Monday, June 29, 2020

When "pro-Japanese collaborators" become "victims" (and heroes)

The other day on Facebook I came across the story of Yang Chil-seong / Yanagawa Shichisei / Komarudin, a Korean who became a guard at a POW Camp operated by the Japanese army in Indonesia in September 1942, but then after WWII joined with two Japanese soldiers in the fight for Indonesian independence from the Dutch, took the name Komarudin, and, along with the two Japanese soldiers, was captured and executed in 1949. In 1975 his body was moved to a Indonesian independence heroes' cemetery. While Wikipedia has information in English and Korean, this Hankook Ilbo article has more information and a photo of him with the two Japanese soldiers. As it notes, it's not clear if he chose to be a POW camp guard or was forcibly mobilized. According to the article, when Indonesia was liberated at the end of the war, the Korean POW camp guards were investigated and 63 were imprisoned for more than 10 years as war criminals, and 4 were shot. According to a Korean guard who was there, Yang was considered to be close to the Japanese soldiers, and considering he joined two in fighting for Indonesian independence, the article surmises that this might be true.

My first response upon reading this (the English version did not make clear that he was a POW Camp guard), was to think of this recent article, which spoke of how General Kim Paek-il, who convinced the US military to save 100,000 refugees during the Heungnam evacuation of late 1950, was later targeted by anti-Japanese activists (inspired by Roh Moo-hyun's Presidential Committee for the Inspection of Collaboration in Japanese Imperialism), according to whom "Kim was involved in Japan's brutal crackdown on Korean independence fighters in the Manchuria region in the 1930s," and they erected a monument criticizing him next to his statue. Taking things further, in May some progressive lawmakers "called for a bill to have the remains of Kim and other Korean 'colluders' during the Japanese colonial period removed from the national cemetery," and to block the burial of Korean War hero Paik Sun-yup. There is no indication that such a bill would have any support, and I hope it doesn't. Considering Korea's long history of disinterring political enemies (perhaps they could just do as Yeonsan-gun did and simply behead the buried remains?), you would hope such officially-mandated desecration would remain in the pre-modern era where it belongs.

Thinking of the above example, I couldn't help but wonder if those lawmakers and activists would also want to put a memorial next to Komarudin's grave calling him a "pro-Japanese traitor," since that's what they seem to consider any Korean who joined the Japanese army to be. But then, after consulting the Korean-language articles, I realized he was a POW Camp guard, and, well, anti-Japanese activists - particularly those in the employ of official truth commissions - have demonstrated profoundly lenient attitudes toward POW Camp guards who mistreated Allied prisoners so badly that they were convicted of war crimes.

According to Utsumi Aiko’s “Korean ‘Imperial Soldiers’: Remembering Colonialism and Crimes against Allied POWs,” in the 2001 book Perilous Memories: The Asia-Pacific War(s), serving in the Japanese military in the 1930s and 1940s were 17,000 Volunteer soldiers (through a system begun in 1938) and around 110,000 soldiers who were conscripted in 1944 and 1945. There were also around 120,000 civilian employees of the military, which included POW Camp guards.

At the end of World War II, 23 Koreans were executed for war crimes, and 125 were imprisoned. Of the 148 in total, 3 were soldiers and 16 were translators, and “of the 3,016 Korean men conscripted to work as prison guards 129 were found guilty of war crimes.”

These war criminals were transferred to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo to serve out their sentences, but while Japanese serving out their sentences there got government benefits (for, say, injuries incurred during their service during the war), Koreans, since they were no longer Japanese citizens, did not. When the Korean war criminals were released, those who continued to live in Japan formed the Association for the Mutual Advancement of Korean War Criminals and sought compensation from the Japanese government (as described here).

What needs to be remembered, however, is that many POW Camp guards were not conscripted, but volunteered. According to an unpublished paper of mine about Japanese POW camps in Korea, the announcement of the conscription system for Koreans - to begin in 1944 - was announced on May 9, 1942.
In addition to this, on May 22, 1942 a system allowing Koreans to apply to be prison guards for American and British prisoners of war was announced. The Maeil Sinbo reported the “once again glorious news,” coming two weeks after the conscription system announcement, that “as imperial subjects our brethren from the peninsula will also bear the heavy responsibility of national defense” by guarding prisoners overseas, though some would be employed in Korea. Such lofty language appeared a day later when it was reported that “a sublime path to cooperate in building the southern part of the co-prosperity sphere has opened for the youth of the peninsula who will be employed by the military.” The reason for the system was made clear: “Six months have passed since the war to destroy the Americans and British was begun last December 8, and already the number of enemy prisoners has reached 340,000.” Applicants needed to be between the ages of 20 and 35, have robust bodies and no diseases, have completed at least 4th grade in elementary school, and had to be able to carry on everyday conversation in Japanese. The Maeil Sinbo spent weeks covering the application, testing, and instruction process of these young Korean men[.]
 The first day of applications. (Maeil Sinbo, May 26, 1942)

Taking an employment test. (Maeil Sinbo, June 6, 1942) 

(Maeil Sinbo, June 10, 1942)

Farewell ceremony. (Maeil Sinbo, June 13, 1942)

It's said that at least some of these POW guards were conscripted, but the earliest to be sent had to apply and pass written and physical tests to become guards.

A nuanced examination of how Koreans were remembered in POW literature, and of the POWs awareness of the low status of their Korean captors vis-a-vis the Japanese - while at the same time recalling their casual brutality - can be read here.

Now, in November 2006, under - once again - Roh Moo-hyun's presidency, the Truth Commission on Forced Mobilization under Japanese Colonial Rule, "confirmed," as the Donga Ilbo put it, that "Korean POW camp guards were sacrificed without a proper trial." It examined the cases of 86 of the 148 Koreans convicted by the Allies of war crimes and cleared 83 of them, or as the Hankyoreh put it, it "recognized them as victims and removed the stigma of them being war criminals." In other words, a Korean government commission unilaterally ruled that the judgements of the Allied War Crimes Tribunals after WWII no longer applied to these Koreans. It should be noted that 12 of the 86 applications made to the truth commission were from the relatives of Koreans who were executed for war crimes. The commission decided that the Korean war criminals, who "unavoidably" became POW camp guards to avoid the Japanese draft were burdened with responsibility for the abuse of Allied POWs, and so had to suffer the "double pain" of forced mobilization and becoming a war criminal.

Lee Se-il, head of the fact-finding investigation team, said, "As a result of analyzing the military prosecutor records of 15 Korean prisoner-in-law recently obtained from the National Archives of England, we were able to confirm that the conviction was made without clear evidence." (A few months later the Hankyoreh examined some of these cases and interviewed a former guard who had been sentenced to death. More on his case, and his activism in seeking redress from the Japanese government, can be found here.)

Needless to say, this didn't go over well at the time with non-Koreans, and led one blogger to say:
What annoys me is that one hears sympathy for men who would be called collaborators if they had been working in prisons that held fellow Koreans during colonial rule. Their prisoners were (largely) white, however, so they are afforded as much understanding as possible. And they get to be called “victims.”
[He follows this with a more nuanced discussion at the link.]

That mistakes were made when some of these POW Camp guards were judged, I would not be surprised. That mistakes were made in over half of the cases, including half of the cases that led to executions? That seems rather unlikely. But considering the fact that the guards suffered "double pain" at the hands of Japanese and Western imperialists, the two bêtes noires of National Liberation-style Korean progressivism, perhaps the desire to beatify them with the hallowed status of "victim," and, while they were at it, to declare the decisions of Allied tribunals null and void and therefore expand Korean sovereignty backwards in time, was too tempting to pass up.

On May 26, the Segye Ilbo published the following report that reveals that the work begun 14 years ago continues today:
Korean and Japanese scholars work together to recover the honor of Korean POW camp guards who became war criminals.

On May 26, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security-affiliated Foundation to Support Victims of Japanese Imperial Forced Labor announced that it will hold an international academic conference to re-examine the "reality of forced mobilization of Korean POW camp guards" who were dragged to Japan during the period of resistance to Japan.

