Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Christmas amid growing authoritarianism and economic shocks in the early 1970s

For my latest Korea Times article, I look at the evolution of Christmas celebrations in Seoul in the early 1970s, as the raucous celebrations on curfew-free Christmas Eves of the 1960s gradually gave way to more sedate celebrations - helped along by the authoritarianism that accompanied the advent of the dictatorial Yushin constitution, and by the austerity caused by the first oil shock. A part of this process was the world's deadliest hotel fire, which occurred in Seoul on Christmas Day 1971. Luckily, James Wade provided a bit of Christmas cheer (or humor, at least) to liven up the proceedings.

My two previous articles about Christmas in the 1960s can be found here:

Christmas in the early 1960s: A time of charity, Christmas cards, drunken merrymaking

Solemnity vs revelry on Christmas Eve in the 1960s

And here are a few colour photos from the 주간여성 (Weekly Woman) from December 15, 1974 (top) and December 28, 1975 (bottom two):

A department store Christmas display.

Competition for calendar customers was fierce at this time.

Myeong-dong street scene.

Monday, December 20, 2021

OED misdates first appearances of 'Konglish' and 'Fighting!'

Back In September a post was written at the Oxford English Dictionary's website titled "The OED gets a K-update," one which gives some history of the word 'Korea' in the English language and lists the 26 words of Korean origin newly-added to the OED.

One word is "Konglish, n. and adj.", which as the OED dates as a noun to 1970 and as an adjective to 1975. Another word is "fighting, int.", which the OED dates to the 2000s. As the dates in this article I wrote awhile back reveal, these dates are incorrect. "Konglish" may have first appeared in English in 1967, but in Korean its likely first appearance in was in two articles in the Kyonghyang Shinmun in July 1962 (here and here, where it is cutely defined as "코리언(韓語)과 잉글리쉬(英語)의 비빔밥이란 말이죠" - "a bibimbap of Korean and English"). 

As for the first appearance of "fighting," it predates the OED's guess by at least 30 years (and perhaps quite a bit longer, if we look at these results). The first mention in English of 'fighting' that I found was in this October 21, 1975 Korea Times article, and recently I found this article in the February 27, 1972 issue of 주간여성 (Weekly Woman), about a young woman aiming to be a pilot:

Note in the top left corner, "Paiting! agassi", or "Fighting! young woman."

And just for fun, the cover.

I would tend to think the operative 'first appearance' of the words in these cases should be the versions in Hangeul, since they are English-derived words (or combinations of words) to begin with.

(And yes, I did suggest these edits to the OED shortly after these new additions were made public; perhaps corrections will be made at some point.)

Thursday, December 09, 2021

When critics of American foreign policy write Koreans out of their own history

(And other grumbling about factual errors, limited perspectives, and received wisdom)

I've come across a few books and articles about the negative influence of the US on Korea over the past few years that I started to write about but never got around to finishing; now that my book project is finished, I finally have.

My attention was turned a few weeks ago to an article at Salon by Marie Myung-Ok Lee titled "The 'Squid Game' critique is also a love letter to a unified Korea," and which has the subtitle "What the west doesn't understand about Netflix's hit show is that much of it is a critique of the US influence." The central argument is that "if there is a villain, it's seated in the root wound of the Korean people: the partitioning of the peninsula by the U.S." Perhaps "the root wound of the Korean people" appears to be "the partitioning of the peninsula by the U.S." from a progressive vantage point in the US, but the view from South Korea (in textbooks, media, and popular culture) would suggest that root is popularly perceived to be the colonization of Korea by Japan.

The article makes interesting points about the fratricidal conflict between brothers and Sae-byeok's pure Korean name, and makes the assertion that the banjiha (half-basement) rooms in buildings built in the 1970s were only meant to be bunkers (something I rather doubt, since Seoul's population increased steadily by 8 million between 1960 and 1990 – an average of 730 per day (!) – and there was a dire need for housing throughout that time). Those few interesting points, however, are unfortunately marred by either a shallow or biased understanding of the history involved, of a sort that I've seen on many occasions.

From the viewpoint of a non-American, it's fascinating to see how, whether on the left or right, some Americans demand that their country be placed at the center of so many historical narratives; the irony when it comes from those on the left is that, in the name of decrying the loss of Korean political agency at the hands of US imperialism, they create narratives which themselves deny Koreans any historical agency. I find it hard to imagine an assertion more offensive to North Koreans than the statement that their country "was originally created by the U.S. itself"– as if Koreans north of the line (and the Soviets) had no role to play in the formation of the North Korean state. (I would also imagine that making such a statement during a visit to North Korea would either indefinitely extend or abruptly end your stay.)

