Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The murder of D.W. Stephens, or Spot the terrorist

The Marmot linked to a Joongang Ilbo article about a professor at London University who gave a lecture in which he labeled Kim Ku, Yun Bong-gil and Lee Bong-chang terrorists, which opened up some lively debate, as any discussion of what 'terrorism' is is bound to do, seeing the moral and political distinctions that have to be made to separate it from 'murder'. A comment by Sperwer points out descriptions of Korean independence activists from textbooks which tend towards the 'terrorism' label, while the Metropolitician brought up something that popped into my head almost immediately - "assassinating Americans [sic] in San Francisco who supported the Japanese occupation of Korea".

I'd actually known next to nothing about that event, other than that the American was named D.W. Stevens and that it took place in 1908. I've since poked my nose around the internet and found out more about it. Durham White Stevens had worked as a counselor at the Japanese Legation at Washington and in September, 1894 wrote an article in The North American Review titled "China and Japan in Korea", defending Japan's actions at the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war. Later, during the first year of the Russo-Japanese War, as Japan took control of more and more of the Korean government, Stevens was appointed as an advisor. These New York Times headlines give an idea of what he was up to:
AMERICAN TO GUIDE KOREA'S DIPLOMACY; Japan Appoints D.W. Stevens Adviser to Seoul Government. TOKIO'S TIGHTENING GRIP It Is Now Admitted That Japan Means to Have Complete Control of Korea's Foreign Affairs.

TOKIO, Sept. 4. [1904]-- The Japanese Government announces that Durham White Stevens, counselor of the Japanese Legation at Washington, will be the diplomatic adviser to the Korean Government, while M. Megata, Director of the Revenue Bureau at Tokio, will be Korea's financial adviser.
Another headline on October 22, 1904, gives an idea of how well regarded he was by the Japanese: "MIKADO HONORS D.W. STEVENS.; Decorates American with Grand Cross of the Sacred Treasure." This, from a year later, is also interesting:
WOULD DIVERT EMIGRATION.; Japan Wants to Turn the Tide to Manchuria and Korea.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 29. [1905]-- Raymond Crist, formerly private secretary to Secretary Metcalf, and now engaged in special commercial investigations in Japan, has sent a report to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor based on a long interview with Durham White Stevens, the American diplomatic adviser to the Emperor of Korea.
If you're starting to get the idea that he sounds like a public relations officer for the Japanese...
KOREA WAS NOT COERCED.; Letter from D.W. Stevens Disposes of the Recent Reports.
WASHINGTON, Dec. 28. [1905] -- In a private letter to a friend in this city, Durham White Stevens, Diplomatic Adviser to the Korean Government, strongly denies the reports that the treaty establishing a Japanese protectorate was extorted by force.
In 1908 he would make his way to the U.S. to comment favourably on Japan's progress in Korea, which led to this headline:
D.W. STEVENS SHOT BY KOREAN ASSASSIN; Late Foreign Adviser of the Emperor Badly Wounded at San Francisco. TWO ATTACKS MADE ON HIM Surgeons Believe He Will Recover -- Korean Hostility to Him Due to His Japanese Affiliations.

SAN FRANCISCO, March 23.[1908] -- Durham White Stevens, who from 1904 until recently was the foreign adviser of the Emperor of Korea, was shot and perhaps fatally wounded this morning at the ferry station just as he was about to leave for Washington.
The two Koreans responsible for the shooting were Jeon Myeong-un, and especially Jeong In-hwan. This webpage gives an outline explaining how two local groups of Koreans in San Francisco met and argued over what to do after Stevens was interviewed and praised Japan's administration of Korea. Stevens was approached at his hotel, but he rebuffed them, so the next day, March 23, they went to the ferry terminal and tried to shoot him. Jeon's gun misfired, so he attacked Stevens; Jang fired and hit Stevens twice (and Jeon once). Stevens died 3 days later, and the Times reported the response in Japan: "JAPAN MOURNS STEVENS.; Widespread Sorrow Is Manifested Throughout the Country at His Death"

On March 26, George Trumbull Ladd wrote a very even-handed op-ed piece for the Times:
KOREANS A BLOODY RACE.; Attempted Assassination of Mr. Stevens Not an Isolated Case.
The cowardly and shockingly brutal assaults upon our distinguished citizen, the Hon. Durham White Stevens, furnish an instructive object lesson for the correct estimate of the Korean character and the Korean method of self-government. Since his appointment under the protocol of August, 1904, as "Diplomatic Adviser to the Department of Foreign Affairs," this American gentleman has served the Government of Korea faithfully, wisely, and honestly.
It was that year that Ladd's book In Korea with Marquis Ito was published. To say the book is pro-Japanese would be to understate the case. He and Stevens were of the same ilk, so to speak. It appears not everyone attacked Koreans, however, as an article the next day is titled "A DEFENSE OF THE KOREANS.(3); An Indolent but Harmless Race That Is Being Oppressed by Japan."

