news report about the last day before ROK troops retook Gwangju. It features an interview with American Baptist missionary Arnold Peterson, and Martha and Betts Huntley, as well as their daughter Jennifer (who wrote this book about her experience), also appear. 

As I noted in this article, what led to this interview was this experience:

On May 25, after [Arnold] Peterson interpreted for reporters once again, he was interviewed by an ABC reporter but, conforming to the policy of the Foreign Mission Board, tried to stay as politically neutral as possible. Discussing his discomfort over this with John Underwood, Underwood argued that due to the atrocities that had been committed, “the issue was now more a question of right vs. wrong than it was a mere political issue.” After this conversation, he wrote, “I determined that if another opportunity arose, I would not be silent.”

As Arnold Peterson described it in his memoir 5.18: The Kwangju Incident [page 236], on May 26

A CBS news crew came to the Huntley house at about 9:30 a.m. and asked us to do an on-camera interview as a group. He consented. Inasmuch as I had been out and around the city more than had the others during the week, many of the questions were directed to me. As a group, those of us present affirmed that the root cause of the present disturbance was the misconduct of the military, not the students. We were asked about government charges that the activities in Kwangju had been instigated by communists or communist sympathizers. We denied that charge and affirmed that the instigators had been the soldiers. 

This CBS interview was an object lesson in the marvels of modern communications. The interview concluded about 10:00 a.m. on Monday, May 26 in Kwangju. The city was surrounded by Korean troops and appeared to be cut off from the rest of the world. It seemed to us a marvel that the news people had been able to get into the city even though all roads were blocked by the military. I later learned that portions of the interview were broadcast on the CBS Evening News in the USA at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, about 22 hours after the interview occurred. Apparently the tape was hand carried to Seoul and then to Tokyo where it went by satellite to the USA.

In the book Korea Witness, CBS News correspondent Bruce Dunning explained how the tapes got out of the country (Page 347): 

The Seoul office managed to submit several innocuous tapes to the censors each morning to be screened and sealed. Fortunately the seals were easily slipped off these tapes and attached to the tapes from Gwangju, thus evading the censors.

According to Martha Huntley, pictured below, in front of the Huntley's house (in which 22 people were hiding), are Sandy Marks (a missionary dentist - his wife Kitty may be standing behind the reporter),the interviewer (likely Peter Collins, though Bruce Dunning may have been in the city by this point), Martha and Betts Huntley with their daughter Jennifer, Jean and John Underwood, Kathryn and David Dudley, and Arnold Peterson (his wife Barbara, their boys, and Michael Huntley had left the city on May 22).

One set of stories I have not yet encountered, in regard to the foreigners in (or near) Gwangju in 1980, is that of the airmen at Gwangju Air Base, though a chance encounter on Facebook may change that. The importance of the air base (which was actually an ROK installation with an American presence), is hinted at in this article. Hopefully more information will turn up before long.

I should also note that a new translation of 죽음을 넘어 시대의 어둠을 넘어 (Beyond Death, Beyond the Darkness of the Age) has just been released. The original book, the first detailed history of 5.18, was published in 1985 with author Hwang Sok-yong's name on it in order to protect its actual authors, Lee Jae-eui and Jeong Yong-ho. It was translated into English by Kap Su Seol and Nick Mamatas and published as Kwangju Diary in 1999; a new edition of that book is available as a pdf here (clicking begins download). That translation removed Hwang from the list of authors since, as is made clear in this excerpt explaining how the original book was written, he only wrote an introduction and came up with the title. 

A substantially-expanded version of the book was published in Korean in 2017 with Hwang's name given top billing with the other, main authors, and it is this version of the book that has just been translated and published as Gwangju Uprising: The Rebellion for Democracy in South Korea.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Leading an RAS excursion to Jeong-dong this Saturday

This Saturday at 1pm I’ll be leading a Royal Asiatic Society excursion to Jeong-dong, the historic area behind Deoksu Palace, where missionary schools, churches, and Western Embassies can be found. There I’ll tell the stories of how Americans, Canadians, British, and others took part in Korea’s history between 1883 and 1945, a period of initial contact, wars, and resistance to Japanese imperialism. 

On this excursion we’ll visit sites such as the former National Assembly, the Anglican cathedral, the former Korean Supreme Court building, Baejae Hakdang, Jeong-dong First Methodist Church, Ewha Girl's High School, Jungmyeongjeon Hall, the Salvation Army building, and the remains of the former Russian Legation.  We will also observe various dilapidated or vanished buildings and paths that are currently being restored and discuss the preservation of the past in Jeong-dong.

For more information or to make a reservation, please look here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Samgakji in the 1920s (or so)

The Facebook page for Designersparty is well known for posting historical photos of Korea by the hundreds, though perhaps a better description would be that it is 'notorious for' doing so, since it does so without permission and most of the time does not list any information about the source or photographer. That said, occasionally, interesting photos pop up on my timeline, like one I saw today that is supposed to be Yongsan in 1927. 

I immediately noticed that the street it focused on was pointed at Inwangsan and also was blocked by the building in the foreground. A look at an online map instantly made clear that what we are seeing here is Samgakji intersection, back when it was clearly triangle-shaped (hence the 'samgak' in its name). I placed it side by side with a section of this 1946 US Army map of Seoul (which is, itself, based to a great degree on a 1939 Japanese map).

The arrow and red lines show the vantage point and parameters of the photo, the coloured streets are matched, and the red circle denotes the apparent location of that forested section on the right (note the topographical rise in the top right corner of the map). [Update - I'm wrong about where that hill - actually likely two hills - is; the closest, on the left, is actually 600 meters to the north, in Galwol-dong, just north of the northern boundary of Yongsan Garrison, while the other hill is further northeast and closer to Huam-dong (hat tip to Jon Dunbar).] 

The street in purple is today's Hangangdaero. On the map you can make out a stream flowing south and running parallel to this street, and in the photo you can just make out the banks of the stream and perhaps the train line. That is what is known today as Manchocheon, which today runs almost entirely underground; the best exploration of that stream and its history is Jon Dunbar's Transactions article "Exploring Manchocheon, Seoul’s Underground River," which can be downloaded here (scroll down to Volume 93, the second-last volume).

What's interesting is that there doesn't seem to be any development beyond that what is now Camp Kim (army warehouses) on the left of the street, and, on the right, beyond the tributary of Manchocheon that runs through Yongsan Garrison and under Gyeongnidan today. Also interesting are the tree-covered hills on the right, which today are covered in buildings.