Minimizing the involvement of the USSR in such 'America first' arguments about the division of Korea and the Korean war is par for the course, but even here I was surprised by the statement that the location of the line that divided the peninsula was influenced by a desire to "appease the Soviets, who were threatening to invade, anyway." The plan since the Yalta Conference in early 1945 had been for the USSR to invade Manchuria and Korea in August 1945, and Soviet troops were on the verge of invading northern Korea at the time Rusk and Bonesteel were drawing lines on maps on the night of August 9, 1945. As well, at the Potsdam Conference two weeks earlier, the Soviets had asked the US if they could coordinate an attack on Korea from the south. The US declined, but they divided the sea around and air above Korea into zones of US and USSR operations. (See here.)

As for the assertion that "the Korean people play[ed] no part in the decision" to divide the peninsula, this is correct, but the division decision was influenced by Syngman Rhee, as David P. Fields' book Foreign Friends: Syngman Rhee, American Exceptionalism, and the Division of Korea, makes clear (I summarized it here, but it's well worth listening to his lecture here). Rhee, of course, never wanted division, but successfully mobilized prominent American politicians who pushed for the US government to take action to stop Korea from being handed over to the Soviets. Dean Rusk himself noted that Korea was divided for "symbolic purposes," not strategic ones. The decision was also a State Department one, not a military one.

As for "the giddy days following Japan's" defeat which "lasted however many months before both U.S. and Russian military forced their way onto the peninsula," it should be noted that only the Soviets "forced their way" into Korea (against the Japanese), and that they were present before the fighting stopped on August 15. The Americans arrived 3-4 weeks after liberation, and the claim that they "forced their way" are belied by all of those photos of crowds cheering their arrival.

The mind also boggles at the description of Sae-byeok as being like "an urchin wandering the streets not unlike the scores of orphans crying in the gutters of Seoul after their families were killed in American bombings during the Korean war." I'm at a loss to understand how that association was made, though the fact that the orphans' families are assumed to have died due to US bombing and not due to political executions by the North (or South) Koreans or artillery fire from the Chinese - three belligerents mysteriously absent from this only mention of the events of the war - likely speaks for itself.

Regarding "Again, not thinking of Koreans, U.S. military left behind not peace but a shaky, hastily created ceasefire agreement," I'm not sure how two years of negotiations can be described as 'hasty.' It was in fact the fault of Stalin that the war was prolonged by two years because he wanted to keep the US bogged down in Asia while he rearmed eastern Europe, and used the issue of anti-communist KPA POWs (ie. those forced into the KPA) who did not want to return to North Korea as the means to extend the negotiations. 

As for the claim that the American-brokered ceasefire left "the South Korean president so frustrated that he wasn't even invited to the signing for fear he wouldn't sign the document," this is astonishingly incorrect. There was no fear Rhee wouldn't sign the armistice because it was well known to the US that he did not want to end the war without achieving unification, and that if it had to end, he wanted a mutual defense treaty signed before the armistice. (See here for more.) When he got neither, he ordered the release of the anti-communist POWs from POW camps on June 18, 1953, the day North Korea, China, and the UN planned to sign the armistice, disrupting the ceremony. Once again, this rendering of Rhee as a mere victim of unilateral US actions removes all agency from Syngman Rhee, and also ignores the fact that the North Koreans were also marginalized in the armistice negotiations by their Soviet and Chinese allies.

Ultimately, I think that any benefit derived from viewing Squid Game in the light of this analysis is offset by the one-sided, distorted view of history it depends on. (For more interesting takes on Squid Game, I would recommend this or this.)

That said, it is far more informed than Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom by Stephen Gowans. According to this book review,

Stephen Gowans is not a writer to mince words or to defer to mainstream distortions. He makes no concessions to the standard self-serving Western narrative, and this is one of the reasons his work is so consistently refreshing. Gowans is also noted for his careful research and masterly knack for deploying information in support of logical analysis.

For an example of his 'careful research,' feel free to read this page of end notes:

So, 26 of 32 citations on that page refer to a single source. Needless to say, if I want to read Bruce Cumings, I'll read one of his books rather than an inferior knock-off. The book is summarized by its author as follows:

Korea has long struggled for freedom, from Japanese control in the first half of the twentieth century, and subsequently from US domination from 1945 to today. This is the story of the patriots who have fought for independence and of the empire-builders and traitors who have opposed them. [Pg. 15]

He also describes the Korean war as one fought by "an army of traitors vs. an army of patriots," as he describes the ROK and DPRK, respectively. On the bright side, I did appreciate being told right at the book's beginning that were would be no nuance or objectivity in the pages ahead. Thus, I did not read the entire book, but I did wonder what the pages about the Gwangju Uprising looked like (pgs 150-151). (The citations (rendered as '[65]') match the page of end notes posted above.)