On May 28th, the Foundation to Support Victims of Japanese Imperial Forced Labor will hold an academic conference on the theme of “International Comparisons to Forced Mobilization by Imperial Japan' at the ENA Suite Hotel in Seoul. This academic conference is looking to commemorate the Korean POW camp guards forcibly mobilized by the Japanese imperialists and to restore their honor. The Korean POW camp guards were sent by Japan to places like Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Indonesia by Japan, and faced with prisoners, after the Pacific War they were branded as war criminals. In 2006, they were first recognized as victims by the "Truth Commission for Victims of Forced Mobilization Under the Japanese Empire."

Five Korean and Japanese scholars will give presentations. Arimitsu Ken, an invited researcher from the Waseda University International Reconciliation Research Center will present “The progress and present of the compensation issue for Chosen soldiers and civilians after the war,” and Professor Okada Taihei from Tokyo University Graduate School’s Department of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies, will present "Sexual Violence by Japanese Forces in Visayas, Philippines.''

As well, Kim Jeong-suk, a researcher at Sungkyunkwan University's East Asian History Research Institute, will present "Cases and Lives of Korean POW camp guards under the Japanese Empire," and Yoo Byeong-seon, a lecturer at the Faculty of Liberal Studies at Korean Traditional Culture University, will present "The current status and anti-Japanese activities of the Korean POW camp guards in Indonesia at the end of the Japanese Empire."

Kim Yong-deok, president of the Foundation to Support Victims of Japanese Imperial Forced Labor said, "Through this academic conference, how the prisoners of the Korean prisoners were mobilized and how the situation of war turned them into war criminals will be re-examined within the international community." "Even now, the way needs to be made clear to restore the honor of all those who suffered from Japanese imperialism."
Well, it's nice to see Koreans and Japanese working together, I guess. Still, the feeling you get from reading about "Korean POW camp guards who became war criminals" or who "were branded as war criminals" or about "how the situation of war turned them into war criminals" is that the reason they became war criminals was because of unfair actions taken by the Allies, and not because these Koreans abused Allied prisoners. It's certainly something to think about the next time you hear the Korean government decry Japan's refusal to take responsibility for its past.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Korean war as depicted by "Gobau"

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War (or the 149th anniversary (+ 15 days), by some reckonings). I recently came across this 11-year-old Japan Focus article by Andrew Salmon about the art of 18-year-old Kim Song-hwan, who would later become the author of the newspaper cartoon "Gobau," about the era when he was hired as a war artist by the ROK Ministry of Defense. His drawings and watercolours are often stark and uncompromising in their depiction of what the war wrought upon Korean society. Kim Song-hwan went on to become perhaps the Korean newspaper cartoonist of the latter half of the 20th century, penning his "Gobau" cartoon for 45 years, as Colin Marshall wrote.

As I've mentioned before, Gobau was also featured in the cartoons US ambassador Philip Habib sent in a cable to the State Department in March 1973, months after the advent of the dictatorial Yusin constitution. According to Habib, they were just 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.

Update, June 29:

Robert Neff's article on the participation of Ethiopia's Kagnew Battalion in the Korean War is well worth reading.

Anti-war protest by GIs in Seoul in 1971, and my article on USFK race relations that year in the Korea Times

Yesterday, my latest Korea Times article filled in some of the events that occurred between the January 15, 1971 rally in memory of Martin Luther King held in Paju and the Anjeong-ri race riots of July that year, which I wrote about here and here.

Since writing that article a week or so ago, I began looking through the Stars and Stripes archive to discover that the story was far, far more complex (and covered in far more detail), than I had imagined. The incident at Camp Kaiser in May 1970 where various fires were set around the base seemed to be point where race relations became something to be concerned about in Korea, at least according to articles written later that year.

The army reacted by setting up different councils to try to address the problems on base, and tried to work with club owners to stop segregation in clubs. But some of the articles made clear that things were pretty dire at the time: racist graffiti in latrines, crosses burned onto blankets of black soldiers, which suggested Klan activity, areas of Dongducheon that black soldiers declared their own and essentially made off limits to white soldiers on pain of beatings, a bomb attack on a club frequented by black soldiers in Paju in the months after the January 1971 MLK rally, an earlier series of firebombing attacks at Camp Humphreys and in Anjeong-ri in April 1971 that predated the grenade attacks of May and the race riots of July, and the list goes on. Interesting as well is the fact that the Korean press sometimes provided details that Stars and Stripes did not, but Stars and Stripes also noted that the Korean press tended to sensationalize these events. They also - and this is true in the case of the Korea Times - tended to put the blame for these events on the black soldiers.

Needless to say, there's far too much there to cover in a post, and it will take time to sift through these articles. Something I covered in my KT article that can be dealt with in more detail at the moment is the May 17 anti-war protest by GIs in Myeong-dong. Here is the report on the protest published in Stars in Stripes on May 19, 1971:

Korean Cops Turn Them Over to MPs
31 GIs Arrested in Seoul Antiwar Protest
S&S Korea Bureau

SEOUL — Thirty-one American soldiers were arrested by Korean police Monday night after an anti- Vietnam war march through the streets of downtown Seoul.

The soldiers were taken to a nearby police station after Korean police arrested them in the Myongdong entertainment district in the center of the capital.

No violence was reported.

It was believed to be the first public organized antiwar demonstration by American soldiers in Korea, although in the past individual soldiers have worn black armbands in protest against the war.
The soldiers were released to American military policemen late Monday night after being questioned for three hours at Chung Ba Police Station where they were charged with blocking traffic and assembling without a permit, according to a military spokesman.

There was no violence observed during the demonstration which began at about noon with five soldiers silting on the steps of a downtown Seoul building. By 5 p.m., about 30 others had gathered. All wore black arm bands and demonstrated peacefully, attracting crowds of several hundred curious Koreans before police led them away without incident to waiting vans.

The demonstration, which leaders had earlier said they expected about 500 soldiers to join, had been planned for two weeks, they said. Printed flyers, criticizing the Indochina war and urging participation in Monday’s demonstrations had been distributed to most major U.S. military camps in the republic. Attempts also were made to elicit Korean University students' support for the anti-war rally, according to students.

At least two Koreans did join with the protesters briefly but were led away by Korean police almost immediately. Three other persons, who identified themselves as American military dependents also participated but were not taken into custody.

Demonstrators said they had gathered solely to protest the Vietnam War and to show their support for recent Washington marches. They were careful to stress that in no way were they demonstrating against Korea or the American role here, but were acting only as "concerned Americans wanting to end the Indochina debacle."

The soldiers were released in groups at about 11 p.m. from the police station where they said they had been questioned by men identifying themselves as Korean Central Intelligence agents.

As they were being trucked away to the Yongsan Provost Marshal's office they reported that they had been treated well, although they said they had not been allowed to contact American authorities or been advised of charges against them.

Police at the station refused admittance to reporters and police officials would not comment on the incident, saying only that "an investigation is in progress."

Army officials to whom the protesters were released said Tuesday morning that all of the men had been released to their units. The military spokesman was not able to comment on what further action might be taken against the men, but official legal sources here said any measures would probably be a matter for the Koreans to decide under the Status of Forces Agreement, because apparently the protestors had violated no American military statutes.

AP reported Korean onlookers showed no reaction to the antiwar march but called the marchers “Yankee beggars," apparently referring to their clothing.

(Korea is a staunchly anti-Communist, country and about 50,000 Korean troops are fighting in Vietnam in support of the Saigon Government.)


One wonders what the KCIA agents thought of the protest.

Here is the May 18, 1971 Korea Times article about the protest:

Here is a photo from the Korea Times:

Below is a photo from the May 18 Maeil Gyeongje, which played down the number of protesters ("around 10"), focused on the black soldiers present, and said the sit in only lasted one hour:

Below is a photo from the May 18 Kyonghyang Shinmun, which reported that around 5:15 pm Ernest Hirst (22) and about 30 other US soldiers in civilian clothes and wearing black armbands gathered in front of the Cosmos Department store in Myeong-dong and had flyers calling for an end to the war in Indochina. Then then marched for ten minutes to the Chosun Hotel and held a sit-in there until police convinced them to leave, so after that they returned to Myeong-dong where they held a silent protest for 3 hours. Gwon Yeong-ok (20), who lived in Chongsin-dong, joined in the demonstration briefly with three other Koreans and they were all taken to Namdaemun Police Station where they were released after a warning.

Below is a photo of the protest from the May 20 Stars and Stripes:

Stars and Stripes reported that day that Korean police had decided not to charge them; whether USFK would charge them was still being decided.

