Monday, November 11, 2019

1988 Olympics: The view from the U.S. Embassy

The 1988 Seoul Olympics

Prologue 1: "Why can't Americans be Punished?"

Part 1:  The Seoul Olympics, 25 years later
Part 2:  The 1988 Olympics and Korean fears of AIDS
Part 3:  Americans and bad first impressions
Part 4:  Reptilian Style: The 'live-or-die general war' against Hollywood
Part 5:  An attack in a boxing ring
Part 6:  Media responses to the boxing ring incident
Part 7:  No more lion: US swimmers' 'prank' becomes 'diplomatic incident'
Part 8:  KAIST catches Big Ben
Part 9:  Hankyoreh interviews Korean witness to theft by swimmers
Part 10: Stop me if you've heard this one: Four GIs head to Itaewon in a taxi...
Part 11: Taxi-kicking US runner taken to Itaewon police box
Part 12: NBC uses the power of t-shirts to insult Korea... again
Part 13: Cultivating outrage toward America
Part 14: Politicians engage in damage control
Part 15: Heaven on Earth
Part 16: Hustler magazine tramples the purity of the Korean race 
Part 17: Stolen gold
Part 18: The view from the U.S. Embassy

Not too long ago a rather amazing, 1364-page pdf titled "The Korea Country Reader," a collection of oral history interviews of American diplomats who served in Korea from 1945 to 2002, was brought to my attention by Jacco Zwetsloot. The interviews were conducted and collected by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, and readers for other countries can be searched for here.

I've been dipping into various eras, and it dawned on me that I should look at how the Embassy viewed the anti-Americanism that occurred during the 1988 Seoul Olympics. What I found were two interviews with different points of view, as well as reference to an contemporary news article worth reading that I had not come across before.

First up is an interview with Aloysius M. O’Neill, Political Officer, Seoul (1988-1992), from pages 1117-1118; the final two paragraphs are from pages 1121 and 1146, respectively.

******

O’Neill: The Olympic Games, aside from being a great triumph for Korea both in terms of organization and of the face that Korea put to the world was, as far as I was concerned, also a festival of anti-Americanism. That’s my most lasting memory of the Seoul Olympics. The Koreans were so on edge and so intent to ensure that everything went perfectly that anything involving Americans that didn’t go perfectly really set them off. This included the opening ceremony. The American team was waving to the crowds and cheering, and some of them were wearing Mickey Mouse ears and things like this as young, happy, naive Americans traveling abroad probably for the first time would normally do. This greatly offended the Korean news media who decided that this was not decorous enough and respectful enough of Korea for their sensibilities, and they began blasting the American team for that breach of decorum.

We had another incident… I don’t want to belabor this too much….

Q: No, I think it’s well to capture the flavor.

O’Neill: It was really flavorful! One of the first American gold medals was won by a men’s swimming relay team, and those young guys went that evening to the Hyatt Hotel and had a number of drinks, I’m sure, in the bar. They walked out of the bar with a plaster lion’s head that had been hanging on the wall. They just picked it up. It wasn’t something, as far as I know, that you could stick in your pocket, so it was pretty obvious that they were doing it. Rather than just approaching these tipsy or drunken young men who had just won a gold medal and said, “Give us our lion head back,” the Korean staff of the Hyatt went to the police about this “theft.” The police lost no time in going to their eager media contacts about this gigantic crime. From the media outcry, you would have thought that these swimmers had burned down the presidential mansion, the Blue House.

The outrage was unbelievable. I was, as I often was, in the embassy that Saturday afternoon. The incident was on a Friday night, and I was in the embassy all day Saturday, and the phones were almost literally ringing off the hook, with outraged Koreans calling. The poor embassy operators were just beside themselves trying to field the calls. I remember talking to one man who was just furious. “How could they do this??? How could they possibly steal something?” I said, “They were drunk.” He said, “What???” I said, “They were drunk. He said, “Oh.” And he hung up. It’s safe to say that Koreans understood the concept of doing outrageous things while drunk.

This whole thing, this hysteria, was fanned by the Korean news media. NBC Sports had the broadcast rights for the Olympics. They did a masterful job of broadcasting. Also as part of their programming they had prepared a number of really good…what would you call them?...spots or vignettes showcasing different things about Korea’s industrial might and the economic progress of the country, the palaces of Seoul, the history of Korea, things on the Korean War. Some of my relatives wrote me how much they learned about Korea from this fantastic coverage that NBC Sports was giving the country.

However, there was at least one spot about black marketing and prostitution particularly around the U.S. military bases, a not unknown phenomenon, shall we say. Again, the Koreans were not in the mood for any kind of accuracy or balance. What they wanted was laudatory treatment. If you gave 90% praise and 10% pointing out some warts, all they could think about was, “You were focusing on warts, and that’s rude.” Again, this set them off. There was a case where a Korean boxer had a match called against him. I believe the other boxer was an American, but the New Zealand referee called the match against the Korean. In response, that sportsman sat down in the ring and would not move. Every so often as NBC Sports was reporting on other events here and there, track and field and whatever else happened to be going on, they would occasionally go back and show this boxer still sitting there in the ring.

Q: I recall that!

O’Neill: Again, Koreans were outraged that the Americans news media were humiliating Korea by showing this jerk sitting on his backside in the ring. No mention of the poor sportsmanship of the Korean boxer who had legitimately had a call against him. In fact, either in this match or in another boxing match that went against a Korean, his ringside staff and the Korean security people assaulted the referee.

Throughout, you had cheers for Soviet athletes and boos for American athletes with few exceptions. When Flo-Jo won everybody cheered. I happened to have been there at the track and field semi-finals, where she starred. Otherwise, it was a very grim period for Americans in Korea and the grimness lasted after the games, too. It really ground down a lot of people in the embassy.
[...]
One of the reasons for the outburst of anti-Americanism in the Olympics and afterward was because Koreans who felt this way were freer to do so than they had been in the past. They were able to express their bottled up emotions at the way they saw America as being the friend of the dictators of Korea over the decades before this election. They tended to forget or did not know that we had been pushing behind the scenes all these decades to get the kind of electoral situation that they had now arrived at.
[...]
Most particularly as I detailed earlier in the interview in the context of the Seoul Olympics. I still unfondly remember that as a gigantic anti-American festival with sporting events thrown in. Ambassador Jim Lilley was there up through the end of December 1988, so he had the full blast of the Olympics. He used the expression, “We’re the biggest show in town,” meaning that of all the countries represented there, we were the biggest especially with the large military presence and its endless potential for crimes or accidents, which could become an immediate focus of the anti-American student movement and others as well.

******

A view more sympathetic to Korea can be found in an interview with Thomas P. H. Dunlop, Political Counselor, Seoul (1983-1987), and Country Director for Korea, Washington, DC (1987-1989). [Pages 927-28]

******

The Seoul Olympics were a great success for the South Koreans. There were lots of anecdotes about them, none of which particularly deserves recording. The South Koreans did a good job. I was not there for it. I thought that I might try to "boondoggle" my way out there, but the Embassy was under a tremendous amount of stress just handling the American Olympian contingent. I would say one thing. I got to know some of the people who represent our Olympic movement, and some of them are absolutely arrogant, egocentric, and very difficult people to deal with. I mean that they are concerned about petty things, like demanding suites with a "hot tub" and things like that. I'm not talking about the athletes. I'm talking about the administrators in the American Olympic Committee and all of their "hangers on." They can be real pains to deal with. The Embassy didn't need me hanging around, so I did not go.