Park’s presidency was quickly followed by a December 12, 1979 military coup d’état, carried out by General Chun Doo Hwan, commander of the ROK army’s Ninth Division. Chun, at the time, was under the command of US General John A. Wickham, Jr., head of the US-ROK Combined Forces Command.[63] A veteran of military intelligence, Chun, in power, expanded the intelligence function as a force of internal repression. The paramilitary riot police force was expanded, until it numbered around 150,000 by the mid-1980s.[64] Wickham approved a role for the ROK military in politics. The army would vet political candidates. At the same time, it would supervise all political activity, preventing challenges to the state.[65]

To clarify: Chun was never commander of the ninth division. At the time of Park Chung-hee's assassination he was the head of Defense Security Command, which - to correct the second sentence - was not under Combined Forces Command Operational Control (CFC OPCON). And, far from "approv[ing] a role for the ROK military in politics," after Chun's 12.12 coup, Wickham spent months all but lecturing his ROK counterparts on the need for the ROK military to focus on its job and stay out of politics. 

In the spring of 1980, students took to the streets of Gwangju to protest Chun’s dictatorship. Wickham approved the deployment of two ROK special forces brigades to quell the disturbance and enforce martial law. On May 18, elite paratroopers landed in the city and began to indiscriminately murder demonstrators, including women and children.[66] Outraged, the citizens of Gwangju fought back. Hundreds of thousands of local people drove the soldiers out of the city. It’s estimated that as many as 1,500 people died in the fighting. In the aftermath, a citizens’ council was established. Resembling the Paris Commune, the revolutionary people’s government that ruled Paris in the spring of 1871, the council governed Gwangju for the next five days.[67]
When student protests initially took place in Gwangju (and Seoul and elsewhere) in the spring of 1980, Chun was not yet in power; the author seems to not understand the chronology at all. The ROK's special forces were never under CFC OPCON, and Wickham wasn't even in the country on May 18. The paratroopers were most certainly utterly brutal on May 18, but describing them as "indiscriminately murder[ing] demonstrators, including women and children" on that day is hyperbole. And the 'citizens' council' was initially more conservative and gradually replaced by a competing student-led council, which itself had factions, among which the 'fight to the end' faction eventually prevailed. (The fact that he brings up a comparison to the Paris Commune but does not cite George Katsiaficas is another problem, as is the near absence of Tim Shorrock from the end notes.)
As the citizens of Gwangju were driving the US-commanded South Korean army out of the city, the US National Security Council was meeting at the White House to plan a response. US President Jimmy Carter, along with Zbigniew Brzezinski, his national security adviser, and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, decided to approve a military intervention.[68] Wickham ordered the ROK army’s Twentieth Division to deploy to Gwangju to crush the rebellion, a mission it successfully carried out a few days later. But Washington took no chances. To guarantee the success of the mission, the arrival of troops in Gwangju was delayed by three days to allow a US naval armada led by the aircraft carrier Midway to reach Korean waters, should reinforcements be required.69
Again, the ROK forces in Gwangju were not US-commanded, nor were they under CFC OPCON when the uprising began. The meeting at the White House was a Periodic Review Committee (PRC) meeting intended to discuss events in the ROK that was planned over a week in advance; it was not convened in response to events in Gwangju, nor was Jimmy Carter present, as is implied above. Chun's military group had always planned to end things with force (if negotiation didn't work), and though the PRC did condone the use of "the minimum use of force necessary" if negotiations failed, it also "advised them to use moderation" (see here; scroll down). In regard to the final sentence, the US urged the ROK to wait at least two days hoping that it would allow time to reach a negotiated settlement, not because they wanted to use American reinforcements aboard the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea (not Midway) during the recapture of Gwangju; the aircraft carrier was sent to intimidate North Korea into not taking advantage of the situation. As for the idea that "Wickham ordered the ROK army’s Twentieth Division to deploy to Gwangju to crush the rebellion," that was hardly possible because the Twentieth Division had been removed from CFC OPCON on May 16. It is also worth noting that all troops used in the retaking of Gwangju on May 27 were already on the city's outskirts by May 21; the May 22 White House meeting had no effect on troop movements. All of what is written in the paragraph quoted above suggests the US was wholeheartedly supporting Chun, when at that meeting Brzezinski stated the need to make clear to Chun's military group "the dangers of imposing a military dictatorship on a population as sophisticated as South Korea."  