I haven't found any reports after this discussing the matter, so one assumes USFK authorities let it drop.

I would certainly be curious to hear first-hand accounts of this protest.

Monday, June 22, 2020

The rally in memory of Martin Luther King at RC 1 in Paju, 1971

 Rally commemorating the third anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination held in Paju, Jan, 15, 1971.

Years ago I wrote about the Anjeong-ri race riots of July 1971, which took place outside Camp Humphreys. In the comments to the two posts I wrote (here and here) a number of soldiers who served at Camp Humphreys left comments describing their memories of that event. What was confusing, I realize now, is that there were actually two incidents that took place that year, seven weeks apart, at Camp Humphreys, and the soldiers at times referred to both. The reason I understand this now is that I recently looked through my Korea Times archive, where I found a number of articles about black soldiers in Korea demonstrating against discrimination going back to at least late 1970. What set the tone for 1971, however, was a rally held by black soldiers in memory of Martin Luther King on January 15, 1971, the third anniversary of his assassination his birthday.

Here is the Korea Times article about the rally from January 16, 1971:

A few months ago, through this article by Jon Dunbar about Martin Limon's latest book, I was made aware of the newspaper Overseas Weekly, which was a tabloid weekly out of Germany that covered stories Stars and Stripes wouldn't. With the help of Jon, and Jacco Zwetsloot, we discovered that some of Overseas Weekly is preserved on microfilm here, but more easily accessible are some of its photos, searchable at the Hoover Institution (the Korea-related ones are here). It was there that I found scanned contact sheets for this rally (here, here, and here; click "Download low resolution copy" at right). I've posted some of them below. This page describes how the images of the rally itself were obtained: "All pix are of the protest meeting on RC One that the press were barred from. A guy slipped me the film." "RC One" referred to Recreation Center 1, which was located across the road from Camp Beard and next to the Yongjugol camp town in Paju.

The rally was held in front of the 2nd Infantry Division Museum, then located at RC 1. 

 It appears they finished the rally by lowering the flag to half mast.

As the Korea Times article noted, however, there was a significant response to this rally by USFK. Below are photos of MPs gathered on the football field (and go-kart track) at RC 1.

APCs on the move through Yongjugol.

As for it not initially being clear, as the Korea Times noted, whether the movement of APCs to the area was related to the rally or not, the following photos make it clear they were in the streets as the black soldiers walked through Yongjugol.

In fact, the Korea Times' photo of the APCs shows the soldiers walking on the right:

As the photographer described it, this photo shows "a helicopter that was orbiting the site":

There are 3 more photos that, with the one above, make a panorama showing that the football field was half-ringed with APCs, of which I could count at least 23.

A series of photos, including the one below, was described as showing "some troops in what appears to be a riot-control formation. I guess they were practicing."

It's unfortunate there aren't any photos of the club where the soldiers ended up continuing the rally, or of soldiers blocking entrance to it. What is clear, however, is that USFK authorities barred press from attending the initial rally at RC 1 and mobilized MPs, soldiers in 30 APCs, and helicopters to intimidate participants or stifle the rally after they left RC 1.

While the US military's response to the violence at Camp Humphreys six months later was to criticize the role Korean racism played, little was said in regard to the way in which USFK consistently stifled and suppressed rallies by black soldiers against discrimination that year, including this one and others in Seoul and Busan. A subsequent post will deal with these, and the way they led to the Anjeong-ri race riots.

As for where this rally to commemorate Martin Luther King took place, here is a map I made of the area, which is a 5-km drive east of Paju Station.

Photos of the Yongjugol area taken in the early 1960s can be seen (particularly if you follow the links) at this page about Camp Beaumont, and some basic information about Camp Beard is here. While written information online about Recreation Center 1 is sparse, there is a lengthy film of it taken in mid-1970 here (shown below). All of these camps have long since closed. The more recent Yongjugol red light district mentioned in this article is south of the stream from the 'Yongjugol' marked above, and served Korean soldiers stationed in the area.

In the below video of Recreation Center 1, just after the 6 minute mark you can see the flagpoles and 2nd Infantry Division Museum where the rally was held 6 months later, and around the 12:30 mark you can see the go-kart track and football field where the APCs were parked.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Writing about the Itaewon COVID-19 outbreak in the Korea Times, re-entry visa changes, and recent foreign teacher court cases

My latest article for the Korea Times, "Itaewon once again at center of virus fears," looks at the COVID-19 outbreak in Itaewon, touching on topics I covered here and here back in May. Also worth reading is the article "COVID-19 devastates Itaewon businesses."

Here is the "Sorry! Foreigners are not allowed to enter" sign I mentioned in the article (from here):

As for the recent removal of automatic re-entry for many visas and the need for a medical certificate attesting to a lack of COVID-19 symptoms in order to re-enter Korea (see here, for example), the government was quite open about its desire to "curb non-essential travel." Though, after complaints from chambers of commerce, the medical certificate requirement was dropped for business / journalism / academic trips of three weeks or less.

One announcement also reads that "As of 27 May, a total of 78 accumulated cases were reported since January 2020. This accounts for 53% of all 145 imported cases by foreigners, meaning long-term foreign residents are involved in over a half of all imported cases."

Well, "over a half of all imported cases" by foreigners. Applying these stats to KCDC stats, as of May 27 there were at total of 1,221 imported cases, with 1,076 by Koreans (88%), 67 by short term foreign visitors (5.5%), and 78 by long term foreign sojourners (6.4%).

It didn't say how many of those long term foreign sojourners were on F-4 visas, but [as statistics available here reveal] while F-4 visa holders make up over 25% of foreigners on long-term visas, they only made up 5.5% and 5.8% of foreigners entering the country in March and April, respectively, so the number of cases involving them is likely small. Due to the Korean government's support of a race-based right of return for ethnic Koreans on F-4 visas, that visa category is legally separate from others, and to threaten to bar their return if they lack a medical certificate would require legal changes, unlike other visa categories for which the government has much freer reign to impose restrictions.

Still, considering that long term foreign sojourners have made up only 6.4% of imported cases, it seems to create burdens while having little positive effect on the caseload here, particularly considering that everyone gets tested at the airport anyways.

In other foreign teacher-related news, Yonhap published a report a couple weeks ago titled "Native-speaking teacher gets three and a half years in prison for production and possession of obscene material involving teenage middle-school girls."

It notes that a 31-year-old South African native speaking teacher in Suwon was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for violating the law on sexual protection of children and adolescents (production, distribution and possession of obscene material).

He must also complete a 40-hour sexual assault treatment program and is banned from working at child and youth-related institutions and welfare facilities for the disabled for five years.

He was prosecuted for taking and sending obscene photos and videos to two teenage girls he met through a chatting application in October last year.

Though he confessed to the crime and admitted the charges during the initial police investigation, in court he argued that there were procedural problems, and that he was not shown a warrant. Unfortunately for him, the police sergeant involved testified and the judge did not accept the teacher’s claim that he had difficulty communicating during the arrest because the police sergeant, who had served as a KATUSA , confirmed his English proficiency in court.

This is a pretty strong sentence - it seems authorities are starting to take these cases quite a bit more seriously than in the past - though I imagine the fact that he did not admit guilt or show proper remorse in court contributed to the length of the sentence.

What was odd about this is that after seeing more than 80 articles about foreign teachers and Itaewon after the outbreak there, I could only find 12 articles about this case. You never know what the media is going to focus on.

Also, if you remember the Canadian woman who was arrested by police for violating the Child Welfare Act after she showed young students a "what does human flesh taste like" video earlier this year (see here and here), a court ruled she was not guilty, mostly due to a lack of intent on her part and her lack of previous criminal record. Civic groups complained about the ruling, saying the children's testimony was not taken enough into account, though it seems she's already left the country.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Manipulator: Chun Doo-hwan and the US media

The 1980 Kwangju Uprising and the United States

Part 1: Sources and Historical Background
Part 2: Expectations of US intervention and Chun Doo-hwan’s manipulations
Part 3: Commentary on US involvement in Kwangju and US government responses, 1980-1999
Part 4: Commentary on US involvement in Kwangju, 1998-1999
Part 5: William Gleysteen on the Kwangju Uprising and the rise of Chun Doo-hwan, 1999
Part 6: General Wickham on the Kwangju Uprising and the rise of Chun Doo-hwan, 1999
Part 7: James Young on the Kwangju Uprising and the rise of Chun Doo-hwan, 2003
Part 8: Henry Scott-Stokes, Linda Lewis, and others on the Kwangju Uprising, 1997-2004.
Part 9: Misrepresenting sources to arrive at a preset conclusion: Critiquing “Neoliberalism and the Gwangju Uprising”
Part 10: The Manipulator: Chun Doo-hwan and the US media

In a recent discussion, the story of an interview with General Wickham in early August 1980 was brought up with the assertion that it was "very possible that this served as a green light for Chun" to take over the presidency.