At any rate, the photo speaks to a time when Yongsan and central Seoul were apparently separate from each other, even though Yongsan had been incorporated into the city by that point.


Here is an updated version of the map, using the 1927 map I found here. It would seem that the forested area in the blue circle is the spur of Namsan that can still be seen today, where the Chosen Shinto Shrine was built. Considering the lack of buildings in the distance in the photo, compared to the urbanized areas seen in the 1927 map, this photo must be from either the early 1920s or the 1910s.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Yangcheon Hyanggyo and Gaehwasan excursion next Saturday

I’ll be leading an excursion next Saturday, April 16 for the Royal Asiatic Society to the Gungsan area, where we will visit Yangcheon Confucian Shrine, Gyeomjae Jeong Seon Museum, and the Gungsan Tunnel History Exhibition Hall. We will then visit Gaehwasan (near Gimpo Airport), a low mountain covered with temples, tombs, a Korean War memorial, and spring flowers; it also overlooks Haengju fortress, site of Imjin War and Korean War battles. 

For more information about the tour, see here (though I'll note that the mountain part of the walk will be only about a 2 km-hike now).

This past weekend I headed over to the area to make sure everything was open and accessible and took a few photos:

Yangcheon Hyanggyo, or Confucian shrine and school, first built in 1410 and the only remaining part of the government complex that was here when Yangcheon was its own prefecture during the Joseon era.

Painting of part of the Yangcheon magistrate's complex by painter Jeong Seon, who served as magistrate from 1740-45 and has a museum dedicated to him, Gyeomjae Jeong Seon Museum, nearby.

Mitasa Temple, with its large Buddha statue dating from the late Goryeo period.

Scenic view of an azalea-covered cliff on Gaehwasan.

More azaleas.

I lived next to Gaehwasan for 11 years but this was only the second time I'd seen a chipmunk there, pointed out to me by a man who was throwing rice grains in its direction (and then getting annoyed when a bulbul landed and started gobbling them up).

I suspected this was a Eurasian Jay (어치), though I wasn't sure until I was able to zoom in on this photo at home. I'd seen them near my house in central Seoul, but it was the first time I'd heard one, and they make the oddest sound.

Yaksasa, which likely dates back to the late Goryeo or early Joseon era, judging by its pagoda and a statue.

More azaleas. 

One of the many tombs of the Pungsan Shim family, whose members helped overthrow Yonsan-gun and, generations later, organize righteous armies during the Imjin War.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Korea: Location of a long-lost Greek colony...

What happens when an American electrical engineer – almost certainly of Russian ancestry – works in Korea between 1947 and 1948 as part of the postwar US military occupation and hears Koreans saying, “네, 네” and thinks, “Hey, that sounds like the Greeks I heard saying ‘ne, ne,’ which also means ‘yes’”?

Well, you get Wladimir W. Mitkewich’s completely wrong-headed 1956 book “Koreans Are White,” which attempts to prove that Korea is a long-lost Greek colony. 

I first learned of this book in the essay “Incredibly Strange Books About Korea Written By Honkies,” which appeared in Scott Burgeson’s book ‘Korea Bug’ (2005; also originally in his zine, Bug 5, 2001). I stumbled upon it in the stacks of University of Washington Library and scanned it. It’s only 44 pages long, with 30 pages of text, so it’s a quick, unintentionally-amusing (if not exactly mentally nourishing) read.

The book can be read or downloaded here.

[Update: And then Robert Neff reminds me of Scottish writer N. McLeod's "Korea and the Ten Lost Tribes" [of Israel] - another book Scott reviewed in his "Incredibly Strange Books" essay.]

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Lifting South Korea's curfew in 1982

For my latest Korea Times article, I look at the lifting of Korea's nationwide curfew in January 1982 (something I previously looked at here). The lifting of curfew and regulations regarding school uniforms for middle and high school students were heralded by the Korea Times as being a part of the winds of 'liberalization' under President Chun (to make up for the utter lack of political liberalization), while foreign news articles noted that the lifting of curfew was also aimed at a foreign audience, especially considering that Seoul had just been awarded the 1988 Olympics weeks earlier.

Just for fun, here are some colour photos of the first curfewless night from the January 17, 1982 issue of Sunday Seoul

Friday, January 14, 2022

Leaving and returning to Korea during COVID

I thought I would write out my experience of leaving and re-entering Korea over the past two months, as it might be helpful to people since information is often spotty and unreliable. 

Caveats: Some of this information may no longer apply: I applied for a re-entry visa in late November 2021; got a PCR test to leave Korea December 19, 2021, and re-entered Korea on January 9, 2022.

Getting a re-entry visa:

When I applied for a re-entry visa, the application form actually included an incorrect (outdated) document (“재입국 전 진단 및 진단서 제출 동의서 (CONSENT FOR MEDICAL EXAMINATION AND SUBMISSION OF DIAGNOSIS BEFORE RE-ENTRY)”). This may have since been corrected.

It should be easy enough to find the re-entry permit application on the main page of the hikorea site. You can apply online anytime up to 4 days before you leave. 

You’ll need documents from here; scroll down to “재입국 허가 관련” section near the bottom. There are three documents. You likely shouldn’t need the first translation document if your PCR test (before you return to Korea) is in English. You will need to submit the other two documents as part of your application. You need to print them out, sign them, scan them, and attach them: 

번역확인서 Certificate of Translation 
재입국허가 신청 사유서 Application For Reentry Permit 

Paying, of course, was frustrating, and took me several tries and about 30 minutes. This advice should make things go faster. You click on your bank to pay by card. I had no app for my bank on my computer, but it gives you the option of paying without an app. I then used the option to verify with my Kakao account – not Kakao Pay; you simply sign into Kakao, it sends a message to your Kakao account on your phone, you click it, and are good to go. As always, there are repeated calls for the same information, but eventually the process worked. 

You will eventually receive approval for your re-entry visa by email. 

Getting a PCR test before leaving Korea: 

I’m not sure how many places do pre-flight PCR tests; I went to the National Health Center near Dongdaemun Design Plaza (and ran into a friend who lives in northwestern Jongno-gu, which suggests these test centers are few and far between). 

At the National Health Center, the testing center is behind the main building, not far from the funeral home. It is open for registration at 8:30 am, and testing starts at 9 am. There is a limited number of tests they do daily, so you should show up as early as possible. 