Q: What about the problems of having the press all over the place? When the press got there, and the American press in particular, I imagine that they were always looking for a story to make the South Koreans look bad. They did that at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. This is just what the press does.

Dunlop: NBC [National Broadcasting Company] had the coverage. The South Koreans didn't like the coverage. We had complaints from them. NBC, like any American network, put on a lot of "background" stuff about Korea. Of course, what they did was to oversimplify things. Although there are a lot of things in Korean history that are not particularly admirable, on the human rights side, for example, this was probably more than the South Korean authorities wanted to see dredged up from the past and, maybe, the not so distant past. However, there were no big problems.

I remember one example of cultural insensitivity. There was a Korean boxer who was thought likely to take one of the medals and, perhaps, win the gold medal. He was in one of the middle weight areas. He was really beaten and committed a foul in the process, which counts a lot in the Olympics. You get points, and the foul involves subtracting points from the total. He lost. He refused to leave the ring. After the celebration of his opponent's victory, he slumped down in the middle of the ring.

However, the cameramen didn't turn off the lights. The cameras were still on him. He presented a picture of utter dejection. People came up and tapped him on the shoulder, but he just sat there. The commentators began to laugh at him. He stayed there in the center of the ring for about an hour. They would keep cutting back to show him. They would say, "Oh, he's still there." I thought that this was just perfectly without any shred of taste. What was happening to that young man was that his whole life was in ruins. He had lived to be an Olympic boxer. He was a hero in his hometown. He had a salary. He had preferment. He had goodies which were otherwise probably unthinkable for his family. He had the responsibility for keeping all of that going. It was all gone. He knew that they would set the dogs on him in his home village. He would be pelted with stones when he got back there. I think that it was a particularly bad case of insensitivity.

I must say that an American sports columnist, Tony Kornheiser, wrote a good story about it. Some Korean told him what was going on, and Kornheiser wrote a nice piece on this incident. I wrote to Kornheiser and said that this was just a pebble on the beach, but it was nice to see that somebody had taken the trouble to report what was really going on, in a cultural sense.

******

Tony Kornheiser's article for the Washington Post, titled "It's Not The Koreans Who Do Not Understand," can be read here. Below are excerpts of it, which begin after Kornheiser's recap of various events like runner Johnny Gray "Kicking a taxi," the theft of the lion sculpture by the swimmers, NBC's attempt to make insulting T-shirts, and the incident in the boxing ring where the referee was attacked by Korean staff.

******

"Why did you have to show it so many times?" my Korean friend, Mr. Lee, asked me at dinner the other night.

"We'd do the same thing if it was an American," I told him. "That's the way journalism works, it reacts to the story. We do it at home all the time."

"But you are not in your home now," Mr. Lee said, "you are in ours."

Until last year's social revolution, the Korean press historically was in the side pocket of the government. Koreans have clamored for a free press, but don't really comprehend all that goes with it. Koreans saw the Olympics as a way to announce their accomplishments to the world, something like an advertising supplement. They didn't expect the American media to go looking at anything other than what the Koreans wanted to show; they think it's mean that we don't play the game their way, censoring our best instincts for the good of their public image. They've been our friends, and though they should know better after all these years, may think we have betrayed that friendship.
[...]
That gong sound we hear is the clash of cultures. We're unnerved and a bit frightened by the anti-Americanism, and justifiably upset at Koreans taking offense when no offense was intended. But it hasn't deterred some Americans from practicing what is construed as -- particularly by the contentious European press -- as Ugly Americanism. Many Americans treat the Olympics like their own private tour group. We shouldn't apologize for our enthusiasm, but we wave our flags and chant in the loudest, most self-absorbed way. This behavior is beyond patriotism. It's about rudeness and the automatic right of way that Americans consider their birthright as they travel the world in a clumsy exuberance that other cultures take for bullying. Every uniformed guard we treat with impatience, every custom we insult, every sideways glance we give, we feel we're entitled. We're No. 1. We've bought the damn Games, and we have our own aggressive way of doing things. We like to wear our diamond rings on everbody's nose.

It was bad enough in Los Angeles, which was at least our home. It's provocative here. We've been here more than two weeks and most of us have learned one phrase -- kamsa hamnida, which means thank you. One phrase in two weeks, and we get annoyed because every Korean cabdriver doesn't speak perfect English. Not only haven't we been sensitive to their culture, we haven't even acknowledged it.

And yet there have been so many small moments of grace between us and the Koreans, so many tender mercies. I have foundered hopelessly in the Seoul subway, intimidated by Korean language maps and signs, and Koreans have literally led me by the hand to where I should have been. I have been on the streets without a clue how to get home, and Koreans have stopped for me and driven miles out of their way to take me to the press village, and refused to take any money for it. I have been unfailingly treated with politeness and friendliness and genuine warmth by police, security guards and Korean Olympic personnel. They give me flags and pins and small gifts to take home so I'll remember Korea. The anti-Americanism seems more an expression of hurt than anger.

"Please understand," Mr. Lee said, "that we have always had great friendship with the Americans."

"You shouldn't take this boxing thing personally," I told him. "You should let it roll off your backs."
"This is what you do?" he asked.

"All the time."

"You are a big country, a great country, and things roll gracefully off your back," Mr. Lee said. "What rolls off your back is enough to drown a small country like Korea." There was a bottle of Korean soju on the table, and Mr. Lee poured two shot glasses. "I cannot ever make you understand how important Olympics are to us," he said, and in the moonlight his face seemed 5,000 years old. "We invite you to our house to show you what we have done."

I raised my glass. "To your house," I said.

******

Though there are a few cliches in there, Dunlop was right to highlight Kornheiser's article as an attempt to see things from both sides. Most pertinent was his observation that during the Olympics "The anti-Americanism seems more an expression of hurt than anger." What should be added is that it was the media that fanned the flames and turned that hurt into anger. As O'Neill noted, "it was a very grim period for Americans in Korea and the grimness lasted after the games, too." Many of the issues brought to the forefront by activists during (or just before) the Olympics such as the need to revise SOFA, the need to ban the direct importation of US films, and the need to test foreigners for HIV/AIDS, would, in the months to come, get a push from the burst of hurt turned to anger at the US during the Olympics.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Korean government ordered to pay compensation to foreign English teacher over HIV testing

It was reported the other day (here as well) that
A court ordered the state, Wednesday, to compensate a New Zealander for urging her to undergo mandatory human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) testing under a now-lifted government regulation while working here as an English teacher.
In 2009, after working at an elementary school in Ulsan for a year, a native-speaking English teacher from New Zealand was offered a new contract and began the process of re-signing for another year. Well into the process she was told she would have to take another HIV and drug test. While she had been willing to take an HIV test for immigration purposes when she first arrived in Korea, she refused to take another unnecessary HIV test for renewal, and was not re-signed. She subsequently left the country, but challenged what amounted to her dismissal over refusal to take an HIV test by taking her case to the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board (which ruled against her) and the National Human Rights Commission (which rejected her petition).

With the possibility of these "domestic remedies" exhausted, she petitioned the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which decided to hear the case in 2012 and ruled in her favor in 2015, saying that E-2 HIV testing was discriminatory and should be stopped. It also ruled that she should be given "adequate compensation for the moral and material damages caused by... violations of the Convention, including compensation for the lost wages during the one year she was prevented from working." For more on this process and decision, see this post.

