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.

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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.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Vietnamese refugees arrived in Busan 44 years ago today

Today is the 44th anniversary of the arrival of Vietnamese refugees in Busan at the end of the Vietnam War. Last July I wrote an article about their arrival and their stay at a refugee camp in Busan for the Korea Times. The article was accompanied by a post here and greatly expanded on and published at Sino-NK last December.

As I've gone through magazines from 1975, I've come across more photos and information about the refugees. I've also been contacted by a number of refugees who have been happy to share their stories and photos with me. Below are a some of the photos I've come across in the media.

These are from the Korean government history site, www.ehistory.go.kr:

 One of the LSTs arrives in Busan May 13. From here.

Refugees from the Twin Dragon, a cargo ship which picked up refugees and arrived in Busan May 23, arriving at the Refugee camp in Busan. From here

As well, a video of the camp and the Twin Dragon's arrival can be seen here.

The following photos are from the Weekly Joongang, May 25, 1975, page 27:


A Korean husband and Vietnamese wife reunite at the camp. 

A store and post office at the camp. 

A Korean-Vietnamese child tries on a hanbok. 

Children playing. I sent this to a woman who contacted me and she told me she is in the photo, and that refugees from her LST wore blue track suits; those from the other LST wore red.

The following photos are from the Weekly Kyonghyang, May 25, 1975, pages 3-4, 18-21.


Disembarking. Note the camera. 

At right, children aboard a bus taking them to the camp. 

 First breakfast.

A sleeping area.

Children so happy while riding on tricycles that "the smell of gunpowder and the sadness of losing their country cannot be found." 

The caption says this is the only Vietnamese man, Korean woman couple.

I'm sure more photos will turn up, and hopefully before too long I can share some of the refugees' stories.



Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Censoring children's comics and the role of newspaper cartoons as critics in the 1960s and 70s

My latest article for the Korea Times, about comic book reading rooms and the censorship of comic books in the 1960s and early 1970s can be found here. Perhaps things have changed very recently, but two years ago when I tried to find academic articles on this topic, I found nothing in either Korean or English, though I imagine there must be something in Korean somewhere. I had previously thought the crackdown on comic books was more a product of the Yusin (1972-79) era, but discovered that was not the case. The pertinent photos I was able to discover in my Korea Times archive are posted in the Korea Times article; this one is certainly memorable:

"Let's burn bad comics." (Korea Times, Feb. 4, 1972)

This particular bonfire occurred at the elementary school attended by Jeong Byeong-seop, the 12-year-old boy who hung himself in imitation of a comic book character in early 1972.

In the aftermath of his death, Police in Seoul seized 20,400 "bad comics"; below is a photo of 8,600 seized by Dongdaemun Police Station:


Even more memorable is this video taken at the time:



Also in my research I've come across newspaper cartoons' take on political and cultural events. One event that was well-covered the first crackdown on long hair on men in August 1970. Of the half-dozen cartoons I've found, Kobau is the most memorable (published August 29, 1970 in the Donga Ilbo):

"We're cracking down on all the Korean hippies."  

"Men who are imitating women will have their hair cut right now."
"Dad, I was brought in too."
"What?! You're my daughter!"

(One of the many criticisms of this initial hair crackdown was that the standards for determining what constituted "long hair" were so vague as to be meaningless, though the cartoonist in this case is probably focused more on a 'they look like girls' joke than anything else.

For more on Kobau and other newspaper cartoons of the time, see the rather informative Korea Times article from October 1970 I uploaded here.

Kobau was also featured a great deal in the cartoons US ambassador Philip Habib sent in a cable to the State Department in March 1973. This came just months after the advent of the dictatorial Yusin constitution, and according to Habib they were about the only public source of criticism, mild as it was, of government policy at that time. Habib's cable, which was part of  a collection of such cables at the National Assembly Library website, can be read here.

I know of one person who was doing their PhD dissertation on newspaper cartoons from this time (particularly Kobau and its cartoonist, Kim Song-hwan). Considering newspaper cartoonists' role as critics at that time, as well as the efforts the government made to control children's comic books (as well as the popularity of webtoons in Korea today), the story of the comics industry from the 1950s to the 1980s deserves more attention.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Of pontoon trains, comfort concerts, and headers