You need to bring your passport, and it cost me about 142,000 won. After registering, I left my credit card (and maybe passport) at the payment window, waited in a heated tent for the testing to start, then lined up and got the test, then picked up my card and receipt from the payment window. They text message you the next day (about 24 hours after your test) and tell you the test certificate is ready, and you return and pick it up on the first floor of the main hospital building. 

Update: a friend on Facebook adds, "PCR with results in English: I was happy to find that the ENT clinic just by my office does them. I'm sure many others do too. It was KRW110,000 with the result coming the next morning."

Returning to Korea:

You know, I’d figured Canada’s quarantine and testing procedures at Pearson Airport in Toronto would be a hassle, especially arriving just before Christmas with Omicron starting to blow up, but I was wrong. It was all very efficient, and the one omission of information (that I should call a certain number within two days) was solved when I got an automated call from the health authorities instead. 

Returning to Korea, on the other hand… 

Getting the PCR test in Canada to return was easy enough, though as of today Korea has reduced the timing of the test from 72 hours before departure to 48 hours before departure (still a PCR test; effective January 20). 
Arriving at Incheon Airport:

Upon arrival at the airport, I needed to submit a customs form, a yellow health form, and a white health form. The latter was not given to us on the plane, so people were scrambling to fill it out on a few small tables. The tables are located at the first hurdle, where an officer makes sure you have the white and yellow forms, your proof of vaccination, printed PCR test, and passport ready. 

Then you move a bit further and line up for the next hurdle, where your documents are looked at and your health forms and PCR test paper collected, and you are given a sheet explaining quarantine procedures.* 
Note that the white health form and other signs had QR codes for the quarantine app or indicated that you needed to have the app installed when you reached the above hurdle. This is not true; the app isn’t needed at the airport at all (at least in my case). 
Next you move to immigration, or “immigration part 1”. Your documents are looked at, you sign a form or two, receive some documents (like ‘Notice of Quarantine’ and ‘Restriction order on the scope of activities’) and the officer puts stickers on your passport reading ‘PCR 제출자’ and ‘국내 예방접종완료자’ (‘submitted PCR test’ and ‘fully vaccinated in Korea’). [I don't know what happens to people vaccinated outside Korea.]

Then you back out of the immigration booth and walk over to another set of immigration booths for “immigration part 2,” in which your passport and Alien Registration Card are examined and your fingerprints and photo are taken, as usual, and you’re sent through to get your luggage. 

Upon leaving customs after turning in your customs form, someone will look at your passport. With the two stickers on my passport, I was allowed to leave the airport.

The sheet explaining quarantine procedures* mentioned above stated that we were not to take public transportation home. To make a long story short, with those two stickers on my passport, I was able to take the subway or a bus (though airport bus service to the closest location to my house was not operating). At the AREX gates, a worker examined my passport, saw the stickers, and waved me through. However, as it was reported today, this will change as of January 20, and presumably arrivals will have to take either special taxis or buses (special KTX trains were also described on signs at the airport):
The health authorities decided to ban all entrants' use of ordinary public transportation upon arrival and tighten rules on the proof of negative COVID-19 test results to stem the inflow of the virus. The measures will go into effect on Jan. 20.
Hopefully the airport will make these things much clearer when the rules change.

Dealing the the app:

The incorrect information about public transportation was not the only such mistake. The QR codes on the white health form for the quarantine app took me to a broken Google Play Store link or, after downloading an “App store” installer, opened a Kakao map (?). I searched on Google Play for the app, found one alternately titled “Quarantine” or "Self Check", entered my information, and submitted a self health check. Good to go! But I wasn’t. This app is not the right one, and I don't understand why it's still on Google Play:

Needless to say, there is no point in installing the app until you talk to the case officer assigned to you. They will give you their code, which you need to enter as the last step before it is fully installed and ready to go. For Android users, the app you need to install is, on Google Play, the 자가격리자 안전보호 앱. 

The English name is "Self-quarantine Safety Protection," but searching for that (or anything else like "Korea quarantine app") turns up the wrong app as the first result.

[I'll spare the details, but needless to say, my inability to access the correct app led to great frustration for me and my case officer, someone so obtuse that the person he tasked with translating for me all but yelled at him in exasperation...]

The correct app has several language options when you begin installation. At one point it gives two options, one being something like ‘resident in Korea’ and ‘overseas…’ something. You want the ‘resident’ one, as it is the only one which gives the option to enter the case officer’s code (which is the final registration step). 

As per the instructions on the information sheet I was given, I called my local health center the next morning after I arrived and told them I was quarantining. (Since I’ve had to quarantine before, I was already in their system.) I was told to get tested ASAP. 

It is entirely possible that you don’t actually need to call – I’m sure my information was sent from the airport to the local health office and a case officer assigned. He eventually called me, gave me the code, and gave me instructions. When I got my negative result the next day, I forwarded the text message to my case officer’s cell phone. 

Eventually someone from the health office will visit you and give you a document with the exact time of your release from quarantine and a request to visit the health center the day before my release. I also received masks, a big spray bottle of disinfectant, regular and bio-hazard garbage bags and other things not really applicable to someone living alone – these things are really meant for people living with others. No instructions were given regarding the use of these things.

The app sucks your phone battery due to its location tracking function, and it alerts you if you have not used your phone for two hours. 

(I’ve gotten 13 notifications now that I’m outside of my quarantine place, despite never leaving, leading once to a call from my case officer – moving my phone further away from the wall seems to have stopped this.) (Or not, I just got my 14th notification a moment ago when I checked my phone.)

It also says that motion tracking is only in effect from 8am to 9pm, though this means you only get warnings that you haven’t used your phone during that time period. As well, it’s not really true – I was woken one morning at 7:40 by a ‘you are outside of quarantine place’ warning. 

You are expected to enter a self-health check on the app at least two times a day. At 4:30 every afternoon I get an automated call asking me yes or no questions about my health. (You are asked to confirm your name and then asked if you have a fever, cough, or sore throat, and then you are told to wash your hands and “wear a mask in public.” Because Quarantine offers so many chances to go out in public.)

I'm currently halfway through my quarantine period, and will update here if there are any new surprises.