To put it as gently as the paragraphs quoted above deserve, this is utter garbage written by someone who has no real understanding or knowledge of what happened. It amazes me someone could be arrogant enough to write a book on a topic they know nothing about. And, once again, this is entirely focused on the US and depicts Koreans as being without agency and simply acted upon by outside forces. 

Of course, a glance at his primary (in this case, meaning 'main,' and certainly not 'first-hand') source, Bruce Cumings' Korea's Place in the Sun (1997), makes clear where some of the errors came from. A quick look at the Kwangju Uprising-related history in Cumings' book reveals a number of mistakes. For example, “In late April [1980], however, miners took over a small town near the east coast, and Chun Doo Hwan used this as a pretext to make himself head of the KCIA.” This is incorrect. The Sabuk incident took place between April 21 and 24, 1980. Chun was appointed acting head of the KCIA on April 14, a week earlier. 

Cumings also wrote that prior to this “General John Wickham, had given his blessing to the Korean military’s role in politics—which included 'being watchdogs on political activity that could be de-stabilizing, and in a way making judgements about the eligibility and reliability of political candidates.'" While I could be wrong, I have doubts that Wickham was giving his blessing to this behavior, considering the way in which James Young (in Eye on Korea) described Wickham’s efforts to steer Korean officers away from political matters; it seems more likely he was merely commenting on these tendencies among Korean military leaders. Let's move on to Cumings' description of the Kwangu Uprising:
On May 18 about 500 people took to Kwangju’s streets, demanding the repeal of martial law. Elite paratroopers, widely thought to have been on drugs, landed in the city and began the indiscriminate murder of students, women, children—anyone who got in their way. One woman student was pilloried near the town square, where a paratrooper attacked her breasts with his bayonet. Other students had their faces erased with flamethrowers. By May 21 hundreds of thousands of local people had driven the soldiers from the city, which citizen’s councils controlled for the next five days. These councils determined that 500 people had already died and that some 960 were missing. The citizens’ councils appealed to the U.S. embassy to intervene, but it was left to General Wickham to release the Twentieth Division of the ROK Army from its duties along the DMZ on May 22. A 1988 ROK National Assembly report alleged that the suppression forces waited for three days to enter Kwangju, until the U.S. aircraft carrier Midway and other American naval ships could arrive in Korean waters. 
As mentioned above, “indiscriminate murder” did not occur on May 18, and limiting his description of the violence to outlier incidents like attacking a woman’s breasts with a bayonet and the use of flamethrowers – when most injuries and deaths were inflicted through beatings and shootings – makes clear the author's desire to hew toward the most sensationalist narrative possible regarding the events of May 1980. As well, citing sources written soon after the uprising is a sure way to argue for a very-high body count. To elaborate further on the 20th Division, two of its brigades had been withdrawn from CFC OPCON at the time of Park Chung-hee’s assassination, while another brigade was withdrawn May 16 (when Wickham was out of the country). The 20th Division had not been on duty at the DMZ at all, but were in the Seoul area, and they moved to Kwangju on the night of May 20 and May 21, not May 22. It’s clear that Gower’s error in naming the US aircraft carrier derives from Cumings’ mistake.

Cumings went on to write that on the morning of May 27, “the soldiers came in shooting, killing scores more people who had refused to put down weapons they had seized from local armories. These units were disciplined, however, and quickly secured the city.” While elements of the 20th Division were used in retaking the city, the units that attacked central Kwangju, including the provincial capital, were in fact the same special forces units whose indiscriminate violence had helped spark the uprising in the first place. By the time Korea's Place in the Sun was republished in an updated version in 2005, at least ten books had been published in English about 5.18, but, because a choice was made to update the book rather than revise it, no new information is included, so the book's description of what happened in Kwangju is rather lacking. (I should note that I'm only analyzing these few paragraphs of Korea's Place in the Sun as part of critiquing Gowan's book, but it should be clear that mistakes or sensationalist writing by someone as prominent as Cumings can ripple out and affect writing and interpretation throughout academia and the media.)

Another article I was pointed to the other day was K.J. Noh's "South Korean Dictator Dies, Western Media Resurrects a Myth," an article that helpfully made it clear within the first few paragraphs what the reader is in for. We're quickly told that after Chun's death:
Many western media outlets have written censorious, chest-beating accounts of his despotic governance and the massacres he perpetrated - something they rarely bothered to do when he was actively perpetrating them in broad daylight before their eyes.
This is utterly incorrect. The US media covered 5.18 (there's an entire book of journalists' memories) and Chun’s human rights abuses extensively and critically. (Don Kirk, for example, wrote an article titled "The dissident Korean minister who never came home" about Rev. Im Ki-yoon, who was taken by police for interrogation in Busan in July 1980 and died two days later - and this article was published on the day Chun became president.)