Jang went to trial in July, 1908, and was 'found guilty of murder in the second degree' on Christmas Eve that year.

As this article relates, the need Koreans felt to collectively raise funds for Jang's defense (maybe because their meeting on March 21 gave Jang the opportunity to decide that Stevens needed to be killed?) led to the formation of the Korean National League (which Syngman Rhee tried to take over, but failed). (The tastefully chosen photos at that site could stand to be corrected; in this one, the Japanese were not going off to attack Koreans, but to fight Russia, as it was the opening day of the Russo-Japanese War). Another, much longer account of the effect of D.W. Stevens' appearance in San Francisco and of his murder and the trial can be found here, but I wouldn't go there looking for exact details, based on memory as it is. It also recounts the importance of this incidence in uniting Koreans throughout California and Hawaii together, and both accounts make it clear that it was considered a just act to kill Stevens. Perhaps that's why busts of his killers can be found at a local Korean People's Hall (Pic from here):


Stevens was a civilian who, though not of the same nationality as the invading army in Korea, whole-heartedly supported Japan and worked for the Japanese government on several occasions. This made him a justifiable target for 'assassination'. One has to wonder if Jang and Jeon might have said as they shot him, "This is what your hands have committed. You have not come here for the sake of Korea, but for cursed Japan."

One also has to wonder what to make of a Korean working for an American contractor in a country recently invaded by the U.S. military, where 660 Korean military medics and engineers had recently been sent with 3000 more troops to come. Would he be just as justifiable a target as D.W. Stevens? As the BBC reported, after Kim Sun-il's beheading,
One of the masked kidnappers read a statement addressed to the Korean people, saying: "This is what your hands have committed. Your army has not come here for the sake of Iraqis, but for cursed America."
Obviously, there are differences; Kim Sun-il was held and his life used as leverage to try to force Korea to remove its troops from Iraq. Stevens was simply shot on the spot. If we use this as a definition of terrorism - any act "intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act" - then Kim Sun-il's murder certainly had the 'purpose to compel a government' aspect covered. Stevens' murder, however, wanted to silence an American mouthpiece for the Japanese government, and as far as I know the Japanese never sent such person to the US again (though Ladd continued to write articles supporting them, most notably during the Samil uprising in 1919).


Yun Bong-gil being led away

Another of the more famous 'candidates' for the terrorist label is Yun Bong-gil, who on April 29, 1932, threw a bomb at Japanese military and civilian delagates in Hongkew Park, Shanghai on the occasions of the Japanese Emperor’s birthday. Killing a general and an official, and wounding several others, including Shigemitsu Mamoru, Japanese Minister to China, who lost a leg. At the end of World War II, Shigemitsu was the foriegn minister, and came on board the USS Missouri to sign the instrument of surrender.


The reason he has a cane (and false leg) is due to Yun's bomb attack. I seem to remember a book I read somewhere describing this scene as an example of the effects of Korean resistance upon the outcome of the war.


I suppose some might argue that someone who kills in the name of an ideal might have a touch of madness. I couldn't see Yun's photo above without thinking of a more recent photo of a Korean man posing with weapons.


I'm sure both of them felt justified in killing the people they did, but whether they're judged a national hero or national shame depends on whether or not we agree with them.

10 comments:

steve said...

What a great article but what a terrible comparison.

DW Stevens was a pro-Japanese mouthpiece installed after the Koreans were coerced into dismantling their foreign ministry when Japanese troops marched into Seoul February 1904.

He was assassinated because he openly supported Japanese control over Korea.

The other dude is some wackjob basketcase who went on a random killing spree. Seriously, I don't get your analogy.

Anonymous said...

Wow...you gotta be one sick puppy.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the fundamental premise that its ok to murder certain people and not others, as long as your cause is "noble". Stop and think that assassinations are totally cowardly and immoral to begin!

Just because you like Korea and their independence movement, that doesnt make their dirty, sneaky tactics right. (Nor was Japan right in their assassinations and brutality and sneakiness). If the peacefulness of March 1, 1919 had embodied the nationalist movement, perhaps all the post-1945 violent bloody political chaos wouldnt have had the historical roots that legitimized it.

By the way the closing lines of the 1919 Korean declaration of independence promise that the nationalist movement will operate "above board" - ie no sneaking assasinations. LIE!

Korea's nation was midwifed by these murders, no wonder they have such a tenuous grasp of what is and is not morally acceptable - the ends totally justifies the means for them. There is no action that is immoral, as long as it further's the great cause of independence! ... or any cause?