Update: A friend on Facebook adds, "Changing quarantine place: arriving expats are supposed to quarantine at home but then there's a risk of infecting other family members. We put our son in an AirBnB and brought him home 2 days later after the result of the first PCR. This worked fine. I informed the Jongno Health Center when we moved him and they changed the address on their records. To play safe, I went there in person to tell them. The people there were really nice (I'd been there before to find out if it was possible, so they kind of knew me by then)."

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Christmas amid growing authoritarianism and economic shocks in the early 1970s

For my latest Korea Times article, I look at the evolution of Christmas celebrations in Seoul in the early 1970s, as the raucous celebrations on curfew-free Christmas Eves of the 1960s gradually gave way to more sedate celebrations - helped along by the authoritarianism that accompanied the advent of the dictatorial Yushin constitution, and by the austerity caused by the first oil shock. A part of this process was the world's deadliest hotel fire, which occurred in Seoul on Christmas Day 1971. Luckily, James Wade provided a bit of Christmas cheer (or humor, at least) to liven up the proceedings.

My two previous articles about Christmas in the 1960s can be found here:

Christmas in the early 1960s: A time of charity, Christmas cards, drunken merrymaking

Solemnity vs revelry on Christmas Eve in the 1960s

And here are a few colour photos from the 주간여성 (Weekly Woman) from December 15, 1974 (top) and December 28, 1975 (bottom two):

A department store Christmas display.

Competition for calendar customers was fierce at this time.

Myeong-dong street scene.

Monday, December 20, 2021

OED misdates first appearances of 'Konglish' and 'Fighting!'

Back In September a post was written at the Oxford English Dictionary's website titled "The OED gets a K-update," one which gives some history of the word 'Korea' in the English language and lists the 26 words of Korean origin newly-added to the OED.

One word is "Konglish, n. and adj.", which as the OED dates as a noun to 1970 and as an adjective to 1975. Another word is "fighting, int.", which the OED dates to the 2000s. As the dates in this article I wrote awhile back reveal, these dates are incorrect. "Konglish" may have first appeared in English in 1967, but in Korean its likely first appearance in was in two articles in the Kyonghyang Shinmun in July 1962 (here and here, where it is cutely defined as "코리언(韓語)과 잉글리쉬(英語)의 비빔밥이란 말이죠" - "a bibimbap of Korean and English"). 

As for the first appearance of "fighting," it predates the OED's guess by at least 30 years (and perhaps quite a bit longer, if we look at these results). The first mention in English of 'fighting' that I found was in this October 21, 1975 Korea Times article, and recently I found this article in the February 27, 1972 issue of 주간여성 (Weekly Woman), about a young woman aiming to be a pilot:

Note in the top left corner, "Paiting! agassi", or "Fighting! young woman."

And just for fun, the cover.

I would tend to think the operative 'first appearance' of the words in these cases should be the versions in Hangeul, since they are English-derived words (or combinations of words) to begin with.

(And yes, I did suggest these edits to the OED shortly after these new additions were made public; perhaps corrections will be made at some point.)

Thursday, December 09, 2021

When critics of American foreign policy write Koreans out of their own history

(And other grumbling about factual errors, limited perspectives, and received wisdom)

I've come across a few books and articles about the negative influence of the US on Korea over the past few years that I started to write about but never got around to finishing; now that my book project is finished, I finally have.

My attention was turned a few weeks ago to an article at Salon by Marie Myung-Ok Lee titled "The 'Squid Game' critique is also a love letter to a unified Korea," and which has the subtitle "What the west doesn't understand about Netflix's hit show is that much of it is a critique of the US influence." The central argument is that "if there is a villain, it's seated in the root wound of the Korean people: the partitioning of the peninsula by the U.S." Perhaps "the root wound of the Korean people" appears to be "the partitioning of the peninsula by the U.S." from a progressive vantage point in the US, but the view from South Korea (in textbooks, media, and popular culture) would suggest that root is popularly perceived to be the colonization of Korea by Japan.

The article makes interesting points about the fratricidal conflict between brothers and Sae-byeok's pure Korean name, and makes the assertion that the banjiha (half-basement) rooms in buildings built in the 1970s were only meant to be bunkers (something I rather doubt, since Seoul's population increased steadily by 8 million between 1960 and 1990 – an average of 730 per day (!) – and there was a dire need for housing throughout that time). Those few interesting points, however, are unfortunately marred by either a shallow or biased understanding of the history involved, of a sort that I've seen on many occasions.

From the viewpoint of a non-American, it's fascinating to see how, whether on the left or right, some Americans demand that their country be placed at the center of so many historical narratives; the irony when it comes from those on the left is that, in the name of decrying the loss of Korean political agency at the hands of US imperialism, they create narratives which themselves deny Koreans any historical agency. I find it hard to imagine an assertion more offensive to North Koreans than the statement that their country "was originally created by the U.S. itself"– as if Koreans north of the line (and the Soviets) had no role to play in the formation of the North Korean state. (I would also imagine that making such a statement during a visit to North Korea would either indefinitely extend or abruptly end your stay.)

Minimizing the involvement of the USSR in such 'America first' arguments about the division of Korea and the Korean war is par for the course, but even here I was surprised by the statement that the location of the line that divided the peninsula was influenced by a desire to "appease the Soviets, who were threatening to invade, anyway." The plan since the Yalta Conference in early 1945 had been for the USSR to invade Manchuria and Korea in August 1945, and Soviet troops were on the verge of invading northern Korea at the time Rusk and Bonesteel were drawing lines on maps on the night of August 9, 1945. As well, at the Potsdam Conference two weeks earlier, the Soviets had asked the US if they could coordinate an attack on Korea from the south. The US declined, but they divided the sea around and air above Korea into zones of US and USSR operations. (See here.)

As for the assertion that "the Korean people play[ed] no part in the decision" to divide the peninsula, this is correct, but the division decision was influenced by Syngman Rhee, as David P. Fields' book Foreign Friends: Syngman Rhee, American Exceptionalism, and the Division of Korea, makes clear (I summarized it here, but it's well worth listening to his lecture here). Rhee, of course, never wanted division, but successfully mobilized prominent American politicians who pushed for the US government to take action to stop Korea from being handed over to the Soviets. Dean Rusk himself noted that Korea was divided for "symbolic purposes," not strategic ones. The decision was also a State Department one, not a military one.