We're also told that "only after death, decades later, do 'human rights violations' in South Korea burst out of radio silence and become newsworthy." See above. Again, human rights violations were not only commented on by the US media, but also by the Carter administration, which ultimately convinced Park to free political prisoners in exchange for Carter’s 1979 visit to Korea.

We're then told that "Chun’s predecessor and patron, the aging South Korean dictator Park Chung Hee, had ruled the country as an absolute totalitarian despot for 18 years," though I could have sworn there were elections in 1963, 1967, and 1971. Yes, they weren’t particularly fair elections, considering the resources the DRP and Park had marshaled for the campaigns, and Park should not have run in 1971, but Park was at times constrained in his actions by the opposition / public opinion – and therefore hardly an "absolute totalitarian despot" from 1963-1972.

I couldn't read of Park Chung-hee's "American puppet masters" without remembering when the US announced in 1970 it was going to pull 20,000 troops out of the ROK and Park was visited by US Vice-President Agnew ‘for an hour’ and Park harangued him for 4 (or 6 – accounts differ) hours, not letting him eat or go to the bathroom, as he tried to stop the troop withdrawal. Park and the US tolerated each other at best, and Park all-but-openly criticized American 'interference in Korean internal affairs' (such as criticizing the human rights situation or lack of press freedom). Though, to support the 'puppet' label, he only held elections in 1963 under US pressure to do so.

And that’s just the first four paragraphs. I think that there's an argument to be made that America's alliance with the ROK and the command structure enveloping USFK and ROK troops implicates the US to some degree in the actions of the ROK's rulers, but this kind of error-ridden screed is hardly the way to do it.

(Here’s an example of the US media commenting on the advent of the Yushin dictatorship in South Korea, from the Kansas City Star, October 26, 1972 (the eagle-eyed will note the ironic date).)

(The two gravestones read "Americans who died for 'freedom' in S. Korea" and "Representative Government in S. Korea.")

Another article of note criticizing the American military presence in Korea is Tim Shorrock's "Welcome to the Monkey House: Confronting the ugly legacy of military prostitution in South Korea," from 2019. This article is a far cry from the articles and book examined above in that the subjectivity of Koreans (i.e. seeing the events from Koreans' points of view) is extensively presented as it delves into the role of both the US and ROK governments in regimenting sex work around around US bases and details the atrocious treatment of sex workers with STIs. 

As well, unlike what is criticized above, this article is not plagued by historical errors; there is just one exception: it wrongly says of convicted murderer Kenneth Markle that he "became the first American turned over to South Korea for a criminal trial; in 1993, he was convicted and sentenced to life." This suggests that during the first 25 years of the SOFA agreement, the Korean government did not punish American soldiers who committed crimes in Korea, but this is simply not true; Billy Cox, who was indicted by Korean prosecutors for arson and assault on March 29, 1967, six weeks after SOFA came into effect, was the first GI to be prosecuted, and many, many more followed (more on that here).

I will, however, quibble with the inclusion in an article about militarized prostitution of the story of the traffic accident involving USFK vehicles and middle school girls in 2002. As well, I find it hard to laud the actions of the National Campaign for the Eradication of Crimes by U.S. Troops in Korea, whose greatest victory came after kindling outrage over the traffic accident in 2002, which they accomplished in part by placing large posters of the girls' mangled bodies, brains spilling out of their heads, in many subway stations. Since I saw these in person, the utter lack of respect for the girls, their families, or the passersby who saw the posters is something I remember quite well. The same can be said for their treatment of murdered sex worker Yun Geum-i in 1992 and the photo of her body – not for nothing did Kim-Yun Eun-mi write in the feminist magazine Ilda that "the effect aroused by Yun Geum-i's photo and internet porn with a rape motif have something in common. They both aim to arouse an intense impression of violence inflicted upon women's bodies." Former sex worker and activist Kim Yeon-ja didn't mince words about the campaign surrounding Yun Geum-i's murder: "There were dozens of girls who died before Yoon Geum-yi died. But no one ever tried to help us when we called for help," she said. "I felt that Yoon Geum-yi was just used as a tool for anti-American protests."