I don’t think that incident was taken by Chun as a green light – he was already well on the way to taking power, particularly with the civilian-military council set up after the Gwangju Uprising that officially had him sharing power with President Choi. As well, rumors were already floating around that President Choi was going to resign before the interview in question took place.

On July 15, 1980, Ambassador Gleysteen left Korea to go on vacation in the US. In his absence, Gleysteen wrote, “Wickham’s profile was higher than normal among US officials in Seoul, and this quite natural phenomenon would not have raised eyebrows if Chun had not been in the midst of his endgame for taking over the presidency and if several American correspondents had not been in town hungry for a story.” Amid Chun’s control of the media and his repeated distortions that made it appear as if the US was eager to support him, “we inadvertently provided Chun with a tool that he employed shamelessly to his tactical advantage.” [p 161]

LA Times reporter Sam Jameson’s chapter in Korea Witness: 135 Years of War, Crisis and News in the Land of the Morning Calm, titled “The Manipulator,” describes how he “unwittingly became entangled in one of Chun’s major manipulations.” [See pages 235-238.] It was he and Terry Anderson who interviewed General Wickham off the record on August 7, 1980, and Anderson asked “one last question” as they got up to leave. As Wickham remembered it in his memoir [pages 155-163], “I knew enough to be wary of the ‘one last question’ routine, and I should have declined to answer.” Would the US support Chun if he successfully consolidated his power and became president of the ROK? Jameson quoted the “highly placed military official” as saying “Yes - provided he come to power legitimately and demonstrate, over time, a broad base of support from the Korean people and does not jeopardize the military situation here (against North Korea) – we will support him, because that, of course, is what we think the Korean people want.” Though, Wickham noted, the US had been keeping its distance from Chun, he and Gleysteen had come to the conclusion that the US would have little choice but to support him if he took over the presidency, and while in retrospect he realized he should not have said so, he assumed his anonymity would be protected. The fallout from this interview led him to be recalled to the US (he went to Hawaii), where he waited to see if he still had a job or not. Gleysteen, Holbrooke, and others defended him and he kept his job.

According to Jameson,
[I]n Washington the State Department retorted, “Whoever makes such a statement to Mr. Jameson is not speaking for the United States government.” … Anderson’s story was spiked by his editor of foreign news for AP’s domestic wire in the United States because it failed to identify the person of who made the statement, Terry told me later. But a different editor sent the story overseas on an AP wire for foreign clients. That story wound up in Korean newsrooms.

The next day, Henry Scott-Stokes of The New York Times, who had not been in Seoul when the Wickham interview was arranged, obtained a statement from Chun Doo Hwan that Wickham had made the comment about U.S. support for him. Henry then wrote a story quoting Chun as identifying Wickham saying the U.S. would support Chun. The story did not explain how Chun was able to make that identification. After the AP editor for the domestic foreign news wire in the United States saw The New York Times identification of Wickham as the source for the statement, the editor pulled Terry’s story off the spike, inserted Wickham’s name and sent the story out, Terry explained to me later.

In Seoul, all morning and evening newspapers gave lead play on page 1 one to Terry’s story quoting a high U.S. military official as supporting Chun. The next day the same blanket coverage of my Los Angeles Times story was repeated. 
In his memoir, Wickham accused Jameson and Anderson of having shared their tape of the interview with Scott-Stokes, but as Jameson put it,
I had loaned my tape of the Wickham interview to Terry, who proposed to make a transcript of half of the interview while I made a transcript of the other half to save both of us time in preparing a written record of Wickham’s remarks. I did not see Henry at all until after his story using Chun to identify Wickham appeared in The New York Times. Years later - on February 28, 2001 - Terry, Henry and I met in the foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo as Terry was passing through town. I specifically asked Terry - in Henry’s presence - whether he had given Henry a copy of the interview tape or had loaned the tape to Henry. Terry said that he had done neither. Henry said he couldn’t remember how he got Chun to identify Wickham.
My guess is that since the interview with the “highly placed military official” had already been published by AP in Korea, Scott-Stokes was aware of it, and asked Chun about it (or perhaps Chun himself brought it up). As for how Chun knew it was Wickham, I imagine there’s a pretty simple answer to the question of how the man who had headed Korea’s military and civilian intelligence agencies knew which reporters Wickham was meeting with.

The way Chun exploited that reveal was pretty breathtaking, as recorded in Scott Stoke’s August 9 New York Times article, titled "General Says South Korea Needs 'New Leaders' And He Is Willing":
Some reports here have suggested that the United States might support General Chon's promotion. Yesterday The Associated Press quoted an unnamed United States military official - according to General Chon it was General Wickham - as saying of General Chon's possible ascent to the presidency: ''Provided that he demonstrates over time a broad base of support from the Korean people and does not jeopardize the security of the situation here, we will support him because that, of course, is what we think the Korean people want.''

"That's very flattering," General Chon said of the reported remarks of the American. "I can use support any time. It could also mean that I'm a little more liked, more popular, that's pleasing, but now rules will have to be obeyed."
Scott-Stokes’ article ends this way:
"I can tell you this with certainty," he said. "I have no political interest as such." President Park made similar disavowals of political ambition right after taking power in a 1961 coup. He was head of state for 18 years.
As Jameson put it, "Henry’s New York Times story...let the cat out of the bag". Following this, Korean newspapers (still under Martial Law censorship) announced Wickham’s support for Chun. As the Korea Herald put it on August 10,
Citizens of this Republic are increasingly trusting [of] and admire General Chun as the new leader needed for the new age. And we note with a sense of encouragement that a top U.S. military official in Seoul (General Wickham) shares our view about General Chun and asserts that the U.S. would support him if the Korean people elect him the next president. Although Americans have no right to interfere in our internal political affairs, a close accord of opinion is welcome for cooperative relationship between the two allies.
When it comes to the ethics of Anderson and Jameson, I see nothing amiss with their stories – they followed the rules. Ultimately so did Scott-Stokes, but perhaps he should have been more aware of the way Chun was trying to manipulate him. He noted the repercussions of his reporting in The Kwangju Uprising: Eyewitness Press Accounts of Korea's Tiananmen, but left out this episode:
We appear to have helped to stir up trouble, as a newspaper. An interview that Jae and I did with Kim Young Sam in the early autumn of l979 led to his expulsion from the National Assembly. Need we have been so provocative? Mr. Kim's expulsion was followed by the outbursts of violence in Pusan and Masan that preceded the assassination of President Park. I had helped to raise the temperature. Some in Korea felt that we had stirred up emotions--our reports were immediately relayed back to Korea by phone by Korean Americans in the U.S.--and that we were (not so indirectly) responsible for Park Chung Hee's demise. There were repercussions.
I find it interesting that no one has ever characterized Chun Doo-hwan's takeover of the Korean government as blowback, since earlier in his career this 'manipulator' was trained in psychological warfare in the US.

Monday, May 18, 2020

5.18, 40 years later

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Gwangju Uprising. As well, it was 15 years ago yesterday that I first published a post on this blog, though the main reason for starting the blog was to write these two posts about the Gwangju Uprising. Obviously, my interest in the uprising has been expressed on many occasions on this blog; last year's post has links to my writing here on the topic.

The first journal article about the uprising was published in 1987 by Tim Warnberg, a Peace Corps Volunteer [PCV] who was in Gwangju during the uprising. He was one of several PCVs who were active there. I've known former PCV David Dolinger for years, and am currently working with him on his memoir. I met Paul Courtright last year, and his memoir 'Witnessing Gwangju' was released earlier this month. He gave a talk for the RAS recorded on zoom last week that can be watched here (the lecture begins at 7:15).