As for "the giddy days following Japan's" defeat which "lasted however many months before both U.S. and Russian military forced their way onto the peninsula," it should be noted that only the Soviets "forced their way" into Korea (against the Japanese), and that they were present before the fighting stopped on August 15. The Americans arrived 3-4 weeks after liberation, and the claim that they "forced their way" are belied by all of those photos of crowds cheering their arrival.

The mind also boggles at the description of Sae-byeok as being like "an urchin wandering the streets not unlike the scores of orphans crying in the gutters of Seoul after their families were killed in American bombings during the Korean war." I'm at a loss to understand how that association was made, though the fact that the orphans' families are assumed to have died due to US bombing and not due to political executions by the North (or South) Koreans or artillery fire from the Chinese - three belligerents mysteriously absent from this only mention of the events of the war - likely speaks for itself.

Regarding "Again, not thinking of Koreans, U.S. military left behind not peace but a shaky, hastily created ceasefire agreement," I'm not sure how two years of negotiations can be described as 'hasty.' It was in fact the fault of Stalin that the war was prolonged by two years because he wanted to keep the US bogged down in Asia while he rearmed eastern Europe, and used the issue of anti-communist KPA POWs (ie. those forced into the KPA) who did not want to return to North Korea as the means to extend the negotiations. 

As for the claim that the American-brokered ceasefire left "the South Korean president so frustrated that he wasn't even invited to the signing for fear he wouldn't sign the document," this is astonishingly incorrect. There was no fear Rhee wouldn't sign the armistice because it was well known to the US that he did not want to end the war without achieving unification, and that if it had to end, he wanted a mutual defense treaty signed before the armistice. (See here for more.) When he got neither, he ordered the release of the anti-communist POWs from POW camps on June 18, 1953, the day North Korea, China, and the UN planned to sign the armistice, disrupting the ceremony. Once again, this rendering of Rhee as a mere victim of unilateral US actions removes all agency from Syngman Rhee, and also ignores the fact that the North Koreans were also marginalized in the armistice negotiations by their Soviet and Chinese allies.

Ultimately, I think that any benefit derived from viewing Squid Game in the light of this analysis is offset by the one-sided, distorted view of history it depends on. (For more interesting takes on Squid Game, I would recommend this or this.)

That said, it is far more informed than Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom by Stephen Gowans. According to this book review,

Stephen Gowans is not a writer to mince words or to defer to mainstream distortions. He makes no concessions to the standard self-serving Western narrative, and this is one of the reasons his work is so consistently refreshing. Gowans is also noted for his careful research and masterly knack for deploying information in support of logical analysis.

For an example of his 'careful research,' feel free to read this page of end notes:

So, 26 of 32 citations on that page refer to a single source. Needless to say, if I want to read Bruce Cumings, I'll read one of his books rather than an inferior knock-off. The book is summarized by its author as follows:

Korea has long struggled for freedom, from Japanese control in the first half of the twentieth century, and subsequently from US domination from 1945 to today. This is the story of the patriots who have fought for independence and of the empire-builders and traitors who have opposed them. [Pg. 15]

He also describes the Korean war as one fought by "an army of traitors vs. an army of patriots," as he describes the ROK and DPRK, respectively. On the bright side, I did appreciate being told right at the book's beginning that were would be no nuance or objectivity in the pages ahead. Thus, I did not read the entire book, but I did wonder what the pages about the Gwangju Uprising looked like (pgs 150-151). (The citations (rendered as '[65]') match the page of end notes posted above.)

Park’s presidency was quickly followed by a December 12, 1979 military coup d’état, carried out by General Chun Doo Hwan, commander of the ROK army’s Ninth Division. Chun, at the time, was under the command of US General John A. Wickham, Jr., head of the US-ROK Combined Forces Command.[63] A veteran of military intelligence, Chun, in power, expanded the intelligence function as a force of internal repression. The paramilitary riot police force was expanded, until it numbered around 150,000 by the mid-1980s.[64] Wickham approved a role for the ROK military in politics. The army would vet political candidates. At the same time, it would supervise all political activity, preventing challenges to the state.[65]

To clarify: Chun was never commander of the ninth division. At the time of Park Chung-hee's assassination he was the head of Defense Security Command, which - to correct the second sentence - was not under Combined Forces Command Operational Control (CFC OPCON). And, far from "approv[ing] a role for the ROK military in politics," after Chun's 12.12 coup, Wickham spent months all but lecturing his ROK counterparts on the need for the ROK military to focus on its job and stay out of politics. 

In the spring of 1980, students took to the streets of Gwangju to protest Chun’s dictatorship. Wickham approved the deployment of two ROK special forces brigades to quell the disturbance and enforce martial law. On May 18, elite paratroopers landed in the city and began to indiscriminately murder demonstrators, including women and children.[66] Outraged, the citizens of Gwangju fought back. Hundreds of thousands of local people drove the soldiers out of the city. It’s estimated that as many as 1,500 people died in the fighting. In the aftermath, a citizens’ council was established. Resembling the Paris Commune, the revolutionary people’s government that ruled Paris in the spring of 1871, the council governed Gwangju for the next five days.[67]
When student protests initially took place in Gwangju (and Seoul and elsewhere) in the spring of 1980, Chun was not yet in power; the author seems to not understand the chronology at all. The ROK's special forces were never under CFC OPCON, and Wickham wasn't even in the country on May 18. The paratroopers were most certainly utterly brutal on May 18, but describing them as "indiscriminately murder[ing] demonstrators, including women and children" on that day is hyperbole. And the 'citizens' council' was initially more conservative and gradually replaced by a competing student-led council, which itself had factions, among which the 'fight to the end' faction eventually prevailed. (The fact that he brings up a comparison to the Paris Commune but does not cite George Katsiaficas is another problem, as is the near absence of Tim Shorrock from the end notes.)
As the citizens of Gwangju were driving the US-commanded South Korean army out of the city, the US National Security Council was meeting at the White House to plan a response. US President Jimmy Carter, along with Zbigniew Brzezinski, his national security adviser, and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, decided to approve a military intervention.[68] Wickham ordered the ROK army’s Twentieth Division to deploy to Gwangju to crush the rebellion, a mission it successfully carried out a few days later. But Washington took no chances. To guarantee the success of the mission, the arrival of troops in Gwangju was delayed by three days to allow a US naval armada led by the aircraft carrier Midway to reach Korean waters, should reinforcements be required.69
Again, the ROK forces in Gwangju were not US-commanded, nor were they under CFC OPCON when the uprising began. The meeting at the White House was a Periodic Review Committee (PRC) meeting intended to discuss events in the ROK that was planned over a week in advance; it was not convened in response to events in Gwangju, nor was Jimmy Carter present, as is implied above. Chun's military group had always planned to end things with force (if negotiation didn't work), and though the PRC did condone the use of "the minimum use of force necessary" if negotiations failed, it also "advised them to use moderation" (see here; scroll down). In regard to the final sentence, the US urged the ROK to wait at least two days hoping that it would allow time to reach a negotiated settlement, not because they wanted to use American reinforcements aboard the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea (not Midway) during the recapture of Gwangju; the aircraft carrier was sent to intimidate North Korea into not taking advantage of the situation. As for the idea that "Wickham ordered the ROK army’s Twentieth Division to deploy to Gwangju to crush the rebellion," that was hardly possible because the Twentieth Division had been removed from CFC OPCON on May 16. It is also worth noting that all troops used in the retaking of Gwangju on May 27 were already on the city's outskirts by May 21; the May 22 White House meeting had no effect on troop movements. All of what is written in the paragraph quoted above suggests the US was wholeheartedly supporting Chun, when at that meeting Brzezinski stated the need to make clear to Chun's military group "the dangers of imposing a military dictatorship on a population as sophisticated as South Korea."  

