Monday, September 15, 2014

Uncovering the truth about "The Korean Seductress Who Betrayed America"

This AP article was pointed out to me the other day:
Back in the days of "Commies" and "pinkos," of Red scares, black lists, suspicion and smear, Kim Soo-im stood out as a one-woman axis of evil, a villainess without peer.

"The Korean Seductress Who Betrayed America," as the U.S. magazine Coronet labeled her, was a Seoul socialite said to have charmed secret information out of one lover, an American colonel, and passed it to another, a top communist in North Korea.

In late June 1950, as North Korean invaders closed in on this teeming, panicked city, Kim was hastily executed by the South Korean military, shot as a "very malicious international spy." Her deeds, thereafter, only grew in infamy. [...]

The record of a confidential 1950 U.S. inquiry and other declassified files, obtained by The Associated Press at the U.S. National Archives, tell a different Kim Soo-im story:

Col. John E. Baird had no access to the supposed sensitive information. Kim had no secrets to pass on. And her Korean lover, Lee Gang-kook, later executed by North Korea, may actually have been an American agent.

The petite woman smiling out from faded photographs, in silken "hanbuk" gown, may have been guilty of indiscretions. But the espionage case against her looks in retrospect -- from what can be pieced together today -- like little more than a frame-up.

Baird and fellow Army officers could have defended her, but instead the colonel was rushed out of Korea to "avoid further embarrassment," the record shows. She was left to her fate -- almost certainly, the Americans concluded, to be tortured by South Korean police into confessing to things she hadn't done.
I'd heard this story before - of the Korean mistress of an American officer passing on military secrets to a North Korean lover, but missed this uncovering of the truth of the story when it came out in 2008. It's well worth reading the entire article.

An example of the smearing that Kim Soo-im received is further illustrated by the cover of the February 1961 issue of Men (posted at this blog), which advertises a sensationalized version of the story with the headline "Miss Kim: The Streetwalker Who Tipped Our Battle Plans In Korea," and contains this image of her in 'seduction class' learning that 'Yankees like to be caressed.'

The version of the above-linked AP story I first read was on Fox News, but as this blog points out, that version leaves out a few things, such as the claim that most Koreans after liberation desired a socialist or communist government, as well as an illustration of torture methods used by Korean police as described by an American officer: "Electric shock and the use of pliers is frequent."

Reading that brought to mind the chapter about Korea in Mark Gayn's Japan Diary (and looking at his Wikipedia entry, I had no idea he moved to Canada and became a top editor at the Toronto Star - how about that).

Gayn's must-read chapter about his several-weeks-long visit to Korea in the fall of 1946 portrays the American Military Government and its ties with rightist Koreans in a very negative light. For example:
"The Koreans in the Military Government," one official told me today, "represent a conspiracy of insufferable corruption. People we now use to govern Korea are rightists who happily did Japan’s dirty work. There are now men in the Korean police force who actually were decorated by the Japanese for their cruelty and efficacy in suppressing Korean nationalism."

We did, I was told, issue a stern order for the purge of collaborators. This was mistranslated so skillfully by our Korean interpreters in the Military Government that when the hour of purge came, it was discovered that in all of our zone the order could be applied to only one official.

I was also told this: One day early last spring, it dawned on our policy-makers on the Potomac that our Korean allies – and our own blunders – were losing us Korean good will at a catastrophic rate. If on September 7, 1945, our men landing in Korea were greeted with hosannas, now a Military Government poll of public opinion showed that the Koreans in our zone preferred the Japanese to us.
Ouch. Gayn's book can be found in pdf form in the Royal Asiatic Society's online library, specifically in the collection of almost 400 scanned books about Korea which belong to former British Ambassador Martin Uden. Gayn's book is here, and the chapter on Korea (covering his visit between October 15 and November 8, 1946) can be found between pages 358 and 452 of the pdf (or pages 349 and 443 of the book).

(Hat tip to Hamel.)

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