The Korean government did not respond until the National Human Rights Commission belatedly took her side and recommended the government take the actions recommended by CERD in 2016. In July 2017 the Korean government finally officially ended the HIV testing regulations but did nothing to compensate the teacher. The teacher finally pursued a civil case against the Korean government, and it was this case that was decided in her favor by the Seoul Central District Court.

Having been given access to the decision, here are some of its highlights.

The court accepted the plaintiff’s claim for damages, including 24,000,000 won for the loss her expected wages salary, and 6,000,100 won for mental damage, and ruled that the defendant should pay this full amount (along with interest dating from June 20, 2018).

In its ruling, the court referred to the AIDS Prevention Act, as it was in force in 2009, according to which it was the government’s duty not to discriminate against HIV-positive patients, and employers were not to require HIV testing of employees. The Act also listed specific groups of non-Koreans who were required to submit HIV test results to the government before entering Korea, but the plaintiff was not part of such group.

[The E-2 visa HIV testing requirement was initially instituted in 2007 via an Immigration policy memo which, when challenged, the government said was perfectly legal but was quietly changed to an enforcement ordinance on April 3, 2009, almost a year and a half after testing of teachers began. This testing regime was never codified by amending the AIDS Prevention Act (or the Hagwon Act).]

The court also ruled that while the objective of the HIV testing was justified to protect the health of children, the defendant did not prove such testing was necessary, since there was no factual evidence that foreign English teachers were a suspect group, nor was there a reason to believe there was a risk of the plaintiff being HIV positive, particularly since she had already tested negative less than a year earlier.

The defendant argued that the statute of limitations had passed, but the court ruled that June 12, 2015, the date of the CERD recommendation, was the date to begin from, since the plaintiff had been unable to determine the illegality of the government’s actions until then. It also pointed out that the plaintiff had made continuous efforts domestically and internationally to abolish the HIV testing policy and to receive compensation for her damages, and had been vigilant in seeking her rights. Therefore the defendant’s argument that the statute of limitations had passed was against the principle of good faith considering the defendant’s continued denial of compensation to the plaintiff.

Though the court did not determine whether the CERD recommendation had any binding power, it took the unprecedented step of accepting the CERD decision as the determining factor in calculating statute of limitations.

It’s hard to believe that it took ten years to get to this point, but it may not be over yet. The government has 2-3 weeks to appeal the decision.

As well, the HIV testing policy, officially ended two years ago, is still being carried out at some hospitals. This is the test I received five months ago:

'AIDS' test results are to be recorded near bottom right.

I printed out and gave an attendant a news report in Korean announcing the end of the tests, but who knows if they did anything about it. Needless to say, that a national hospital is still carrying out these tests suggests the government did little to publicize the end of E-2 HIV testing.


[This was not the only challenge to the HIV testing regime. A case brought before the constitutional court in 2011 (which did not hear the case) was ruled favorably on by the UN Human Rights Committee in 2018.]

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Breaking into the US Ambassador's residence

A few weeks ago, 19 students broke into the compound where US Ambassador Harry Harris lives and displayed banners decrying President Trump's attempts to make Korea pay more for the US military presence and calling on Harris to leave Korea. Police requested arrest warrants for nine students; four were ultimately arrested. Another break in took place last year, but a more well-known and much earlier incident occurred on October 13, 1989, when six students broke into the US Ambassador's residence shortly after Donald Gregg took up his post as ambassador. As he told the story in his memoir Pot Shards, on that day
at about 6 a.m., Meg and I were awakened by a loud “bang!” outside our embassy residence. The residence guards immediately called us and shouted, “Students, students!”

My first thought was: ‘Oh shit, I hope they’re not armed.’

Six Korean college students had driven up from the southern port city of Pusan and had used their car as a sort of vaulting horse to get over the low wall surrounding the residence grounds. They threw some sort of large firecracker at the unarmed residence guards and were quickly able to break a window and enter our house.

I called the security officer and told him to get the Korean police on the scene. Almost immediately, I had a reassuring call from the Marine Security Guard at the Embassy, saying he and his men would “take care of things” if I needed help. I told them to stand by, as one of the first things I’d been taught at “Charm School” (ambassadorial training) was to never turn the Marines loose on unruly local civilians unless a truly mortal threat was involved.

Sounds from outside our bedroom indicated clearly to me that we were dealing not with a trained group of assassins but with young men surprised at how easily they had gotten into the house and unsure what to do next. They gently tried to open our stout bedroom door, then retreated down the hall when they found it locked. I could hear the smashing of lamps and crockery from the front of the house. We slipped out a back window and went to another embassy house on the compound.

The Korean police eventually arrived, and the students were hauled off to jail. Their main motive had been to protest U.S. pressure on the beef quota issue. I called the protocol office at Blue House and urged that the students not be treated too severely. I gather that they served up to two years in jail.

I immediately went into my embassy office, about a mile away, to discuss how to respond to the torrent of questions coming in from both local Korean, and international media. A hurried press conference was held at the Embassy, and both Meg and I appeared on television to thank the Korean police for their help and to say that we were aware of the sensitivity of the beef issue. Meg was gracious and stressed how glad we were to be in Seoul. We heard from many sources that her TV performance had truly moved the Korean people who saw it.

I have since met four of the six students who “visited” us that early October morning in 1989. Two are now rising young stars in the National Assembly; one of the others owns an Italian restaurant, and one works for a French trading company. During a December 2006 visit to Seoul, I was visited in my hotel by three of the former students, all of whom apologized. They were accompanied by the press in large numbers, and a good deal of publicity resulted, all of which I considered positive.
One of those politicians is Jeong Cheong-rae.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Battles over curriculum and inclusion in Korea's schools, 1969-1970

In the past few weeks I've had two articles appear in the Korea Times. The first was "Fighting segregation in Seoul's schools in 1969," about efforts by SMOE and the Ministry of Education to integrate children of people who had overcome Hansen's Disease, or leprosy.

The second, "Korea's battle over the 'domineering use of Chinese characters' in 1970," was written with Hangeul Day in mind. The debate over whether or not to stop teaching Hanja as part of the Korean language curriculum went back to 1945, but I chose to focus on the debates that arose in years around when it was phased out in 1970. One thing I failed to note, which was helpfully pointed out to me by an American who has lived here for decades, was that Hangeul Day had been a public holiday from 1945 to 1991. Becoming a holiday in 2013 was not a new rise in status, but a return to its former status.



Sunday, September 22, 2019

Kim Yong-jang was not a military intelligence officer

Back in May I wrote a post about Kim Yong-jang, who had become something of a media darling after claiming he had been a intelligence officer in the US 501st Military Intelligence Brigade and revealing that Chun Doo-hwan flew to Gwangju Air Base on May 21, 1980, just before troops began opening fire on protesters. Some of his claims seemed fishy to me, but one in particular I knew not to be true - that the US had pulled its citizens out of Gwangju days before May 18 - I examined in depth here to prove the claim false.

After that I was contacted by journalist Kap Su Seol, whose name I immediately recognized - he was one of the translators of Lee Jae Eui's Kwangju Diary: Beyond Death, Beyond the Darkness Of The Age (1999). He was even more suspicious of Kim's story than I was, did a great deal of digging, and wrote articles for the Kyunghyang Sinmun documenting his findings (here, and here). The latter article is translated in part here (though the translation doesn't feature photos of the (English-language) documents he uncovered; best look at the original articles).