If the role the Peace Corps played during the uprising was not so well known in the past, that certainly is not true this year. In addition to Courtright's memoir, Ohmynews has published a number of articles about the Peace Corps volunteers over the past week. There are two articles about Tim Warnberg, who had photos taken of him helping carry injured people on a stretcher, one about Paul Courtright, another about the testimony of PCVs who were in Gwangju, including Dolinger, Courtright, Don Baker, and Bill Amos (author of 'Seed of Joy'), and another showcasing the photos taken by the aforementioned PCVs. There is also an article about PCVs Steven Hunziker and Carolyn Turbyfill, who, filled in on the events of 5.18 by Dolinger and Warnberg, and given photos taken by Dolinger, went to Sweden and spoke to newspapers about the truth of the uprising, much to the chagrin of the Korean government. As this article points out, this may have played a role in the end of the Peace Corps program in Korea a year later. There is also a profile of 5.18 Democratization Movement Truth Commission Chief Investigator Choi Yongju, who has examined foreign accounts of 5.18 and talks about the PCVs testimony. He has also interviewed many Americans about 5.18, including, he told me, General Wickham and James Young ('Eye on Korea'), and translated Courtright's book into Korean. (The article notes he was on the run for five months after May 18 and served almost three months in prison.)

One photo that appears in many of those articles is this one:

I learned last year that Jurgen Hinzpeter, the German cameraman whose story was portrayed in the 2017 film 'A Taxi Driver,' had actually interviewed Tim Warnberg on the roof of Chonnam University Hospital. In his account he mentioned interviewing Americans from 'Amnesty International,' which confused me, but I eventually realized that he was referring to the PCVs. (David Dolinger told me it was to protect their identities.) What tipped me off was discovering the above photo in this article (which has photos of his 'taxi driver,' Kim Sa-bok) and realizing the four on the right were the PCVs, along with Hinzpeter (far left) and his assistant. No one had made that connection before, so it's neat to see something I discovered now being published in various articles.

Another photo I found in this article, which is featured in Paul Courtright's book and was taken by Robin Moyer of Time, is interesting because it shows the two floors of spectators in the gymnasium where the coffins were displayed, something I'd never seen before.

But even more interesting were the three school girls. In this post about my attempts to discover what had happened to a high school girl named Park Geum-hui killed in the uprising, I quoted German journalist Gebhard Hielscher's experience in the Gymnasium:
In the next row a group of young girls has gathered. They are students of Shuntae Economic High School in Kwangju. They still cannot comprehend that one of their classmates is lying dead before them. Their voices choked in tears, the girls sing a farewell song. Then one of them turns around and, facing the people of the platform, makes a dramatic appeal: 17 year old Park Keun Hee shall not have died in vain. At the end everybody in the hall starts singing South Korea's national anthem. "Long live the Republic of Korea, long live democracy."
I can't help wonder if this is a photo of that moment, or at least a similar one. I'm almost certain it's her coffin they're standing in front of though; here's another photo of her coffin from the front, at far left.

From the front of her coffin, the left hand side has yellow carpeting in both photos, and in both you can see a chrysanthemum behind the photo. From the photo below it seems there would only be one place on the floor with that line of yellow carpeting.

At any rate, it was interesting to find another part of her story, in visual form, after all these years.

Another recently published book is "제니의 다락방" (Jenny's Attic), "The blue-eyed girl Jennifer's story of Gwangju in May 1980," by Jennifer Huntley, daughter of Charles Betts and Martha Huntley, who were missionaries living with the Underwoods and Petersons on a compound in Yangnim-dong, just south of the city center. Betts Huntley worked at Gwangju Christian Hospital and photographed the mangled bodies of people who had been beaten to death or shot by the military, and developed them in his home darkroom, while Arnold Peterson photographed and wrote about the helicopters firing into crowds. Photos of both were used at Chun's trial in 1996, one reason Chun called Peterson and priest Cho Bi-oh a 'Satan' in his 2017 memoir, and the reason Chun is on trial now (for defaming Cho). When three National Assembly members declared last year that North Korean agents were responsible for 5.18, Martha Huntley and Barbara Peterson wrote a letter to the Speaker of the National Assembly criticizing them.

In a recent Hankyoreh article [Update - now in English], Jennifer, who was ten in 1980, recalled that "I saw the helicopters with my own eyes and heard the shooting with my own ears." The title of the book comes from the students the missionaries hid in their houses. On May 20 rumors that soldiers would do house to house searches and kill the students they found led to many of their Korean friends bringing their sons to the compound to hide them. Martha Huntley recalled to me that they had 22 people in their house at one point, and as Barbara Peterson recently wrote, "I think of the scared students who stayed in our home and the other homes on the compounds the night that the soldiers were supposedly going house to house taking students. I am amazed that they did not storm the compound looking for students that night."

Brother Anthony has posted a collection of translated poems about the Gwangju Uprising.

Several stories published by the Hankyoreh include one highlighting the effects of the ongoing psychological trauma related to the events of the uprising, the story of the effect serving in a unit of the 20th Division sent to Gwangju on May 27 had on one of the soldiers, the story of a teacher who refused to let his students leave to join the protests, and the story of a woman whose husband was shot and killed and then, after placing her children temporarily in an orphanage, found out they'd been adopted abroad and never saw them again.

Last week President Moon said that if revising the Constitution is discussed again, the spirit of the movement should be reflected in the preamble (much as the Samil Movement and the April 1960 Student Uprising are included in the current preamble). He apparently said that this would be a way to promote national unity and pointed out that the Gwangju Uprising is at the center of the country's democratization. The problems with this are 1) I don't think many people would have disagreed with the spirit of 3.1 and 4.19 being included in the 1988 Constitution, but 2) many conservatives here would disagree with 5.18 being so included 3) so Moon's assertion that it would be a way to promote national unity is disingenuous at best, and a way to ram his (and his party's) historical viewpoint down the throats of his political opponents at worst, and 4) I don't think the state should be in the business of deciding what historical truth is - even if I disagree vigorously with the conservative take on what happened 40 years ago. Leave history to the historians. Korea has already experienced one government that tried, in the 1980s, to control the narrative around 5.18 so as to promote its own point of view on what happened. Does it really need that to happen again?

I should note momentarily that conservatives tend to push the second of three 'big lies' Chun Doo-hwan put forward about 5.18, namely that it was hooligans and 'impure elements' (North Korean agents) who led the uprising. The third lie was the amending of that story to blame it all on Kim Dae-jung, sentence him with death, and use this to get an early visit to the White House in exchange for sparing Kim's life. The earliest of the big lies, however, was having KBS broadcast into Gwangju days into the uprising that General Wickham had approved, or even had sent the soldiers into Gwangju on May 18 (quite a feat for a man who'd been out of the country for four days by that point!). It's fascinating that for different reasons progressives in the ROK and US champion Chun's first lie, while conservatives in the ROK stand behind Chun's second lie. Amid the arguments between the two sides, Chun laughs all the way to the bank (with only $200 in it, of course), what with both progressives and conservatives pushing narratives that take at least some of the blame off of him, where it should belong.

Here are some new additions I've made to my Gwangu Uprising bibliography:

In 1997 the Gwangju May 18 Historical Materials Compilation Committee released volumes 6 to 10 of the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement Materials which contain the entire collection of unclassified cables sent between the US Embassy in Seoul and the State Department in Washington DC, which total around 3,700 pages. They can be found online (pages can be downloaded to be read at full size):

Volume 6:  Jan – July 1979
Volume 7:  Aug – Nov 1979
Volume 8:  Dec 1979 – April 1980
Volume 9:  May – July 1980
Volume 10:  August – Dec 1980

The US government recently released fully-uncensored versions of 43 these cables; they can be downloaded here문서 목록.pdf  is the table of contents, while 미측 기록물(43건).pdf contains the cables.

The May 9, 1980 CIA report “Growing Unrest In South Korea And Prospect For Takeover By Military Strongman Chon Doo Hwan” can be found here.

Seven documents about 5.18 coming from the US and North Korea, including Donald Gregg’s May 21, 1980 Memorandum for Zbigniew Brzezinski, can be found at the Wilson Center here.

The US Embassy website is also hosting over 120 cables, 33 of which it posted last week.

Missionary John Underwood's unpublished account of the uprising, June 5-6, 1980.
  • This account was sent to the US Embassy, and cabled to Washington June 10. The cable can be read starting here (page 363). Ambassador Gleysteen referred to it as "the most balanced record and analysis of [the] incident we have seen so far."