To put it as gently as the paragraphs quoted above deserve, this is utter garbage written by someone who has no real understanding or knowledge of what happened. It amazes me someone could be arrogant enough to write a book on a topic they know nothing about. And, once again, this is entirely focused on the US and depicts Koreans as being without agency and simply acted upon by outside forces. 

Of course, a glance at his primary (in this case, meaning 'main,' and certainly not 'first-hand') source, Bruce Cumings' Korea's Place in the Sun (1997), makes clear where some of the errors came from. A quick look at the Kwangju Uprising-related history in Cumings' book reveals a number of mistakes. For example, “In late April [1980], however, miners took over a small town near the east coast, and Chun Doo Hwan used this as a pretext to make himself head of the KCIA.” This is incorrect. The Sabuk incident took place between April 21 and 24, 1980. Chun was appointed acting head of the KCIA on April 14, a week earlier. 

Cumings also wrote that prior to this “General John Wickham, had given his blessing to the Korean military’s role in politics—which included 'being watchdogs on political activity that could be de-stabilizing, and in a way making judgements about the eligibility and reliability of political candidates.'" While I could be wrong, I have doubts that Wickham was giving his blessing to this behavior, considering the way in which James Young (in Eye on Korea) described Wickham’s efforts to steer Korean officers away from political matters; it seems more likely he was merely commenting on these tendencies among Korean military leaders. Let's move on to Cumings' description of the Kwangu Uprising:
On May 18 about 500 people took to Kwangju’s streets, demanding the repeal of martial law. Elite paratroopers, widely thought to have been on drugs, landed in the city and began the indiscriminate murder of students, women, children—anyone who got in their way. One woman student was pilloried near the town square, where a paratrooper attacked her breasts with his bayonet. Other students had their faces erased with flamethrowers. By May 21 hundreds of thousands of local people had driven the soldiers from the city, which citizen’s councils controlled for the next five days. These councils determined that 500 people had already died and that some 960 were missing. The citizens’ councils appealed to the U.S. embassy to intervene, but it was left to General Wickham to release the Twentieth Division of the ROK Army from its duties along the DMZ on May 22. A 1988 ROK National Assembly report alleged that the suppression forces waited for three days to enter Kwangju, until the U.S. aircraft carrier Midway and other American naval ships could arrive in Korean waters. 
As mentioned above, “indiscriminate murder” did not occur on May 18, and limiting his description of the violence to outlier incidents like attacking a woman’s breasts with a bayonet and the use of flamethrowers – when most injuries and deaths were inflicted through beatings and shootings – makes clear the author's desire to hew toward the most sensationalist narrative possible regarding the events of May 1980. As well, citing sources written soon after the uprising is a sure way to argue for a very-high body count. To elaborate further on the 20th Division, two of its brigades had been withdrawn from CFC OPCON at the time of Park Chung-hee’s assassination, while another brigade was withdrawn May 16 (when Wickham was out of the country). The 20th Division had not been on duty at the DMZ at all, but were in the Seoul area, and they moved to Kwangju on the night of May 20 and May 21, not May 22. It’s clear that Gower’s error in naming the US aircraft carrier derives from Cumings’ mistake.

Cumings went on to write that on the morning of May 27, “the soldiers came in shooting, killing scores more people who had refused to put down weapons they had seized from local armories. These units were disciplined, however, and quickly secured the city.” While elements of the 20th Division were used in retaking the city, the units that attacked central Kwangju, including the provincial capital, were in fact the same special forces units whose indiscriminate violence had helped spark the uprising in the first place. By the time Korea's Place in the Sun was republished in an updated version in 2005, at least ten books had been published in English about 5.18, but, because a choice was made to update the book rather than revise it, no new information is included, so the book's description of what happened in Kwangju is rather lacking. (I should note that I'm only analyzing these few paragraphs of Korea's Place in the Sun as part of critiquing Gowan's book, but it should be clear that mistakes or sensationalist writing by someone as prominent as Cumings can ripple out and affect writing and interpretation throughout academia and the media.)

Another article I was pointed to the other day was K.J. Noh's "South Korean Dictator Dies, Western Media Resurrects a Myth," an article that helpfully made it clear within the first few paragraphs what the reader is in for. We're quickly told that after Chun's death:
Many western media outlets have written censorious, chest-beating accounts of his despotic governance and the massacres he perpetrated - something they rarely bothered to do when he was actively perpetrating them in broad daylight before their eyes.
This is utterly incorrect. The US media covered 5.18 (there's an entire book of journalists' memories) and Chun’s human rights abuses extensively and critically. (Don Kirk, for example, wrote an article titled "The dissident Korean minister who never came home" about Rev. Im Ki-yoon, who was taken by police for interrogation in Busan in July 1980 and died two days later - and this article was published on the day Chun became president.)

We're also told that "only after death, decades later, do 'human rights violations' in South Korea burst out of radio silence and become newsworthy." See above. Again, human rights violations were not only commented on by the US media, but also by the Carter administration, which ultimately convinced Park to free political prisoners in exchange for Carter’s 1979 visit to Korea.