By the way thats why Koreans perperuate their victim mentality. Because victims should be allowed to take revenge (ie kill). And since you brought up Cho Seung-Hui, let me ask you this:

Is it any coincidence that in his videos he tried to portray himself as a victim taking legitimate revenge? Not every nutjob goes to such lengths to victimize himself (eg Columbine), this emphasis on self-victimization to legitimate murder is what made his killing spree so "Korean".

This August 15, I'm glad im not Korean.

Haksaeng said...

What is or is not terrorism is based both on your definition of terrorism and on the purpose of an attack. I would consider the attack on Stevens more in the political assassination category than I would in the terrorism category. The two Koreans were attempting to punish him for his acts, they were not trying to bring down or influence either the US or the Japanese governments.

pak said...

Interesting thoughts on what makes an act an instance of terrorism. Unhappy history between allies like the Stevens assassination is something we'd like to put behind us, I'm sure. However, in spite of the tragedy of lost life, such cases are a chance to get a different perspective on terrorism, especially with the war we're now embroiled in. If an independent Iraq one day enshrines some of the terrorists who have taken so many American lives and honors them as national heroes, what right do we have to contest their decision? We may continue to loath them, but--as it was so eloquently put--whether they're judged a national hero or national shame depends on whether the Iraqis agree with them.

Anonymous said...

It might be useful to compare how India and Pakistan gained their independence from Britain, on their own accord, while Korea had to rely on the US. Many in India chose the non-violence path, thanks to the guidance of Gandhi, who was well read and educated, and although a "resistance fighter", he clearly was never a "terrorist".

Does Korea have any one who fits that mould?

Anonymous said...

Haksaeng said: "I would consider the attack on Stevens more in the political assassination category than I would in the terrorism category. The two Koreans were attempting to punish him for his acts"

I would place it in the murder category. Civilized human beings arent allowed to walk up and shoot eachother over political disagreements anymore than they are over marital disagreements. The Koreans couldve expressed their outrage any number of ways - trying to teach other people about the dire sitaution in their country, writing an essay, etc. But instead they murdered the guy who insulted them. Barbaric.

Pak says: "If an independent Iraq one day enshrines some of the terrorists who have taken so many American lives and honors them as national heroes, what right do we have to contest their decision? We may continue to loath them, but--as it was so eloquently put--whether they're judged a national hero or national shame depends on whether the Iraqis agree with them."

If the Iraqis decide to honor someone who placed an IED that destroyed a Humvee, any future American would regard the Iraqis as:

1) Stupid for honoring people who kill but a handful of US soldiers, while they kill thousands of Iraqis in pointless suicide bombings on markets, bus stations, etc

2) Cowardly, for honoring a guy who doesnt even have the courage to risk his life by picking up a gun, who instead resorts to sneakily planting bombs w/ low risk to himself (and low risk of success) - "Is that the *best* they can do? Those Eye-raki's must be really short on national heros!"

3) Pathetic - again, they wont even meet the enemy face to face, thats why the US kills 10-20 terrorists for every US soldier they kill. But hey if they way to sacrifice their own lives at such a high rate in the hopes that that 1 US soldier's life will get into the US media and sway public opinion, thats their strategic choice. But it reflects on the worthlessness with which they regard their own lives. Barbarian 'sagopangshik'.

So, any future American would regard a nation that stupidly honors such barbaric cowards as ... stupid, cowardly, and barbaric. Good thing American's dont know/care about Korea's national "heros" (these assasins, Kim Ku) - not all were assassins and cowards, but a suspiciously high number of them were.

How many troops did the Japanese station in Korea? Surprisingly few! I dont know the number, but I'd respect Koreans alot more if they declared independence and actually had the guts to fight a war instead of resorting to a couple cowardly assassinations here and there.

(I'd respect Korea even more if they modernized faster and pre-empted their annexation by Japan by building a strong military. Thats the real lesson of the Japanese colonial period that educated Koreans used to understand.)

Anonymous said...

well in the Stephens case it was more like a 'targeted killing.' He was one of the chief policy-advisors in the colonial straddling of Korea. He needed to go. Same with the Shanghai bombing. No terrorism there, since it was a clear act of resistance to colonial oppression and also targetted to kill those who prop up the imperial regime.

ZenKimchi said...

That was a powerful visual ending to that article.

Anonymous said...

Why did Korea acquiesce so easily to Japanese domination? How come these scattered assasinations and bombings, but no revolution? Are you really *proud* of the miniscule number of "freedom fighters" and their occasional bombings? Its actually sad that they are national heros. At least Kim Il Sung half-heartedly fought -- in Manchuria.