What he found was that Kim Yong-jang
never worked as an intelligence officer of the 501st Military Intelligence Brigade. Kim joined the 501st Intelligence Brigade as an interpreter in 1974 and retired as an interpreter in the mid-1990s. He was not in a position or had the authority to personally draw up official reports for the 524th Military Intelligence Battalion, the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). The only evidence Kim submitted to the Prosecution Service as a witness was a commendation for twenty years of service.
What that commendation reveals, however (as any reader of English can see), is that Kim was a civilian language specialist. Seol conducted interviews with US military personnel and went on to document not only how Kim's story changed, but also how the media outlets getting the scoop tried to cover for Kim.

Needless to say, considering how what Kim was saying was what so many wanted to hear, some people were not happy with Seol's investigation and let him know it. He has finally been vindicated, however, by a post at Newspaper and Broadcasting, a blog by the Korea Press Foundation.

The post highlights the need to engage in fact checking of whistle-blowers' stories as a "basic principle of journalism" and gives four examples of how this was and wasn't done. The first is of how in 2017 the Washington Post checked the background of a tipster seeking to give them a dramatic story about Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore and discovered she was working with an organization out to embarrass the Post. The second is of how CBS failed to do this in 2004 in regard to a tip about George W. Bush's national guard service, resulting in the resignation of Dan Rather. The third is related to the Hutton inquiry which blamed the BBC for not fact checking a story. In the midst of the mess, the whistle blower committed suicide, and the end result was the resignation of BBC chairman Gavyn Davies and BBC director-general Greg Dyke, as well as journalist Andrew Gilligan.

The final example is related to Kim Yong-jang, and gives more background on how he came to speak out this year. Initially, the producers of the MBC show "PD Notebook" were working on a report about the Kwangju Uprising and were made aware of Kim Yong Jang and his testimony that Chun Doo-hwan went to Kwangju airbase just before the army opened fire on protesters on May 21. Despite their excitement at this scoop, however, they tried to verify his story and came up short. They checked the air force flight records but found no entry for Chun (though there was an entry for President Choi Gyu-ha's visit to Kwangju). Ultimately, the PD Notebook team verified that there was little evidence to support Kim's claims. After they decided not to interview him, Kim Yong-jang came to Korea, held a press conference at the National Assembly, and appeared on "JTBC News Room" and "Kim Eo-jun's News Factory." The article then pointed to Seol Kap Su's Kyunghyang Sinmun article as helping to confirm that Kim was not who he said he was. The article ended by stating that the lesson of these four cases was that the problem was not the whistle blower, but the media, and the media needed to carefully vet such sources.

It's nice to get some more background about how Kim came to Korea this year, and nice to see Seol vindicated. Kim's story was too good to be true, as it turns out, but luckily cracks in it began to appear almost immediately. We may have to accept that no proof directly linking Chun to the shooting order will ever surface. Better that than allowing tainted testimony to stand unquestioned.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

The Trials of Korea's Atomic Bomb Survivors

Update, August 7:

The Korea Times published a worthwhile article on the Korean atomic bomb survivors here.

Original post:

Korean first and second generation atomic bomb victims in 
Hiroshima during President Obama's visit, May 2016.

We had been deprived of our land, property, and even our mother tongue. We were driven away from our homeland. Why was it that we had to suffer? What did we do? While suffering as colonial people, we had lived to the best we could do, conscientiously. But what we were given was a living hell – the atomic bomb brought on by the war of aggression. Both innocent Japanese people and Koreans died, scattered like scraps of garbage. 
- Atomic bomb survivor Sin Bok Su, in Twice Victims: Koreans at Hiroshima

My latest article for the Korea Times, titled, "Trials of Korean atomic bomb survivors," can be read here. While at the University of Washington I wrote a lengthy paper on this topic for Kenneth Pyle's seminar on the historiography of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and he encouraged me to do further research and publish it. I'll return to it one of these days.

It still amazes me that almost 20 years passed without any attention being paid to the survivors in South Korea. The earliest articles I could find date from 1964. The Korea Times article that appears with my article covered the topic with more sensitivity than most articles from that time - here it is in full:


Interestingly, I think the Kwak Ki-hun mentioned in the article may be the same 곽귀훈 whose lawsuit won the right in 2003 for overseas survivors to receive benefits from Japan. (He is mentioned and pictured here.)

For more recent articles, here is a 2010 Korea Herald article titled "Sufferings still linger for Korean A-bomb survivors." For more on the struggles of second-generation atomic bomb victims, this letter by Han Jeong-soon (on the right in the photo at top), honorary chair of the Association for the Second Generation of Korean Atomic Bomb Survivors, is well worth reading.

One of my arguments - influenced by Scott Burgeson's essay 'Stranger in Chongno' (particularly this page) - is that to bring up the atomic bomb victims is to bring up the atomic bombs that brought about Korea's liberation from Japan. I looked through more than a dozen middle school history textbooks, and two high school textbooks, and here are typical examples of how liberation was dealt with:


 All of the books were all structured with 'Korean history' at the beginning, then 'international history' at the end. This meant that the events of World War II were disconnected from the Korean history section. Not that matters, I suppose, since WWII got two pages of coverage: one for the war in Europe, one for the war in the Pacific:


(The textbooks also had a WWII atrocity page equating comfort women with the holocaust, the rape of Nanking, and the use of atomic bombs.)

Not mentioned in my article was the fate of North Korean survivors. What sources I could find suggest the vast majority of survivors returned to southern Korea and stayed there. Those that did end up in North Korea did so when Japan repatriated Koreans in Japan to North Korea beginning in 1959 (over 90,000 ultimately returned). Among them were likely over 1,000 survivors. In the 1990s Japan began considering how to address this issue (should DPRK citizens seek treatment in Japan) and in 2001 Japanese doctors visited North Korea and confirmed 938 survivors were still alive. The political fallout of North Korea admitting to kidnapping Japanese citizens, along with other incidents and the restarting of the DPRK's nuclear program made further contacts difficult. In 2008 North Korea announced that 382 survivors were still alive.

I've barely scratched the surface of this topic here, really. I'll return to this topic, but for now here's a section from my paper's conclusion:

"On May 20, 2013 Joongang Ilbo editorial writer Kim Jin published a column which, based on the idea that “God sometimes borrows human hands to punish human evil,” argued that “Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the revenge of Asians sacrificed for Japanese militarism,” particularly those killed by experiments of Unit 731, which referred to its test subjects as maruta, or “logs.” Castigating Japanese Prime Minister Abe for a lack of repentance, Kim wrote that “He is free to act as he wishes. But God also has freedom. It is God's freedom to judge that the marutas’ vengeful spirits have not yet been appeased, and that therefore the lightning that struck Japan was not enough.” Unsurprisingly, members of the Japanese government protested the column, while a press release by the Association of Second Generation Korean Atomic Bomb Patients “strongly condemned” the column and demanded Kim and the Joongang Ilbo apologize. At the end of his next column a week later, Kim wrote, “I regret if, contrary to my intentions, I hurt the feelings of Japanese atomic bomb victims or their bereaved family members." If it did not seem to occur to Kim to apologize to Korean survivors, one reason may be that no major Korean news outlet reported on the Second Generation Association’s press release.

The above episode highlights both the way in which the Japanese government has successfully claimed the atomic bombings as an example of uniquely Japanese victimization as well as the continuing marginalization of Korean atomic bomb survivors within South Korea. Though the South Korean Foreign Ministry ultimately responded positively to President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, saying, “It is meaningful that he mentioned Korean victims on par with U.S. and Japanese victims in his historic speech,” it would seem that diplomatic parity was the government’s main goal. The fact that a toothless Special Act to Support Atomic Bomb Survivors, which had made no progress after eight years in the National Assembly, was passed only a week before President Obama’s speech suggests that the South Korean government may have wished to avoid being seen as hypocritical when asking for special mention of the atomic bomb survivors it had ignored for decades."