There was an interesting article in the Korea Times the other day by Amanda Price titled "The Japanese who fought for Korea's freedom." It details a number of Japanese academics and other figures who opposed Japan's imperial expansion into Korea. It's well worth reading, though one photo - posted below in its original form - raised my eyebrows, since it was incorrectly captioned "Japanese soldiers carried alarming amounts of ammunition through The Independence Gates." I was already familiar with this photo, having posted it here before (13 years ago), but I had also recently come across it in its originally-published form in Colliers magazine (issues from the time of the Russo Japanese War can be found here). It was neither taken in Seoul, nor was it of ammunition. Below is the photo and its original caption:


A JAPANESE PONTOON TRAIN MOVING TOWARD THE YALU FROM PING-YANG
The floats, built in sections, were carried by one pack-train of the engineers' column, the beams and flooring by another. Before the war, the Japanese Intelligence Office sent skilled engineers, disguised as coolies, through Korea and Manchuria to make detailed measurements of the width, depth, current, and tidal force of every stream which an invading army might have to cross. The Yalu was the most important river to be surveyed in this way, and the data were used to construct, at Hiroshima, complete pontoon bridges for the crossing, so that the material was ready to be carried with the army when the advance began. In brief, the Japanese prepared the Yalu crossing to measure, months beforehand, and when the bridges were needed they were flung into position without the slightest waste of time, labor, or transport.

I also decided to change this blog's header for the first time in a decade or more (from this image I took 12 years ago of apartments going up south of Magok Station) to this one, from the August 3, 1975 issue of Sunday Seoul. After the promulgation of Emergency Decree 9 by Park Chung-hee in May 1975, this entertainment magazine - little different from ones you would find today - suddenly began publishing photos of "comfort concerts" held for Korean troops that it had clearly been pressured (if not outright ordered) to organize. (The next issue mentioned guitarist / singer / songwriter Shin Joong-hyun and his band the Yeopjeons were going to dress up more in the future after their hit song Mi-in (beautiful woman) had been one of 130 songs banned in June and July as part of the government's crackdown on decadence.) All in all, the image represents the militarization of almost every aspect of life under Park's Yusin regime.


My first header was of a branch of a cherry blossom tree. The other day I was on Gaehwasan, which overlooks Gimpo Airport, and saw this stand of cherry blossom trees just outside the airport, and quite close to Gaehwa Station. It took a moment before I realized it must be a nursery for cherry blossoms. I imagine it would be worth a visit. Perhaps next year.


Friday, April 05, 2019

Gungsan Tunnel History Exhibition Hall

In 2008 the city of Seoul decided to act on stories told by local residents that the Japanese military had a tunnel dug under Gungsan, near Yancheon Hyanggyo Station (Line 9), during World War II. The tunnel was discovered and plans were made to turn it into a tourist attraction with its alcoves being used as various exhibition spaces. In 2010, however large rocks fell from the roof as construction proceeded and after examination it was decided not to proceed with this plan for safety reasons, and the project stalled for years. A smaller plan was enacted in which its entrance would be turned into an exhibition space, that allowed for a glimpse of the tunnel, and in May 2018 it opened to the public.

The Gungsan tunnel was dug by Koreans mobilized in patriotic service corps in the 1940s during the Pacific War. It was 3 meters underground, 70 meters long, and 2 meters in diameter. It was used to store weapons, ammunition and other war materials, and could also be used as an air raid shelter. The main military outpost in the area was Gimpo Airbase. A small hill near the tunnel known as Seonyubong was demolished to provide stone for the construction of Gimpo Airbase in the late 1930s.





I visited the exhibition hall last weekend and took the above photos. It’s open from 10-4 every day except Monday, and though the display material is in Korean the volunteer when I was there spoke English well. Seeing as you can't actually go into the tunnel, it might not be worth a visit for the tunnel alone, but it’s right behind the Gyeomjae Jeong Seon Museum, an art museum dedicated to Jeong Seon, who was served as the magistrate of the Yangcheon Prefecture in the 1740s (but who may be more familiar for the image on the back of the 1000 won bill). Yangcheon Hyanggyo, Seoul's only remaining Confucian school and shrine, is also just around the corner, but is closed until May for construction. The newly-opened Seoul Botanical Garden is also nearby in Magok-dong, and is free until May.

I’ll be leading a tour for the Royal Asiatic Society to the Gungsan area and Gaehwasan (near Gimpo Airport) taking in both museums, Yangcheon Confucian Shrine, temples, tombs, Korean War memorials, and spring flowers next Saturday, April 13. For more information about the tour, see here.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

A look at Arbor Day

My latest Korea Times story is about the long-lost holiday, Arbor Day / 식목일. For decades April 5 was a day off so students, citizens and civil servants could plant trees. One of the unsung accomplishments achieved (mostly) under Park Chung-hee's rule was the conversion of Korea's bare mountains into thriving forests that are today a haven for hikers - something now taken for granted.