"Korea May 1980 People's Uprising in Kwangju," Ampo, Japan-Asia Quarterly Review Vol. 12 No. 2, 1980.
  • This magazine was likely the first in English to compile as much information as possible on what happened in Kwangju, and contains things such as newspaper articles, poems, and photos. It was published perhaps in June or July 1980, and can be downloaded here. (Hat tip to Jacco.)

Andrew David Jackson, "Jürgen Hinzpeter and Foreign Correspondents in the 1980 Kwangju Uprising," Cambridge University Press, 27 April 2020. (Behind a pay wall here.)

Another addition coming soon will be my own article, "'Tell the World What is Happening': The Americans Who Witnessed the Kwangju Uprising," which will be published in this year's Transactions, the journal of the Royal Asiatic Society - Korea Branch.

Friday, May 15, 2020

A reminder from Yonhap: You need to be anxious about foreign English teachers

Foreign English teachers in Korea opened their door today to find a paper bag burning on their doorsteps, only to stomp on it and find this Yonhap article smeared on the bottom of their shoes:

Parents are anxious over 'native speaking instructors' due to spread of COVID-19 in Itaewon

Reporter Park Eui-rae

Mrs. Kim (37), who lives in Songpa-gu, has not sent her six-year-old daughter to an English kindergarten since the long weekend. This is because the Itaewon clubs where COVID-19 has spread are frequented by foreigners, which has led to her growing distrust of native speaking English instructors at English Kindergartens.

Mrs. Kim said, "The kindergarten said that none of the teachers, including native-speaking instructors, went to Itaewon clubs, but the truth is it’s hard for me to believe that 100%." "Even if I’m wasting money, I'm going to keep her at home until the incubation period is over," she said.

Parents' anxiety is growing as the number of COVID-19 patients related to the Itaewon clubs increases daily. In particular, because Itaewon, which is the cause of the spread of this infection, is visited by many foreigners, parents who send their children to English kindergartens or English hagwons with native speaking teachers are more worried.

According to a statement by the Seoul Metropolitan Government on May 15, there were 1,210 foreigners who accessed cell phone base stations in Itaewon near King Club, Trunk, Queen, Soho, and Power from April 24 to May 6.

In addition, according to the Ministry of Education, 366 native speaking assistant teachers or instructors visited Itaewon during this period.

However, the Ministry of Education statistics only include faculty members belonging to each metropolitan and provincial office of education, not native speaking instructors working in English kindergartens or hagwons. If you include the latter, it is possible the number of native speakers who visited Itaewon during that period is even higher.

In Incheon, a large number of students were infected with COVID-19 by their hagwon instructor.

Because of this, English kindergartens and academies are conducting their own investigations to determine whether they visited Itaewon.

However, for parents it is difficult to trust the hagwons’ own investigation entirely, and even if they did not go to Itaewon, parents said they would not be relieved because within the foreign community they may have come into contact with infected people who visited clubs.

Because of this, there have been many posts on various ‘Mom Cafes’ across the country showing their anxiety with titles like "Are native speaking English teachers in English kindergartens okay?" or "Can you trust English hagwon native speaking English instructors?" Some parents also responded by saying, "It would be good if we asked native speaking teachers to get tested for COVID-19."

According to Ms. Jeong (33), an English kindergarten teacher in Seoul, “Even in kindergartens, not only native speaking teachers but all teachers do self checks and check their temperature daily as a preventative measure.” “Despite this, many parents are anxious and are keeping their children at home for the time being.”


So let's summarize the article:

The title tells us that parents are anxious about 'native speaking instructors' who may have caught the virus in Itaewon.

Mrs. Kim hasn't sent her daughter to kindergarten since the long weekend since she distrusts foreign teachers since they like to go to Itaewon. Considering it was only found out days after the long weekend that an outbreak had begun there, she is clearly clairvoyant, and also malicious since she knew what was going to happen and didn't warn anyone. Either that or the reporter has little grasp of how to write.

She can't believe what the kindergarten said about its foreign teachers not going to Itaewon, because of course they did. That's where foreigners go. Everyone knows that. (To be fair, she deserves credit for not trusting the hagwon owner.)

Yonhap then reminds parents twice in one paragraph that they should feel more anxious and more worried. Yonhap also tells us that Itaewon is the cause of the spread of the infection, as if the neighbourhood itself is a source of contagion, rather than the foreigner Korean who spread it there.

Surveillance by the government and big telecom (working hand in hand!) reveals that 1,210 foreigners went to that club area of Itaewon, and the MoE reveals 366 foreign teachers went there. What about telling us how many Koreans and Korean teachers went there? Just kidding. This is all about creating distrust of foreigners, and things like 'balance' would ruin that effect. Next, the article highlights that the MoE figure doesn't include kindergartens and hagwons, so it can argue there are a whole lot more native speaking instructors who went to Itaewon that we don't yet know about (reminiscent of the logic displayed in this series of shocking statements by a - wait for it - national assembly representative.)

In Incheon, a large number of students were infected with COVID-19 by their hagwon instructor but Yonhap won't tell you his nationality because it's trying to create an association in your head in order to create fear.

Because of the previous paragraph, English kindergartens and academies are conducting their own investigations to determine whether they visited Itaewon. Stellar writer that Ms. Park is, it's not clear whether 'they' means the hagwon staff en masse, the hagwon and kindergarten buildings (which grew legs and walked to Itaewon, I guess), the aforementioned students the hagwon teacher infected, or the aforementioned hagwon instructor (who is likely not plural). You have to appreciate the lack of effort put into writing this "article" (it continues into the next paragraph as well).

Then parents say that even if the foreign teachers didn't go to Itaewon, because they're foreign, maybe their foreign friends did, so they might get the disease anyway (you have to appreciate the Rumsfeldian "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence" logic at work there). That Korean staff might have Korean friends (or, god forbid, foreign friends) who went to Itaewon doesn't cross anyone's minds. Then parents say "It would be good if we asked native speaking teachers to get tested for COVID-19." Testing foreign teachers for a virus? What a novel idea that is! No one has ever thought of that before!

Finally, a Korean hagwon teacher says she also has to do self health checks. Perhaps the author means to imply that the hagwon teacher's foreign coworkers have created a hassle for her, but, unsurprisingly, it's not clear.*

I ended my last post by saying that the lack of infections among foreign teachers, despite the heightened attention to them, would likely make this cycle of media scrutiny a short one. It appears I overestimated Korean media outlets. Watching Yonhap provide a rhetorical workaround for the fact that teachers are testing negative and offer justifications for continued suspicion and negativity against them is certainly something to see. My apologies for not foreseeing this, since I should have known better, what with the regular anti-Americanism and 'we're so great'-ism and anti-Japanese bashing and praise for the great leader ("You handled your COVID-19 infections so well!"). Oh, wait, which Korea is this again? Is this the one with xenophobic, government-sponsored media that monitors its citizens constantly or the one with... xenophobic, government-sponsored media that monitors its citizens constantly?

Back to the "article." We're told "Parents are anxious." Well, I wonder why that is? Perhaps because they read xenophobia-infected garbage like this Yonhap article? These kind of prescriptive articles that tell readers how they should feel have long been a part of the repertoire of media outlets trafficking in negative portrayals of foreign teachers. It's irresponsible "journalism" that should have no place in the media landscape of a country portrayed as having done such a stellar job dealing with the pandemic. It should be an embarrassment.

Making things worse is the fact that this was not published by some partisan newspaper, but by the Rodong Sinmun Yonhap, North South Korea's government-funded wire service. Yonhap: sort of like Associated Press, if Associated Press was run by xenophobic half-wits.

And the fact that Yonhap published this on Teachers' Day? That is some fantastic trolling.

[Thanks to Pete for sharing this article with me.]

* It's been argued that the last paragraph is not meant to be negative about foreign English teachers and merely a reference to the self health check all staff have been doing for weeks now, and I'd have to agree. After an almost-full article of xenophobic tripe, I was primed to read the last paragraph as if it was written with the same degree of bad faith as the previous ten. That said, the final sentence, “Despite this, many parents are anxious and are keeping their children at home for the time being,” is meant to reinforce the idea that people are so scared of sending their children to hagwons that they're keeping them home.