My main reason for bringing up this article, however, is that readers are promised a report on the legacy of military prostitution in Korea, but we learn nothing about sex work associated with the far-more-numerous ROK military. According to ROK government statistics, there were almost one million sex workers in the late 1970s, but only 40,000 GIs. Even if there were one sex worker per GI (there weren't), 40,000 is only 1/25 of a million, so most sex workers had nothing to do with the US gijichon system. I'd be curious to know how the treatment of the women who did not service GIs compared to those who did. How were brothel workers treated as compared to “gisaeng” who serviced the over 600,000 Japanese tourists per year in the late 1970s? How did this compare to sex workers around ROK military bases? Did the same onerous loan and fee systems that trapped them in place exist? Was it only sex workers around US bases who were confined if they tested positive for an STI? Was the system put in place around US bases more oppressive than for other forms of sex work, or was it not? How did the agency of these women differ according to various types of sex work? Did policies developed by both governments around US bases influence policies in other areas of the ROK? Did they reflect already-existing ROK policies? Were they a mixture of both? 

To be fair, the kind of wide-ranging research and comparative approach needed to answer the above questions would be difficult to summarize in a single article, and would more suit a book, so it's not surprising we don't see it here. At the same time, I strongly doubt that such questions are of much interest to the authors, whether Korean or American, of such articles focusing on US camp town prostitution (or the article and book mentioned above), since their main goal is to criticize American foreign policy and the actions of the US military abroad or to portray the victimization of Koreans at the hands of the US. 

In this post I mentioned an exception to this: Hyun Sook Kim's chapter (in Dangerous Women: Gender and Korean Nationalism) "Yanggongju as an allegory of the nation," in which she criticized the relegation of Korean women involved in militarized prostitution to the category of 'victim of American imperialism' and nothing more. The chapter begins with this story:

In February 1995, a former sex worker (Kim Yon-ja [who is mentioned above]) and two activists from Korea (a female, feminist writer and a male videomaker/photographer) led a three-week tour through major cities in the United States. The purpose of the tour was to Americans’ awareness about the problem of militarized prostitution foreigners in Korea and its impact on the lives of Korean women their children. 

She went on to describe how a forum she attended was held "at one of the major academic institutions where the audience was comprised of mainly feminist students and faculty."

The forum concluded with Kim Yon-ja's presentation of her experience of working and living in Kijich'on. Kim spoke in detail about the physical, psychological and economic hardship she endured in sexual labor for twenty-five years, from 1964 to 1989. She also discussed the importance of her religious faith as a source of self-empowerment which, she said, helped her to sustain hope and eventually to escape the life of a sex worker. Kim also mentioned that ever since becoming a preacher in 1989 she has used her missionary role to advocate the rights of working-class Korean women and their children living in military camptowns in Korea. 

On the whole, the forum was successful in conveying important information about the history of U.S. imperialism in Korea since 1945 and the destructive impact of U.S. militarism on the lives of Korean civilians. However, as a Korean-American academic-activist sitting in the audience, I observed that the activists and the audience had very different ways of approaching the question of militarized prostitution. For example, the audience invited Kim to elaborate on her daily coping strategies in sexual labor, her views about the circumstances that forced her into sexual labor, and her views on patriarchy and militarism. Several adherents of liberation and feminist theology begged Kim to expand upon her description of how religious faith had guided her survival in (and eventual escape from) sexual labor. However, the young Korean American woman interpreter, who was responsible for providing simultaneous translation of questions and answers from English to Korean and vice versa, screened and censored the questions directed to Kim. Insisting that the forum time be devoted to the delivery of the group line, which aimed to "educate" Americans about the impact of U.S. imperialism and militarization on Korean lives, the activists overlooked and neglected to translate questions addressed to Kim. Attempts from the audience to ask about Kim's personal experience in Kijich'on were repeatedly ignored. The activists judged Kim's talk as "testimonial" and "evangelical" because her focus on the personal and daily struggle in sexual labor left no room for discussing the larger and, in the activists' eyes, more significant dimension of imperialism and domination of Korea by United States. 

Kim Yon-ja's testimony was relegated to the margins of this forum because the writer and videomaker analyzed the problem of military prostitution simply in terms of U.S. militarism and imperialism, thus locating the blame on Americans for the exploitation of Korean women working in Kijich'on. Their emphasis on the United States' culpability left little room to discuss the intricate relations of economic, cultural, and ideological hierarchies that reinforce women's subordination, including militarized prostitution among Koreans, in which Korean women provide sexual service to Korean soldiers near Korean military installations, and the role that the Korean dictatorships and patriarchy have played in encouraging Korean women into prostitution. 

The first three instances examined above present narratives that overlook or even ignore Korean agency, while the fourth feels too limited and begs for a wider net to be cast to better understand how militarized sex work for Americans fit into the larger context of the sex industry in Korea. All four, viewing Korea from an American (or in Gowan's case, Canadian) vantage point, tend toward presenting Koreans as mere victims of American imperialism, but as as Hyun Sook Kim put it, "we must recognize that military sex workers have not been completely colonized by patriarchy, militarism, imperialism or neo-colonialism; the women do assert agency and subjectivity as Korean women." 