We're then told that "Chun’s predecessor and patron, the aging South Korean dictator Park Chung Hee, had ruled the country as an absolute totalitarian despot for 18 years," though I could have sworn there were elections in 1963, 1967, and 1971. Yes, they weren’t particularly fair elections, considering the resources the DRP and Park had marshaled for the campaigns, and Park should not have run in 1971, but Park was at times constrained in his actions by the opposition / public opinion – and therefore hardly an "absolute totalitarian despot" from 1963-1972.

I couldn't read of Park Chung-hee's "American puppet masters" without remembering when the US announced in 1970 it was going to pull 20,000 troops out of the ROK and Park was visited by US Vice-President Agnew ‘for an hour’ and Park harangued him for 4 (or 6 – accounts differ) hours, not letting him eat or go to the bathroom, as he tried to stop the troop withdrawal. Park and the US tolerated each other at best, and Park all-but-openly criticized American 'interference in Korean internal affairs' (such as criticizing the human rights situation or lack of press freedom). Though, to support the 'puppet' label, he only held elections in 1963 under US pressure to do so.

And that’s just the first four paragraphs. I think that there's an argument to be made that America's alliance with the ROK and the command structure enveloping USFK and ROK troops implicates the US to some degree in the actions of the ROK's rulers, but this kind of error-ridden screed is hardly the way to do it.

(Here’s an example of the US media commenting on the advent of the Yushin dictatorship in South Korea, from the Kansas City Star, October 26, 1972 (the eagle-eyed will note the ironic date).)

(The two gravestones read "Americans who died for 'freedom' in S. Korea" and "Representative Government in S. Korea.")

Another article of note criticizing the American military presence in Korea is Tim Shorrock's "Welcome to the Monkey House: Confronting the ugly legacy of military prostitution in South Korea," from 2019. This article is a far cry from the articles and book examined above in that the subjectivity of Koreans (i.e. seeing the events from Koreans' points of view) is extensively presented as it delves into the role of both the US and ROK governments in regimenting sex work around around US bases and details the atrocious treatment of sex workers with STIs. 

As well, unlike what is criticized above, this article is not plagued by historical errors; there is just one exception: it wrongly says of convicted murderer Kenneth Markle that he "became the first American turned over to South Korea for a criminal trial; in 1993, he was convicted and sentenced to life." This suggests that during the first 25 years of the SOFA agreement, the Korean government did not punish American soldiers who committed crimes in Korea, but this is simply not true; Billy Cox, who was indicted by Korean prosecutors for arson and assault on March 29, 1967, six weeks after SOFA came into effect, was the first GI to be prosecuted, and many, many more followed (more on that here).

I will, however, quibble with the inclusion in an article about militarized prostitution of the story of the traffic accident involving USFK vehicles and middle school girls in 2002. As well, I find it hard to laud the actions of the National Campaign for the Eradication of Crimes by U.S. Troops in Korea, whose greatest victory came after kindling outrage over the traffic accident in 2002, which they accomplished in part by placing large posters of the girls' mangled bodies, brains spilling out of their heads, in many subway stations. Since I saw these in person, the utter lack of respect for the girls, their families, or the passersby who saw the posters is something I remember quite well. The same can be said for their treatment of murdered sex worker Yun Geum-i in 1992 and the photo of her body – not for nothing did Kim-Yun Eun-mi write in the feminist magazine Ilda that "the effect aroused by Yun Geum-i's photo and internet porn with a rape motif have something in common. They both aim to arouse an intense impression of violence inflicted upon women's bodies." Former sex worker and activist Kim Yeon-ja didn't mince words about the campaign surrounding Yun Geum-i's murder: "There were dozens of girls who died before Yoon Geum-yi died. But no one ever tried to help us when we called for help," she said. "I felt that Yoon Geum-yi was just used as a tool for anti-American protests."

My main reason for bringing up this article, however, is that readers are promised a report on the legacy of military prostitution in Korea, but we learn nothing about sex work associated with the far-more-numerous ROK military. According to ROK government statistics, there were almost one million sex workers in the late 1970s, but only 40,000 GIs. Even if there were one sex worker per GI (there weren't), 40,000 is only 1/25 of a million, so most sex workers had nothing to do with the US gijichon system. I'd be curious to know how the treatment of the women who did not service GIs compared to those who did. How were brothel workers treated as compared to “gisaeng” who serviced the over 600,000 Japanese tourists per year in the late 1970s? How did this compare to sex workers around ROK military bases? Did the same onerous loan and fee systems that trapped them in place exist? Was it only sex workers around US bases who were confined if they tested positive for an STI? Was the system put in place around US bases more oppressive than for other forms of sex work, or was it not? How did the agency of these women differ according to various types of sex work? Did policies developed by both governments around US bases influence policies in other areas of the ROK? Did they reflect already-existing ROK policies? Were they a mixture of both? 

To be fair, the kind of wide-ranging research and comparative approach needed to answer the above questions would be difficult to summarize in a single article, and would more suit a book, so it's not surprising we don't see it here. At the same time, I strongly doubt that such questions are of much interest to the authors, whether Korean or American, of such articles focusing on US camp town prostitution (or the article and book mentioned above), since their main goal is to criticize American foreign policy and the actions of the US military abroad or to portray the victimization of Koreans at the hands of the US. 

In this post I mentioned an exception to this: Hyun Sook Kim's chapter (in Dangerous Women: Gender and Korean Nationalism) "Yanggongju as an allegory of the nation," in which she criticized the relegation of Korean women involved in militarized prostitution to the category of 'victim of American imperialism' and nothing more. The chapter begins with this story:

In February 1995, a former sex worker (Kim Yon-ja [who is mentioned above]) and two activists from Korea (a female, feminist writer and a male videomaker/photographer) led a three-week tour through major cities in the United States. The purpose of the tour was to Americans’ awareness about the problem of militarized prostitution foreigners in Korea and its impact on the lives of Korean women their children. 

She went on to describe how a forum she attended was held "at one of the major academic institutions where the audience was comprised of mainly feminist students and faculty."

The forum concluded with Kim Yon-ja's presentation of her experience of working and living in Kijich'on. Kim spoke in detail about the physical, psychological and economic hardship she endured in sexual labor for twenty-five years, from 1964 to 1989. She also discussed the importance of her religious faith as a source of self-empowerment which, she said, helped her to sustain hope and eventually to escape the life of a sex worker. Kim also mentioned that ever since becoming a preacher in 1989 she has used her missionary role to advocate the rights of working-class Korean women and their children living in military camptowns in Korea. 