Korea's handling of COVID-19 and the Itaewon outbreak

South Korea's handling of its coronavirus outbreak has been praised for its efficiency and results, and I'm certainly glad to be living in a country with competent leadership that has dealt with it so well.

Still, its response has not been without faults. The government's ability to harvest personal data has allowed it to pursue an effective contact-tracing program, but has also been criticized for its breaches of privacy, making clear what some people have been up to in their free time.

Of course, tracking its citizens is nothing new for the Korean government; one has to wonder if Korea's authoritarian past has contributed to its ability to contain the virus (fellow former anti-communist dictatorship Taiwan has also done well in this regard). I couldn't help remembering the inscription on MacArthur's statue in Incheon, which read "until the last battle against the malignant infection of Communism has finally been won may we never forget it was also he who said, 'In war, there is no substitute for victory.'" To be sure, South Korea has a long history of fighting to contain ideological infection.

A friend also pointed out that one reason China's neighbours have done so well handling the virus is the very fact that they live next to China. Experience has taught them to be wary of a government that does not play by the rules (Canada is only just figuring this out; my friend Mike Spavor has been in prison, taken hostage by the Chinese government, for more than 500 days now). Despite this, while China isolated Hubei province from the rest of China but did not close airports there, allowing potential virus-carriers to leave the country and inadvertently spread it throughout the world, the Blue House chose not to close its borders to Chinese visitors (except from Hubei). If it thought the Chinese government was going to pat the it on the head for that, the PRC didn't; when the Daegu cluster caused case numbers to rise here, China quickly put in place entry restrictions on travelers from South Korea. The government here reacted with restraint as over a hundred countries placed entry bans on Koreans. Except when Japan did so - then it reacted with breathtaking childishness by banning entry to travelers from Japan. At least we can rest assured that this particular government will not let a pandemic prevent it from stirring up anti-Japanese feeling.

There have also been other problems rooted in the inability of the government and Korean society in general to get a good grasp on the fact that there are more than two million foreigners living in the country who often fall into blind spots, particularly in a society where citizenship was equivalent to ethnic identity (or at least one's father's ethnic identity).

One of the earliest examples that made my jaw drop was Korean Air's decision to "put all of its non-Korean pilots on three months of unpaid leave ... in a self-rescue effort amid worsening business conditions caused by the coronavirus outbreak." There was no mention that this might be seen as discriminatory. (I'm sure there are reasons, such as contractual ones, that the company could put forward to justify their decision, but ultimately they didn't have to because they weren't even asked.)

Another problem that arose was that, as one article put it, "Local governments in South Korea are paying emergency financial assistance to those facing difficulties due to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the measures do not apply to many tax-paying foreigners." As Udaya Rai, the president of the Migrants Trade Union, put it, "Immigrants and migrant workers pay all the taxes the government requires. We pay earned income tax, aggregate income tax and residence tax. We pay taxes and other duties and it's because of discrimination we cannot receive the same money as members of society."

The article went on to mention that "Ironically, South Korean nationals from overseas can receive the lifeline support when they return to the country while tax-paying foreigners cannot." A city official made clear that the problem is that "there's a lack of legal basis to help families composed of foreigners." Ansan solved the problem by providing 70,000 won in aid to foreign residents - 70% of what Koreans were getting.

If you want to be generous, it can be argued that such discrimination is rooted in thoughtlessness or the existence of legal blind spots, as opposed to the cynical political motive noted by Brian Myers, who, before the April 15 election, noticed a banner that had gone up in his neighbourhood urging all local residents to claim their coronavirus benefit. Upon checking, however, he learned that this did not apply to foreigners, even tax-paying long-term foreigners. It was only for people qualified to vote on April 15.

This was all before a 29 year-old Korean man went clubbing in Itaewon and infected over 140 people just as the nation's daily infection numbers had dipped into the single digits and the government was planning to reopen schools and public institutions like libraries. That there were some 1,500 people in the 5 clubs he went to made it clear that there was a potential for a large outbreak. But the fact the outbreak was located in Itaewon coloured the response in a variety of ways.

In a nutshell, Itaewon serves as a symbol of the unease many Koreans feel in regard to modernity and globalization. It sits next to Yongsan Garrison, originally home to the Imperial Japanese Army, followed by the US military, a location associated with Korea's experience of being colonized and then incorporated into the post-liberation cold war order. Itaewon is associated with foreigners, with prostitution, (or even worse, Korean women who voluntarily have sex with foreign men), with clubs and decadence, with homosexuality, and with AIDS, a place with a "dark nature." It served as a center of cultural (or physical) clashes during the 1988 Olympics, but it was also a place of cultural mixing; Korea's earliest b-boys learned to break dance from black GIs in Itaewon's clubs in the 1980s, for example. In fact, it was a song and video ostensibly about that era - Itaewon Freedom - that helped turn it into a trendy neighbourhood less than a decade ago. You might think - despite the negative effects of gentrification - that this would improve its image, but in fact this further contributed to the association it has with decadence; the trendy kids, the folks from Gangnam lining up to consume foreignness, the expensive restaurants and clubs, people speaking English - these all serve as an irritant to the people who can't afford such distractions, and considering growing economic inequality, there are many people who feel this way. Tied into this is something left over from the days of Korea's forced-march development: the association of excessive consumption with immorality.

If in the 1970s decadence and consumption posed a threat to national economic development (which was often seen in military terms by state planners), then today decadently clubbing and dining is seen as posing a threat to the nation while it battles the coronavirus. So, clearly, people spreading the virus by clubbing was never going to go over well. Doing it in Itaewon in particular, considering all the national baggage associated with it, was really not going to go over well. And doing it in gay clubs? Well... that's like adding napalm to the fire.

To be sure, this is not the first time Itaewon, gay bars, and a virus have been linked in the national imagination. While the first HIV+ Koreans were often sex workers in US base camp towns (like Itaewon), and thus were not a group of people anyone was much concerned about, when a Korean man who returned from Kenya died of AIDS in February 1987, it set off a panic. As I noted in this post about that panic, AIDS became the perfect metaphor for foreign moral, sexual, and cultural contamination. One result of the panic was felt in Itaewon, as a March 12, 1987 Korea Times article noted.
Itaewon Suffers from Slack Business Due to AIDS Scare

Entertainment facilities in Itaewon frequented by foreigners as well as Korean people are suffering from a decline in business, apparently affected by the AIDS-related death of a 62-year-old man recently.

According to sources yesterday, “gay” bars and facilities exclusively for foreign clientele are on the edge of closing down with business shrinking to almost half.

The phenomena is mainly attributable to the fact that Koreans believe that the fatal disease may be transmitted by foreigners and avoid spending their leisure time there.

The so-called AIDS-phobia not only affects the business of entertainment facilities such as hostess bars or discotheques in the area, but also of restaurants and clothes shops, it is reported.

In the case of ‘D’ club where some 100 people used to throng in a bustle, some 50 people on the average visit the place to dance and drinking. Garment shops and restaurants are suffering a 30 to 40 percent decrease in sales.

The health authorities have made transvestites submit to blood tests for AIDS, but no one has been found positive in the tests.
33 years later, attitudes don't seem to have changed much. Media reports quickly pointed out that some of the clubs the initial patient visited catered to LGBTQ customers, though the patient said he was not gay (fair enough; in the past I've been to some of those clubs with gay friends myself). The result of these articles was the unleashing of a torrent of homophobia in their comment sections. Even worse, during the contact tracing process people who were at the clubs risked being unintentionally outed. It was soon noted that the entry logs for clubs (as a way to enable tracing of customers should there be a COVID-19 outbreak) featured many entries that contained false information, but that is hardly surprising; being outed is a good way to lose your job. (The cluster in Incheon seems also to have arisen due to the stigma surrounding the Itaewon outbreak.) If the Daegu outbreak was due in part to the secretive nature of the leaders of a predatory cult, the secretive behavior of those club goers is due entirely to the discrimination they face in Korean society. This has been noted in foreign news reports, which is a good thing, since the media (and no doubt the government) monitor reports from overseas. This article does a good job of summarizing the wave of issues facing the LGBTQ community in Korea. One key point is the dawning realization that homophobia and stigma are hampering health authorities' ability to control the spread of the virus. As a result, the Seoul city government announced the advent of anonymous testing (as well as free tests with no risk of deportation for undocumented foreigners). If that doesn't work, however, telecom companies used base station data to give the Seoul city government contact information for 10,905 people who spent more than 30 minutes in the club area "between midnight and 5 a.m. from April 24 to May 5." In all, some 35,000 people related to the Itaewon outbreak have been tested.