In some ways, the above-examined articles and book are quite different from each other, but they share a tendency to focus more on the (neo)colonizing power than on Koreans, and may reflect a lack of awareness about the ways in which these narratives are influenced by, compliment, or are utilized by Korean nationalist narratives that highlight Korea's victimization at the hands of outsiders. In Gowan's case, the narrow focus of his narrative is due in some part to the nature of his main source, Bruce Cumings' Korea's Place in the Sun, which I first read shortly after arriving in Korea in 2001, and which exerted a strong influence on my thinking about Korea. But when I reread it four years ago for a class, I was struck by the near-constancy of his denunciations of American foreign policy. My attempt at an ironic and pithy review would be, "A well written book - I just wish it had been about Korea." 

As David Fields noted in his book Foreign Friends, for American policymakers, Korea was always about someplace else, with decisions affecting Korea made by American presidents in 1905, 1919, and 1943 deriving from an American focus on relations with Japan, China, or the USSR. Perhaps the same can be said about the above writers and those like them who view Korea through the narrow lens of US foreign policy. From 1945 until the present, and particularly with the ROK's incorporation into the US-constructed cold war system of alliances, the US has exerted a powerful influence over Korea, and decisions made by its diplomats and military leaders have at times had a catastrophic impact upon the lives of Koreans. Examining these decisions and actions in a critical manner can help to highlight the past in the hope that they won't be repeated again (perhaps a dim hope, considering the way memories of the evacuation of refugees from Indochina in 1975 only bubbled to the surface once the airlift from Afghanistan was underway). But criticizing this history in Korea by deploying incorrect 'facts,' pretending that the US was the only actor creating negative outcomes, ignoring the complex interplay between Korean, American, and other actors, or minimizing the role of Koreans in their own story does a disservice to both Americans and Koreans and obscures more than it reveals.


I couldn't help but smile reading a couple weeks ago that Democratic Party presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung said during a meeting with U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff, that "the reason Korea was annexed by Japan was because the United States approved it through the Taft-Katsura Agreement." As the Korea Times helpfully (if incorrectly) explained, "The Taft-Katsura agreement is a 1905 pact in which the U.S. condoned Japanese rule over Korea, while Japan acknowledged the U.S. governing over the Philippines." 

In Korean the term used to describe is 밀약, or secret treaty. The problem is that it wasn't secret (the New York Times mentioned it after it was reported on in Japan), and it wasn't an agreement; as this must-read article puts it, it was "an 'Agreed Memorandum,' which technically is merely an agreement by both sides that the description of what was spoken in the conversation is actually what was said," which later "shifted [in the minds of historians] to become an agreement, pact, or even (secret) treaty." Roosevelt certainly supported Japanese dominance in Korea, but this was just a conversation, and not any kind of agreement. If Lee were to say "and let's not forget that time Teddy Roosevelt sided with the Japanese as they moved to take over Korea," that would be correct.

Mind you, I don't think that US approval had much effect on the outcome of Japan's step-by-step takeover of the peninsula. A more important influence, I think, was the UK-Japanese Alliance, which allowed Japan to defeat Russia, and which the British renewed several years early (in summer 1905) and explicitly wrote into the agreement that it recognized Japan's paramount interest in Korea. But the UK doesn't have the kind of influence over the ROK that the US does today, so no one really cares.

Amid all this misunderstanding, it was nice to see this Ohmynews article refute the idea that it was a treaty. In fact, it goes even further to argue that it only became a so-called "agreement" after the Japanese government leaked to a newspaper details of the conversation in the aftermath of the Hibiya riots in September 1905, and that Korean historians uncritically accepted this distortion by the Japanese. As a result, it has appeared in textbooks for over 50 years, something which needs to change. So… should this happen (and 20-30 years from now the kids who learn from new textbooks take positions of prominence in the media and academia and create a new consensus on its meaning), hurrah for Lee Jae-myung, I guess. 

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Debates over translation of Korean literature in the 1960s

For my latest Korea Times article, I looked at the development of Korean literature in translation in the 1960s, contemporary debates about literary translation, and how the South Korean government was prompted to support translation efforts after a Japanese author won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1968. Richard Rutt, Peter Lee, Marshal Pihl, and Fred Dustin all make appearances (Richard Rutt was the go-to person for the Korea Times when translation of Korean literature was examined). I had gathered together a large collection of KT articles about translation but only made it through a third of them before I was well over my word limit, so perhaps there will be a sequel at some point.