On the whole, the forum was successful in conveying important information about the history of U.S. imperialism in Korea since 1945 and the destructive impact of U.S. militarism on the lives of Korean civilians. However, as a Korean-American academic-activist sitting in the audience, I observed that the activists and the audience had very different ways of approaching the question of militarized prostitution. For example, the audience invited Kim to elaborate on her daily coping strategies in sexual labor, her views about the circumstances that forced her into sexual labor, and her views on patriarchy and militarism. Several adherents of liberation and feminist theology begged Kim to expand upon her description of how religious faith had guided her survival in (and eventual escape from) sexual labor. However, the young Korean American woman interpreter, who was responsible for providing simultaneous translation of questions and answers from English to Korean and vice versa, screened and censored the questions directed to Kim. Insisting that the forum time be devoted to the delivery of the group line, which aimed to "educate" Americans about the impact of U.S. imperialism and militarization on Korean lives, the activists overlooked and neglected to translate questions addressed to Kim. Attempts from the audience to ask about Kim's personal experience in Kijich'on were repeatedly ignored. The activists judged Kim's talk as "testimonial" and "evangelical" because her focus on the personal and daily struggle in sexual labor left no room for discussing the larger and, in the activists' eyes, more significant dimension of imperialism and domination of Korea by United States. 

Kim Yon-ja's testimony was relegated to the margins of this forum because the writer and videomaker analyzed the problem of military prostitution simply in terms of U.S. militarism and imperialism, thus locating the blame on Americans for the exploitation of Korean women working in Kijich'on. Their emphasis on the United States' culpability left little room to discuss the intricate relations of economic, cultural, and ideological hierarchies that reinforce women's subordination, including militarized prostitution among Koreans, in which Korean women provide sexual service to Korean soldiers near Korean military installations, and the role that the Korean dictatorships and patriarchy have played in encouraging Korean women into prostitution. 

The first three instances examined above present narratives that overlook or even ignore Korean agency, while the fourth feels too limited and begs for a wider net to be cast to better understand how militarized sex work for Americans fit into the larger context of the sex industry in Korea. All four, viewing Korea from an American (or in Gowan's case, Canadian) vantage point, tend toward presenting Koreans as mere victims of American imperialism, but as as Hyun Sook Kim put it, "we must recognize that military sex workers have not been completely colonized by patriarchy, militarism, imperialism or neo-colonialism; the women do assert agency and subjectivity as Korean women." 

In some ways, the above-examined articles and book are quite different from each other, but they share a tendency to focus more on the (neo)colonizing power than on Koreans, and may reflect a lack of awareness about the ways in which these narratives are influenced by, compliment, or are utilized by Korean nationalist narratives that highlight Korea's victimization at the hands of outsiders. In Gowan's case, the narrow focus of his narrative is due in some part to the nature of his main source, Bruce Cumings' Korea's Place in the Sun, which I first read shortly after arriving in Korea in 2001, and which exerted a strong influence on my thinking about Korea. But when I reread it four years ago for a class, I was struck by the near-constancy of his denunciations of American foreign policy. My attempt at an ironic and pithy review would be, "A well written book - I just wish it had been about Korea." 

As David Fields noted in his book Foreign Friends, for American policymakers, Korea was always about someplace else, with decisions affecting Korea made by American presidents in 1905, 1919, and 1943 deriving from an American focus on relations with Japan, China, or the USSR. Perhaps the same can be said about the above writers and those like them who view Korea through the narrow lens of US foreign policy. From 1945 until the present, and particularly with the ROK's incorporation into the US-constructed cold war system of alliances, the US has exerted a powerful influence over Korea, and decisions made by its diplomats and military leaders have at times had a catastrophic impact upon the lives of Koreans. Examining these decisions and actions in a critical manner can help to highlight the past in the hope that they won't be repeated again (perhaps a dim hope, considering the way memories of the evacuation of refugees from Indochina in 1975 only bubbled to the surface once the airlift from Afghanistan was underway). But criticizing this history in Korea by deploying incorrect 'facts,' pretending that the US was the only actor creating negative outcomes, ignoring the complex interplay between Korean, American, and other actors, or minimizing the role of Koreans in their own story does a disservice to both Americans and Koreans and obscures more than it reveals.


I couldn't help but smile reading a couple weeks ago that Democratic Party presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung said during a meeting with U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff, that "the reason Korea was annexed by Japan was because the United States approved it through the Taft-Katsura Agreement." As the Korea Times helpfully (if incorrectly) explained, "The Taft-Katsura agreement is a 1905 pact in which the U.S. condoned Japanese rule over Korea, while Japan acknowledged the U.S. governing over the Philippines." 

In Korean the term used to describe is 밀약, or secret treaty. The problem is that it wasn't secret (the New York Times mentioned it after it was reported on in Japan), and it wasn't an agreement; as this must-read article puts it, it was "an 'Agreed Memorandum,' which technically is merely an agreement by both sides that the description of what was spoken in the conversation is actually what was said," which later "shifted [in the minds of historians] to become an agreement, pact, or even (secret) treaty." Roosevelt certainly supported Japanese dominance in Korea, but this was just a conversation, and not any kind of agreement. If Lee were to say "and let's not forget that time Teddy Roosevelt sided with the Japanese as they moved to take over Korea," that would be correct.

Mind you, I don't think that US approval had much effect on the outcome of Japan's step-by-step takeover of the peninsula. A more important influence, I think, was the UK-Japanese Alliance, which allowed Japan to defeat Russia, and which the British renewed several years early (in summer 1905) and explicitly wrote into the agreement that it recognized Japan's paramount interest in Korea. But the UK doesn't have the kind of influence over the ROK that the US does today, so no one really cares.

Amid all this misunderstanding, it was nice to see this Ohmynews article refute the idea that it was a treaty. In fact, it goes even further to argue that it only became a so-called "agreement" after the Japanese government leaked to a newspaper details of the conversation in the aftermath of the Hibiya riots in September 1905, and that Korean historians uncritically accepted this distortion by the Japanese. As a result, it has appeared in textbooks for over 50 years, something which needs to change. So… should this happen (and 20-30 years from now the kids who learn from new textbooks take positions of prominence in the media and academia and create a new consensus on its meaning), hurrah for Lee Jae-myung, I guess.