Also worth noting: After years of court cases aided by Japanese activists, South Korean survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki now receive better treatment from their former colonizer than they do from their own government.

Friday, July 26, 2019

First attempts to fly across the English Channel

It was with some interest that I came across this article about inventor Franky Zapata’s failed attempt to cross the English Channel on his flyboard (he only made it halfway across the 22-mile channel before he ran into trouble at his refueling point). This is because one of my favorite essays I wrote in undergrad at the University of Guelph was from a 4th year course on the public sphere (ie. Newspapers and magazines) in England in the 1780s. For my essay I wrote about the ballooning craze in England in 1785. Hot air balloons had been invented in France in 1783 but lack of government interest in England led to it becoming an entrepreneur’s paradise as balloonists competed for attention. The craze eventually petered out after deaths and the basic physical fact that balloons only go up and down, and aren’t all that exciting after you’ve seen it go up once. It was so popular during that time, however, that pickpockets were even able to snatch Edmund Burke’s wallet as “thousands look[ed] up in astonishment” (the title I gave my paper).

Though the article on Zapata’s attempt mentions the first powered flight over the English Channel, it leaves out the first unpowered flight. I wrote in the paper, “After three successful flights in France, Jean-Pierre Francois Blanchard ascended from Chelsea in October 1784, and became the first person to cross the English Channel by air on January 7, 1785, with an American, Dr. Jeffries, as a passenger.”

Not everyone who tried this was so lucky: “Pilatre de Rozier, the first man to ascend in a balloon [in France], sought to cross the English Channel from France to England, which was difficult due to the prevailing winds. He set out with M. Romaine on June 15, 1785, flying a machine that combined a Montgolfier [fire-powered] and a hydrogen balloon, and the inevitable explosion occurred over the rocks on the Channel shore, where they both fell to their deaths.” Luckily, Zapata’s failed attempt was far less fatal.

I should also mention that my professor for this course, Donna Andrew, who has published a number of books on this time period and helped instill in me an affinity for archival research (which at that time was all on microfilm), was as dedicated as they come; she’d take our stack of papers to the library, find the books in our bibliography, and check to see that we’d cited them correctly.

I got a B on my paper - she correctly criticized me, despite it being "well written," for being too dependent in its thesis on a secondary source. Years later I realized I should have focused on the public / private divide that balloons broke. You see, some balloonists got the capital to fund their balloon building and hydrogen-making through subscription - those with means would offer them a portion of the capital needed and in return were invited into a closed space to witness the balloon launch. The problem is that balloons rise out of those private spaces into public space, and people skipped work and climbed onto roofs to watch balloon launches. I realized teasing out the ways in which balloons broke the bonds of subscription-funded private space and entered into public space would have made for a much more interesting paper. A future project for a rainy day, perhaps.

Here's a lecture by her discussing the culture surrounding, and criticism of, dueling in 18th and 19th century England:

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Nationalist outrage, 2019 edition: Flag ripping and boycotts target Japan

As Japan-Korea relations spiral downwards, a primer on the direction it may go can be found by looking at the 2002 candlelight protests aimed at the US. To be sure, similar scripts are appearing as nationalist reactions are being stoked, though there are differences. As Robert Kelly has noted, usually there are forces that would slow the momentum of anti-Japanese furor in Korea, but at the moment Korean conservatives are out of power and the US will likely not be bothered to intervene. Thus this is, as he put it, "a ‘useful’ social science natural experiment moment: we will learn just how far the South Korean left is willing to go on Japan, because the traditional brakes are not there this time."

Another difference is that in the past (particularly in the anti-American cases), it was opposition activists who stoked the flames of nationalism, but this time the government and ruling party have taken the lead in this capacity. For example, on Monday Democratic Party Chairman Lee Hae-chan said that "Following Abe’s election victory, Japan will intensify 'its attempts to invade the Korean economy,' (in Korean, "이제 우리나라에 대한 경제침략이 본격화될 것"). The same day Cho Kuk, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, wrote in a Facebook post that "It is not proper to advocate Japan's assertion at a time when Korea's legitimacy and judicial power are under attack by Japan, which nullified South Korea's sovereignty in the past." Of course Japan complicating export processes is just like being colonized by Japan all over again! How helpful of him to offer such reasoned, thoughtful commentary.

Luckily, Cho noted that under the current government, "Anyone can criticize without fear of retaliation. In 2019, South Korea has a higher freedom of press index than the United States and Japan." This would be more reassuring, however, if Won Il-hee, a news anchor for South Korea's SBS CNBC, hadn't been called a 친일파 ('pro-Japanese) and fired for suggesting that South Korean leaders, policy makers, diplomats, and the media should remain level-headed and seek rational and diplomatic solutions. (See here; hat tip to John Lee.)

Level-headedness has, of course been eschewed for anti-Japanese boycotts which have affected the sales of Japanese goods (though it can at times be difficult to determine what, exactly, is a Japanese product). Protests calling for these boycotts and engaging in giant flag ripping have taken place, and have also equated Japan with the conservative Liberty Korea Party (as has KBS news). Students who held a protest in the Japanese consulate in Busan were detained by police after they "shouted slogans and held banners that read, 'We denounce Japan's re-invasion,' 'We condemn economic provocations,' and 'Abe must apologize.' I fail to see how referring to the 1965 agreement in the face of the ROK's Surpreme Court decision on forced laborers and complicating export procedures is "Japan's re-invasion," but I'm sure the phrase has great utility in whipping up negative emotions in graduates of the ROK public education system who hear it.

One rather inane voice may have inadvertently highlighted one of the Moon government's aims when he wrote, "Nothing spoke for me better than some North Korean media outlets in rebuking the Japanese government," and offered this example:
"The South Korean Supreme Court's ruling, which called for Japan to compensate the victims of forced labor during the Japanese occupation, was more than justified. Tokyo's export controls are shameless acts like the thief turning on the master with a club," said Meari (Echo), the North's government mouthpiece targeting the international audience. "Regarding the imperishable crimes Japan committed against the Korean people ― sex slavery, forced labor and genocide* ― Tokyo will not be able to repay fully even if it sells off the entire archipelago."
What better way to encourage a feeling of brotherhood with those north of the DMZ than by rallying against the eternal race enemy, America Japan? In another broadside directed at the conservatives, the reason to abrogate the 1965 Normalization Treaty upon which Japanese - ROK diplomatic relations are built, it is said, is because in 1965 "Korea was governed by a general-turned-dictator who had only economic growth and his continuous grip on power in mind." While the latter two assertions may be true, in 1965 Park was arguably in the least-dictatorial phase of his rule; open dictatorship would not arrive until 1972.

I'm sure there will be more frustrating days of this ahead.

*(I'm not sure how 'genocide' is to be reconciled with Korea's population doubling between 1910 and 1945, but whatever stokes people's anger is worthy of inclusion, right?

Update, July 28

An update, plus subway unions plan to post 20,000 anti-Japanese stickers in Seoul's subway cars. It's nice to see productive action being taken.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

The 1965 methadone scandal

My latest Korea Times article, about the methadone scandal (메사돈 파동) of 1965, which involved medicines containing methadone that were sold at pharmacies to thousands of people due to corruption that reached high levels of government, can be read here.