For a decade or so Park led a ceremony on that day and was photographed planting trees, often with his children. He and others made lofty speeches, such as when, in 1968, "Seoul Mayor Kim Hyun-ok...emphasized planting trees as a sacred task for the modernization of the Republic and this generation’s sublime duty for the welfare of our descendants."

Here are a few photos and cartoons drawn from the Korea Times:

Korea Times, April 6, 1968. 

Korea Times, April 6, 1965.

Korea Times, April 5, 1967. 

Korea Times, April 5, 1970. 


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Simpsons and Family Guy do Seoul

Sunday night, the 17th episode of The Simpsons' 30th season, "E My Sports," featured Bart becoming adept at esports and, in the last 6 minutes, going with the family to Seoul for an esports tournament. My thoughts on the episode were featured in this Korea Times article, along with those of David Mason (thanks to Jon Dunbar).

There are a few plays on words in the signs (in English), and a demonstration that there is some awareness of the Korean language, but other than that there's very little engagement with Korea. A few buildings appear, like the Lotte Tower below:


The 63 Building:


Namsan Tower:


And Jogyesa:


A subplot of the episode is Lisa's sudden desire to go to Korea too to go to Jogyesa because of their amazing sand mandalas. I was fairly certain that was not a thing you'd expect to find at Jogyesa, so it was nice to see David Mason confirm that.


The esports tournament takes place at what appears to be World Cup Stadium, and when things go awry this robot appears:


Considering Korea's plans to replace foreign English teachers with robots (one of the best inventions of 2010, said Time Magazine), this made me smile a little, but I'd imagine that's not what the writers were thinking of.


The reference below is to the fact that The Simpsons is animated in Korea.


As I noted in the article, "The Simpsons Animation and Casino is a rather lame joke, but recalls the 1992 episode Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie, where a news program reviewed the history of the animation Itchy & Scratchy and showed the studio where it was made in South Korea, which featured soldiers with bayonet-fixed rifles prodded animators in the back to make them work faster, a scene which angered The Simpson's Korean animators." Here's the scene from that episode:


The arrival of riot police at the end of the episode almost seems like a modern update to the above image, particularly considering Koreans tend not to riot at sports events.


As I noted in the article, the entire appearance of Seoul in the episode just felt shoehorned in. There's really no engagement with the place at all. It could have been anywhere.

For a far-more-engaged episode of TV, 10th episode of Family Guy's 14th season, "Candy, Quahog Marshmallow," which aired three years ago, was about a trip to Seoul taken after it's discovered the character Quagmire was once a Korean soap star. The plot can be found here:

Compared to the nondescript city scenes in The Simpsons, the following establishing shots are clearly recognizable as Seoul, Busan, Incheon Airport (despite the name change) and Gwanghwamun Plaza:





Unlike The Simpsons, there are no English language jokes shoehorned into the street scenes.


And despite that not being a makgeolli bottle, there's quite a bit of detail put into the restaurant shots...


... particularly with the walls (the beer ad is spot on):


There's a certain amount of engagement with the culture, beginning with the TV dramas which bring them to Seoul in the first place (to find the last episode of the series they were watching that their friend starred in):


The main character gets some plastic surgery done:


They watch Sistar's "Touch My Body" and are quite enamoured with Kpop for some reason.



Then they make their own Kpop video, which, while pretty dumb, is still a serviceable parody and shows a level of engagement with the actual culture, unlike The Simpsons.


There are some duds, of course. Quagmire reunites with his former costar and rekindles their romance, but decides to leave when he finds out the entire extended family lives with them. Needless to say, you'd be very, very hard-pressed to find such a thing in Seoul.


The less said about Ashton Kutcher's Pet Engine Cooking Bag ad (so you can cook dogs under the hood while you drive), the better, but there is a level of detail here that balances it out a bit (the dog on the box saying "맛있는!" and the 1000 won 할인).


And, unlike The Simpsons, there may be a joke here few would get: The bus that runs down the character in the TV drama is #588. I've read that in decades past the route for bus 588 took it past the Cheongnyangni red light district, which inspired its nickname, '588.'


It's easy enough to see, despite some cluelessness and a dog meat joke, that Family Guy engaged with Korea far more than The Simpsons, and I say this as someone who has never liked Family Guy. Those interested in the decline of the once-great Simpsons are recommended to watch the Youtube video "The Fall of The Simpsons: How it Happened."