Now that much of Yongsan Garrison has moved to Pyeongtaek, it's harder to associate Itaewon with GIs, but there is another group associated with the area that has also come under the microscope: foreign English teachers. A couple days ago I did a Google search for "native speaking teacher + Itaewon" and found over 80 articles published in the past day or two. MBC (yes, the network responsible for reports like this, or, god help us all, this) got into the spirit of things by broadcasting this gem of a report by reporter Gang Hwa-gil on May 11:
More than 90 native speaking English teachers went to Itaewon … There is a nationwide emergency in schools.


The government has urged school teachers and workers who went to Itaewon clubs to voluntarily get tested.

In fact, it has been revealed that many native speaking English teachers were among the club visitors.

So far, none of these teachers have been confirmed to have the virus, but education authorities have taken steps to quarantine them at home for two weeks.

Reporter Gang Hwa-gil.


Currently, the Gangwon-do Office of Education has found that 55 faculty members visited clubs or other places in Itaewon .

They are all native speaking assistant English teachers or English teaching student volunteers [Likely from the TaLK Program].

They visited clubs, restaurants, and bars in Itaewon between April 29 and May 6.

The Gangwon-do Office of Education required all of these teachers to self-quarantine and to be tested.

[Gangwon-do Office of Education official] "The quarantine authorities only require testing for those who have been to clubs, but we’re being proactive and saying that if you went to Itaewon at all, you should be tested ..."

The problem is that, with schools set to open next week, these native speaking teachers had already gone to school.

As a result, there are worries that the other teachers they came into regular contact with when they went to work could become infected.

Ultimately, these other teachers were ordered to work from home.

[Gangwon-do Office of Education spokesperson Gwon Dae-dong] "School staff who worked [with] native-speaking assistant teachers are telecommuting. They are all self-isolating.”

As well, elementary schools running day care [during social distancing] have made students return home.

Currently, there are 274 native English teachers and 55 English teaching student volunteers working in Gangwon-do schools.

The situation in Gwangju and Jeollanam-do is similar.

It was revealed that during the long weekend 7 native speaking teachers and instructors from Gwangju and 34 native speaking teachers from Jeollanam-do visited Itaewon and Hongdae.

As of yet none of the teachers being tested have turned out to be infected, but education authorities in Gwangju and Jeollanam-do plan to have all teachers who visited clubs self-isolate for two weeks and to conduct additional detailed investigations.

As well, with the Ministry of Education strongly advising that faculty members who visited entertainment facilities in Itaewon undergo testing at screening clinics, the problem of blocking the source of infection among faculty has emerged as the biggest variable ahead of school reopening.
Even though none of the teachers are reported to have tested positive for the virus, it's a nationwide emergency! This reminds me of an old SNL sketch where a weatherman points to the death counter for a hurricane, which reads zero, but he assures viewers that 'the numbers are going to start jumping up any time now!' The report also features par-for-the-course photos of blurry classrooms and, of course, numerous club scenes.

The report was followed by, when I first looked at it, 3937 comments, but now there are only 3752, suggesting some pruning of the more negative comments has occurred. Two that were right below the report when I read it read "Throw out all the native speakers involved" and "We have lots of English majors in Korea. We don't need to use native speaking teachers here. It's a waste of foreign currency. Let's give jobs to Koreans. This is the chance." The commenter is clearly unaware that no teacher working in Korea is paid in anything but Korean currency.

MBC's negative slant is highlighted by a similar Korea Times article which ends in this way: "A senior official at the South Jeolla provincial government said however, it wouldn't be reasonable to blame the foreign teachers just because they have visited the area."

To be fair, teachers in general are going to be focused on due to schools getting ready to reopen. Schools have already pushed back the reopening schedule by one week, but some think it should be pushed back further. According to this article, "a total of 880 teachers, including 514 Korean teachers and 366 native English teachers nationwide, visited Itaewon between late April and early May." Of those, 641 people were tested, with 524 being cleared and the rest awaiting results. "Of those who went to Itaewon, 41 people -- 7 Koreans and 34 foreign nationals -- have been to the bars and clubs identified as places of transmission" and all have tested negative but for one still awaiting results.

SMOE released the following data:

158 SMOE faculty visited Itaewon, but of those, only 6 Native speaking English teachers and 8 Korean faculty visited entertainment venues, and they all tested negative. The other 144 SMOE faculty (97 Koreans and 47 foreigners) merely visited the area; all tested negative except for 33 who are awaiting results.

Yonhap, however, was unable to read this chart and reported that "some 158 teachers and school officials are confirmed to have visited such entertainment facilities in the city's popular nightlife districts, including Itaewon, from April 29 to May 6." Nice way to undermine SMOE's transparency, Yonhap.

There have been reports on foreign teachers experiencing discrimination, listening to their coworkers talking about Itaewon and "원어민교사들" within earshot, and, in one case, demanding a teacher go get tested without even bothering to ask if she'd been to Itaewon, which is clearly discriminatory. Hagwon instructors are particularly at the mercy of their bosses, who are trying to protect their income. As one foreign instructor put it, "it's very clear to me they care more about the business rather than the foreign employees and maybe the kids as well." "Maybe"?

Beyond teachers, Itaewon merchants are also critical of the government's handling of the Itaewon outbreak:
Many local traders are angry with the government and Seoul city officials. "One man visited a bar in Gangnam before he tested positive and the government was reluctant to identify him, but now they are overly stressing the fact that the latest infections occurred in Itaewon."

Club owners claim they were abiding by social-distancing orders. Lee Dae-jin of a community association of traders in the district said, "Everyone knew young people would come once the clubs were allowed to open again, and the government let us do it. The infected people went back home, but the government continues to cast the spotlight on Itaewon."

As of Wednesday, only four out of about 120 confirmed cases linked to Itaewon clubs and bars actually live in the district.
As I noted earlier, the baggage associated with Itaewon was always going to colour how this outbreak is perceived.

Returning to foreign teachers, the many negative comments on that MBC report go to show that though the media has not engaged in much negative reporting reporting on foreign teachers in the past half-decade (see an overview here), the negative attitudes toward them have not gone away. This is not surprising, since they are not only related to more traditional xenophobic attitudes, but also to the deep frustration connected with learning English, and the economic fault lines mastery of English, or lack thereof, reveal. Though foreign teachers sit at the nexus of age-old xenophobic fears and reasonable concerns about school reopenings and children's safety, they are, compared to the LGBTQ community, in a far, far more privileged position. To paraphrase what one foreign teacher wrote, 'Maybe we can take some of the heat off the gay community.' The trend in testing of educators so far suggests that this media interest in foreign teachers may be but a passing trend, however.
[Update: I may be wrong about that, considering this article was published today.]

Hopefully the fact that discrimination against the LGBTQ community is so obviously hampering the authorities' attempts to control the spread of the virus will change some minds, at least in the government, about the necessity of trying to prevent such discrimination. I'll admit I'm not all that optimistic, but one can hope.

Update, May 17:

Minutes after publishing this post I was sent a link to a Yonhap News article which argued that even if foreign teachers didn't go to Itaewon, parents should still feel anxiety and be worried about them, and maybe they should all be tested for the disease regardless. I translated that article here. A friend of a friend also translated a number of the comments left on that article. Many were critical of teachers, but quite a few were also dismissive of the 'witch hunt' going on. Still, one argued that US soldiers needed to be tested too (reminiscent of the AIDS scare in the late 1980s), and another showed a certain disturbing mindset: "They are a bad influence. I think recklessly letting foreigners in has something to do with the rising number of gays in our country. I wish we could kick the illegals out and purify the country somewhat."

Anyone hoping for the Korean government to help in such matters should prepare to be disappointed. In a recent interview on German television, Korea's foreign minister said "We don't have a consensus on the rights of the sexual minorities and people with various gender identities." Well, what can you expect from an administration led by a former human rights attorney? Ahem. Still, I suppose she did say the government was trying not to aggravate prejudice against sexual minorities while dealing with COVID-19. And I did notice that one article said to have used discriminatory language against the LGBTQ community no longer contained any when I recently read it, suggesting that either the news outlet decided to edit it or it was told to do so.