Media blitz

Update, August 2:

I forgot to mention that I learned that SMOE sent watermelon to our school to thank it for allowing the media to film there. It would seem my school played a part in SMOE's propaganda campaign against the strike, which seems hypocritical considering our staff only went on strike for a single day, rather than 3 days like at many schools.

Original Post:

It's not every day you're on your way to work and find the entrance to the school being recorded by three different cameramen. My coworker was not sure why they were there; later I looked out the window and saw all these vehicles  parked in front of the school.




As can be seen, they were from just about every media company. Upon my second inquiry, my coworker surmised, correctly, that they were there at the school's invitation to cover the effect of the strike by cafeteria (and other irregular) workers. Searching about, I found two articles that had photos (at the top of the articles) taken in the school cafeteria (in fact, I recognize a student in this one).

From the Joongang Ilbo.

It makes me wonder what the protocol is when it comes to photographing these kinds of stories. Did they contact the school, or vice versa? I'm sure I'll find out eventually. At any rate, it made for a more interesting day than usual. The media presence, I mean, not the lunch we were provided. The bread was god-awful, and I heard some of the grade 6 students were joking about complaining to the media. Thankfully, I was told the workers at our school were only planning to strike for one day. Hopefully their union's demands are met satisfactorily, though it doesn't seem too promising.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Incorrect claims by Kim Yong-jang about evacuation of US citizens from Kwangju before May 18

Peace Corps Volunteer Tim Warnberg, center, helps carries an injured person during the Kwangju Uprising. From here.


Kim Yong-chang, a former agent of the U.S. 501st military intelligence brigade, has been featured in the news over the past week after giving testimony about his intelligence-gathering during the Kwangju Uprising at both the National Assembly and the May 18 Memorial Culture Center in Kwangju. In particular, as noted in the Korea Times and the Korea Herald, Kim reported that Chun Doo-hwan flew in a helicopter to Kwangju Air Base at noon on May 21, just an hour before troops opened fire on protesters in Kwangju; he argued it made sense that Chun issued the order to fire during this visit.

Needless to say, many people were quite happy to hear his testimony; I certainly was. There were a few things he said, however, that seemed questionable to me, and now I have good reason to treat some of his claims with caution.

This is because on May 18, Ohmynews published an article I've excerpted below based on a telephone interview with him the previous day:
Kim Yong-jang: "3-4 days before 5.18, only US citizens were evacuated from Kwangju"
Heo Jang-hwan: "'The US looked on as the new military authorities sent troops'...providing additional evidence to investigate the role of the US."

"3-4 days before the Kwangju Uprising, an order was issued to evacuate all American citizens residing in Gwangju. These were the instructions of the US Department of Defense. The evacuation order was only for Kwangju. The US knew the Kwangju Uprising was going to break out before it happened." [...]

The testimony of Kim Yong-jang that the US Department of Defense had issued evacuation instructions for Americans even before the first clash at Chonnam University on May 18 is a major clue that at that time the US had detected the moves of the new military authorities before they happened. In particular, when examining the ROK - US Defense Treaty which regulates US-Korean relations, this can be interpreted as US approval, condoning, or aiding in the operations of the new military authorities.
Kim said further that the "the United States knew the plans of the new military authorities in advance and evacuated only US citizens from Gwangju." He was contacted 3-4 days before May 18 and after that US citizens in Kwangju were pulled out. They were all evacuated, but 12 Mormon missionaries were stopped by Martial Law forces at Sangmudae and couldn't evacuate. He received further orders to pull them out, and did so on the 25th.

**********

The claim by Kim that the US evacuated its citizens from Kwangju before May 18 is not at all true. 12 Mormon missionaries were at Kwangju Airbase by May 26, but this seems to be the only aspect of his claim that has any basis in fact. US citizens were not only not evacuated from Kwangju before May 18, they were not urged to leave until either May 22 or 23, and by May 26, the day before the military re-invaded the city, there were still at least 33 US citizens in Kwangju. This claim by Kim is, in essence, the Kwangju Uprising's version of "Jews didn't go into work at the World Trade Center on September 11." It is a claim with grave implications for portrayals of the American role in the Kwangju Uprising. We can see above how Ohmynews is using it to argue that the US knew about Chun's crackdown before it happened, protected only their own citizens, and, since it did nothing else, must have been "approv[ing], condoning, or aiding in the operations of the new military authorities."

To summarize the sources below, according to Embassy cables, the US Embassy had almost no warning of the expansion of Martial Law on May 17. According to the memoir of missionary Arnold Peterson, who lived with several missionary families on a compound in Kwangju, four Baptists from Florida came to Kwangju May 16 for an evangelistic crusade scheduled for May 18-21. Peace Corps Volunteer Paul Courtright was at the Peace Corps office in Seoul on May 15 and was not warned against returning to Kwangju the next day.

David Miller, the US consular representative in Kwangju, stayed indoors for several days after May 18 before making his way to the air base on May 24. On May 22, Peterson received a call from a US soldier he was friends with at Kwangju Air Base saying they were considering rescuing the missionaries; Peterson said this was not necessary. Since Miller was was leaving the city, on May 23, Peterson became "involved in efforts by the U.S. Embassy to locate and confirm the safety of citizens of the United States and other countries who remained in Kwangju."

According to US Embassy cables to the State Department written by US Ambassador Gleysteen, on May 25 he wrote that had been "urging [American citizens] repeatedly to leave Kwangju in the last few days," which accords with Peterson's dates. He added that on "May 25 MOFA [ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs] requested that we urge all Americans to leave Kwangju and Mokpo as quickly as possible." He noted that "Twelve Mormon missionaries and five Canadian citizens are at the airbase at this time" but that most Americans were planning to remain in the city. He later wrote that "A USAF C-130 arrived at Osan from Kwangju at 1800 on May 26 carrying 23 evacuees." On the evening of May 26 MOFA called the embassy again, "asking for names and addresses of all Americans believed to be still in Kwangju" in order to assure their safety in the coming military operation. The "Embassy provided MOFA with a list of 33 names."

Therefore, not only did the US not evacuate its citizens from Kwangju before the uprising, it only urged them to leave from May 22 or 23 and then redoubled their efforts when the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested them to do so. In the end, at least 33 US citizens remained in the city when the military returned on May 27.

********

Below are more complete quotations and sources, as well as a few questions raised by some of Kim Yong-chan's other statements.

Contrary to Kim's claims, the US Embassy was given about an hour's notice of the expansion of martial law on May 17, and that was only because they were making queries about the student leaders arrested at Ehwa university. As Gleysteen described it in a cable to the State Department, "The military leaders have shown disregard for constituted authority in the ROK – and for us. We have been presented with a fait accompli suggesting that the military leaders either do not know or care about the consequences of treating us in this manner." But, after suggesting various ways in which they could protest the ROK's actions, he wrote, "I regret to say at this point our influence appears disturbingly limited."

The following is from the account of missionary Arnold A Peterson, titled "5.18: The Kwangju Incident," published in English in 1990, and available in both English and Korean in: 아놀드 A. 피터슨, 5.18 광주사태 (풀빛, 1995).

A Baptist evangelistic crusade was to be held May 18-21 in Kwangju and four Baptists from Florida came to Kwangju for this on the 16th. They were staying at the Tourist Hotel downtown – not the best choice, as it would turn out. They got a blast of pepper gas while walking from church to their hotel on May 18. The crusade had to be cancelled and the Baptists from Florida and some missionary children left Kwangju on May 22.

According to Peterson, on May 22,
At 5:00 p.m. Dave Hill, a friend who was a First Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force at SongJeong Ri called. He told us that the U.S. Air Force was considering making a forced entry of Kwangju to rescue the Americans in YangNim Dong. I said that there was no need for such action. The idea for the "rescue" was the result of false fears created by reports made to the Air Force by David Miller, the American consular representative in Kwangju who had left the city and gone to the airbase. [Page 225]
Actually, according to the diary of Linda Lewis, a former Peace Corps Volunteer doing PhD fieldwork in Kwangju, Miller left Kwangju on May 24. (Excerpts of her diary are reprinted in her book Laying Claim to the Memory of May: A Look Back at the 1980 Kwangju Uprising (2002).

According to Peterson, on May 23,
I spent much of the afternoon making telephone calls on behalf of the U.S. Embassy. I had become involved in efforts by the U.S. Embassy to locate and confirm the safety of citizens of the United States and other countries who remained in Kwangju. The embassy's consular representative had fled Kwangju early in the week so the embassy had no official representative left in the city.

The method of the contacts with the Embassy was strange. During the pre-dawn hours on Wednesday, May 21, all long distance telephone lines between Kwangju and the rest of the nation were cut off by the military. The American military base at SongJeong Ri was outside the military perimeter which surrounded Kwangju. However, their telephone system was a part of the Kwangju local phone system. As a result, our friend, Dave Hill, a First Sergeant in the Air Force, was able to telephone us.

However, the telephone system on the American base was subject to the control of the Korean military. The Korean military tried to prevent calls between the American military and Kwangju citizens as a method of limiting the flow of information into and out of Kwangju. However, the American commander protested sufficiently that the Korean military agreed to allow the American base to make calls to our telephone number. After some additional negotiation, the Korean switchboard operator was also allowed to accept calls from my telephone and connect me through to the American base. In this way, we were able to communicate one or two times a day.

The embassy contacted me several times through the American Air Base. Each time they gave me the name, phone number, or other information about persons whose safety they wished to confirm. I then called or otherwise tried to contact these persons to gain information to pass along to the Embassy. Altogether, I made contact with eight other foreigners in Kwangju at the request of the American Embassy. [Pages 227-8]
According to Jean Underwood in her chapter, "An American Missionary’s View" in the book Contentious Kwangju: The May 18 Uprising in Korea's Past and Present (2003), there were at least 5 families of missionaries on their compound, so they would have made up a large share of the Americans in Kwangju.

The following information comes from US Embassy Cables to the State Department by Ambassador Gleysteen. Those from May 1980 are collected here.

On May 25, Gleysteen wrote,
The Korean foreign ministry has now piously requested that all foreigners leave Kwangju for their own safety. American embassy and military authorities in Korea have formed a task force which is working late Sunday night on this problem. Initial conclusions are, however, that there is no way to extract the remaining Americans safely and that there is somewhat greater safety no[w] in their lying low in place. Those remaining (25-30 persons, including five Peace Corps Volunteers, missionaries and academics) had unwisely disregarded strong warnings from the American ambassador urging them repeatedly to leave Kwangju in the last few days while it was feasible to do [so]. The five Peace Corps Volunteers defied a direct order to leave. Once out of Kwangju, they will be sent home.
American citizens being urged "repeatedly to leave Kwangju in the last few days" would accord with Peterson's calls starting on the 23rd (though he makes no mention of  requests by the Embassy to leave). As well, according to Linda Lewis, US consular representative in Kwangju David Miller had urged her "to get a bag packed" on May 22.

On May 26, Gleysteen wrote,
Shortly after 1800 May 25 MOFA requested that we urge all Americans to leave Kwangju and Mokpo as quickly as possible. With the help of BPAO Miller, who had just left Kwangju, and consular records, we were able to pass a list of those Americans thought still to be in Kwangju to the American OIC [Officer in Charge] at the nearby ROKAF base. Twenty-five of the Americans were contacted by the OIC. (No calls are permitted from Seoul to Kwangju, but we have a line to the airbase and a Ministry of Communications line to Kwangju for emergency use.) Six remain to be reached, but, of course, there may be other U.S. citizens there not presently known to embassy. Some of those contacted decided they would try to reach the military base, although they would have to pass through barriers manned by radicals and ROK military astride all routes leading out of the city. Twelve Mormon missionaries and five Canadian citizens are at the airbase at this time. Others have decided to remain in their homes for safety or other reasons. Four Peace Corps Volunteers could not be reached. (We have talked with PCV Paul Courtwright. [sic]) We are making another attempt to contact all those we have not spoken with and will report as Americans reach the base.
Later that day, he wrote,
A USAF C-130 arrived at Osan from Kwangju at 1800 on May 26 carrying 23 evacuees (including four Canadians and one South African.[...]

There are four Peace Corps Volunteers in Kwangju: Tim Warnberg, David Dolinger, Judith Chamberlin and Julie Pickering. Peace Corps has 24 other volunteers in Chollas and has contacted all but one, asking them to come to Seoul.[...]

MOFA called Embassy evening of May 26 asking for names and addresses of all Americans believed to be still in Kwangju. MOFA officials indicated that information would be passed along to Martial Law Command in attempt to assure AmCits’ safety. Embassy provided MOFA with a list of 33 names - - all the Americans there that we are aware of at this moment. If we learn of any others, we will notify MOFA immediately.
I asked Paul Courtright, one of Peace Corps Volunteers in Kwangju at the time, for his thoughts on the claim that the US issued an evacuation order before May 18, and he replied, "That is the first I've ever heard of such an order and I think there is little credibility." He added the following:
I was in Seoul on May 14-15. On the 15th I was at the [Peace Corps] office. I took the 고속 bus from Seoul to Gwangju on May 16. PC knew I was going to Gwangju. The point of this: if there was such an evacuation order, the PC would have told me not to go. There was no mention of any evacuation. 
As for when the Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) in Kwangju were first told to evacuate, he wrote, "The first we heard of the order to leave was on 23 May. Judi Chamberlin was the person who told us. Judi may have got the message on 22 May but she did not come over to Tim's to tell us until 23 May."

Peace Corps Volunteer David Dolinger wrote that he was in contact with the Peace Corps office in Seoul on May 22. All of the above accounts point to May 22 or 23 as the date when the US Embassy and the Peace Corps office began urging (or ordering, in the case of the PCVs) American citizens to leave Kwangju. Needless to say, this was five or six days into the uprising, not three or four days before.

*********

Some of Kim Yong-jang's other statements, particularly one reported in the Korea Herald about how he "said he filed 40 reports to the US officials, three of which were read by then-US President Carter," made me rather suspicious. How would an intelligence gatherer know his report had been read by the president? As far as I know, most raw intelligence reports would be sifted through and compiled into prepared reports for the Pentagon, and then passed upward; it would be unusual for raw intelligence reports to be passed upwards, particularly to the president. Seeing how Kim has now made a clearly incorrect statement - one seemingly meant to show the US in a negative light - his claim that President Carter read his reports, which included information about "the military’s corpse disposal, helicopter shooting, sexual assaults and takeover of Gwangju Prison" should be treated with skepticism.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Kwangju Uprising 39 years later

Today is the 39th anniversary of the Kwangju Uprising.

I've written quite a bit about the uprising in the past. A brief timeline is here, and there are also background posts about the situation in 1979 leading up to Park's assassination and Chun Doo-hwan's 12.12 coup. I've written more in-depth looks at the events of the uprising, such as the violence on the first day, the escalation of violence over the first three days, forcing the military out of the city, as well as an analysis of US news reports from May 22. I also looked at the retaking of the city by the military and the death toll.

I've also looked at more personal stories related to the uprising, such as the memories of a nurse, the memories of a photographer, the story of soldier, and the story of the death and memorialization of a high school girl named Park Geum-hui, who was killed during the uprising.

A bibliography of books in English about the uprising is here, links to literature inspired by the film are here. A series I started last year titled "The 1980 Kwangju Uprising and the United States" begins here.

Last weekend I had dinner with Paul Courtright, a former Peace Corps Volunteer who was one of four PCVs who were in Kwangju during the uprising. The others were Tim Warnberg (who wrote the first journal article about the Uprising, "The Kwangju Uprising: An Inside View," in 1987), David Dolinger (who I've met on several occasions and who has left comments on this blog about his experiences in 1980), and Judi Chamberlin.

Courtright has been working on a memoir of his experiences during the Kwangju Uprising, and during his visit to Korea, he planned to spend time in Kwangju brushing up on his Korean and visiting some of the sites to jog his memory. Instead, he was shocked by the current lack of understanding of what happened during the Kwangju Uprising and the prevalence of the belief that North Korea was involved. As an example, here is a poster at a conservative rally March 1 which purported to use facial recognition technology to reveal that leaders of the citizens' army in Kwangju were people who are now in Kim Jong-un's circle:


As a result of such misunderstanding, he has been giving interviews to try to share what he witnessed. He was interviewed by the Korea Herald and by the Kwangju Ilbo, which published two articles about him and what he saw. One article was about his experience during the uprising and why he was writing the book, while another article was about what he witnessed when he rode his bike into Kwangju from the south on May 22. As he put it in the Korea Herald article, "when I came across the soldiers (between Gwangju and Nampyeong), there were a number of buses and cars that were full of bullet marks. They were completely bullet ridden and there was blood everywhere.” The bodies were nowhere to be seen, and some of the buses were being used for a roadblock. While the shootings of at least two other buses by the army is well known (28 people died in two bus shootings on the outskirts of the city on May 23), it appears shootings at that location are not. The Kwangju Ilbo also published an article on the need to shine a light on the activities of the PCVs during 5.18 (something, since both Courtright and Dolinger have told me a number of stories, I'll write about in a later post).

I should add, however, Dolinger's account of military helicopters when he returned to Kwangju on May 21:
As I walked towards the center of town I was greeted by the sound of helicopters. With their approach the people in the streets all headed tor cover. Troops in the helicopters were firing on the citizens. The next day I saw the results in the hospitals. Patients with wounds entering in their shoulders or chests and exiting from the hips and lower backs. People paralyzed. The helicopters brought fear, maiming and death with their sound.
One story I was not aware of, but which recently had more light shed on it by Jon Dunbar, was of a helicopter firing on a building with a newspaper office in it. To this day one floor of the building still has the bullet holes in the walls and ceiling, and after restoration of the building that floor will be preserved as evidence of the shooting.

The Kwangju Ilbo also published an editorial on new information coming to light this week about 5.18. In addition to Courtright's testimony about the bus shooting, Kim Yong-chang, a former agent of the U.S. 501st military intelligence brigade, gave testimony at both the National Assembly and the May 18 Memorial Culture Center in Kwangju.

As reported by the Korea Times, Kim retold a story he had previously told during an interview with JTBC in March, and said he "decided to break his silence because attempts are still being made to distort the truth about the movement" (ie. 5.18). The story was a rather important one:
Kim reiterated that Chun [Doo-hwan] secretly came to Gwangju on May 21, 1980, by helicopter to meet four military leaders including Chung Ho-yong, then-commander of special operations, and Lee Jae-woo, then-colonel of the Gwangju 505 security unit[.]
As the Korea Herald reported his testimony,
“Chun came (to Gwangju) at around noon on May 21 (1980). He attended a meeting, including then-commander Jung Ho-yong. This is the unchangeable truth. I do not know the conversation they had (in the meeting). A mass shooting took place in front of the South Jeolla Provincial Government Office at around 1 p.m. Based on reasonable assumptions, the order to shoot was given at the meeting[.]” [...]

Heo Jang-hwan, a former investigator with the Gwangju 505 Security Unit during the uprising, said: “I saw the shootings myself. The ‘sit-down shooting’ posture is not for self-defense. Chun had ordered (the soldiers) to shoot (civilians).”[...]

Addressing the narrative that ordinary citizens used violence against soldiers, [Kim] said, “There were undercover soldiers [acting as agent provocateurs to discredit the movement]. About 30-40 soldiers came to Gwangju from Seongnam Air Base around May 20 (1980). They stayed at the K57 hangar for about two to three days. Upon receiving the tip, I went to the hangar and checked it out myself.”

According to him, the undercover soldiers were in their 20s and 30s, and some of them wore wigs and worn-out clothes.
He dismissed the idea of North Korean infiltration, saying the US would have noticed any large-scale infiltration, in part due to the fact that "Two US satellites specifically focused on North Korea and Gwangju." The above-linked article also includes a photo of "a deserted boiler room where [Kim] alleges bodies of killed protesters were incinerated...during a visit to the site of a former military hospital." This is interesting, considering former Peace Corps Volunteer Tim Warnberg wrote in the article, "The Kwangju Uprising: An Inside View," that on May 26
I walked to the hospital where I worked and talked to one of the doctors from the Dermatology Department. He had been on assignment at the military hospital on the edge of town, and reported seeing fifty bodies airlifted from the military hospital morgue in a one hour period.
It seems clear something was going on with bodies at the hospital. Perhaps two different disposal methods were used; Warnberg's conversation with a direct witness seems more a more trustworthy source.

Kim's testimony also raised questions about what the US knew or did not know about events in Kwangju. As reported in the Korea Herald, Kim was "one of the four experts dispatched to Gwangju during the May 1980" who, the Korea Times said, "was in charge of reporting facts and information he received from his informants in the South Korean government and military to the U.S. military." It is also said [in the Korea Herald] he reported to the US Department of Defense.

It adds that he "filed 40 reports to the US officials...[which] included the military’s corpse disposal, helicopter shooting, sexual assaults and takeover of Gwangju Prison." As well, "three of [the reports] were read by then-US President Carter."

Finding out more about these reports seems imperative. What were their detailed contents, did Carter read any, if so, when, and what did they contain - there are many questions to be answered.

Tim Shorrock summarized the Defense Intelligence Agency reports on the Kwangju Uprising and found them to be far more detailed and aware of what was going on than the embassy. They can be found under the heading "H1. DIA Kwangju Reports" here. Shorrock stated that "Some of the reports were received from an U.S. Air Force intelligence officer stationed at the nearby Kwangju Airbase, but others appear to be written by U.S. intelligence officers stationed in Seoul." Unless Kim was a source for the USAF officer at Kwangju Airbase, it's unlikely these were based on his reports. More to the point, it is hard to imagine Shorrock would not have mentioned the "military’s corpse disposal, helicopter shooting, sexual assaults" that Kim asserts he wrote about had they been in the DIA reports.

A reading of the US Embassy - State Department cables (those for May 1980 can be read here) reveals that, when it came to events in Kwangju, the Embassy was often reliant on distorted information gleaned from Korean media reports and the ROK military (both of which were controlled by Chun Doo-hwan). It would seem that the US military had access to more accurate information, but whether this was shared with those making the political decisions in Seoul and Washington is not yet known, but should be looked into.

I recently read a comment saying something along the lines of "Isn't this settled by now?" This week has shown that there is more yet to learn about the events of May 1980.