Below are some of the Korea Times articles I used. This one, by Richard Rutt about James Gales' translation of Kim Man-jung's Cloud Dream of the Nine, is from November 11, 1968.

Two articles from January 1, 1969, by Richard Rutt and Kim Song-hyeon, with Rutt's article continued below.

This April 20, 1969 article is about the Korea PEN Clubs translation efforts, and mentions government support of translation.

This May 8, 1969 article features Peter Lee, who went on, I've found out from friends, to teach at UCLA for many years.

This February 1, 1970 article about a round table discussion on translation hosted by the Royal Asiatic Society features Song Yo-in, Marshall Pihl, Kim Chin-man, and Chu Yo-sup.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

A tribute to USIS-Korea filmmaker Humphrey Leynse

My attention was directed the other day to this video, "To Mr. Leynse," a "tribute to American filmmaker Humphrey Leynse's work with USIS-Korea, produced by his colleagues there circa 1966 (Liberty Production, directed by Chun Sun Myung). During his career with USIS, Leynse produced over 50 films, and served as head of USIS-Korea." (There are two interesting comments at Youtube; the film is also posted at Archive.org where it can be downloaded.)

I was told that James Wade was a good friend of his, and that he had borrowed the film "Out There, A Lone Island" and showed it one night at an RAS lecture. I decided to look at the RAS Transactions all stored here (the "Report of RASKB activities" for each year lists all the lectures) and found the presentation, Films by Humphrey Leynse: “The Legacy” and “Out There: A Lone Island”, which took place June 21, 1978. (I could help but notice that on September 6 that year, James Wade also gave a presentation titled "Jack London in Korea" - considering my interest in the topic, I'm curious about that lecture.)

Leynse first came to Korea to work for USIS in January 1960 and left that job in 1966, and then, I was told, "took his wife and year old son - and James said a refrigerator - and went off to live on Ulleung-do for 2-3 years." Archive.org mentions that "After leaving USIS in 1966, he started Oceania Productions, an independent film production company, and in 1970 he joined the faculty at Washington State University, where he taught until his death in 1977." 

There's a fascinating article here (scroll down) about a screening of his films and the history of the making of "Out There, a Lone Island," and the story of how Leynse's son James returned to Ulleungdo in 2012 to screen the film. Among the movies screened were "April Student Revolt Korea 1960-1" and  "April Student Revolt Korea 1960-2."

 Humphrey Leynse during filming of “Out There, A Lone Island.”

That article also mentions some Korea Times articles he wrote. Here's one from 1964 about his first trip to Ulleungdo (click to enlarge):

A Korean doctor he mentions. Timothy Yilsun Rhee, wrote an article about Ulleungdo a month later:

Interestingly, in January 1964, the government announced tentative plans to lift the 12am - 4am curfew nationwide, starting with test runs in Ulleungdo and Chungcheongbuk-do. I know Chungcheongbuk-do had no curfew in the 1970s, so it seems it stuck there, though I have no idea about Ulleungdo. The rest of the country had a curfew until 1982.

The article also references a 1968 KT article, but I haven't been able to find it yet.

WSU's archives contain his papers, and this webpage about them also contains a short biography:

Biography of Humphrey Leynse:

Humphrey W. Leynse was born on June 22, 1921 in Peking, China. His parents, Reverend James and Anna Groenendyk Leynse, were Dutch Reformed Church Missionaries at the Presbyterian Mission in Peking. As a child, Leynse attended the Peking American School, where he first learned to speak English; previously he spoke only Dutch and Mandarin Chinese, and he remained fluent in these languages throughout his life. He also studied French and Indonesian.

Peking was Leynse's home until age twenty, when he came to the United States to study at Pomona College in Pomona, California. World War II interrupted his education. He served in the U.S. Army and from 1943 to 1945 as a special agent in the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) in the Philippines and New Guinea. His duties included teaching the Chinese language, formulating an English-Indonesian dictionary, and engaging in combat duty as an Agent Investigator. During his time as an Agent Investigator then Sergeant Leynse investigated foreign political groups in the Manila area and helped to establish an informant network. The Army awarded him the Bronze Star in 1945.

At the end of the war, Leynse returned to Pomona to complete his studies for a bachelor's degree in liberal arts. From 1949 through 1951 Leynse served as an educational advisor for the United States Department of the Army and as superintendent of an Educational Center in Karlsruhle, Germany. In 1951, Leynse returned to the Pacific (the Marshall Islands) as an administrator of the Department of the Interior. From1954 to 1957 he again worked for the State Department, investigating those Chinese visa applicants in Hong Kong who sought to emigrate to the United States under the Refugee Relief Act.

Leynse's career in filmmaking began in 1957 as a Motion Picture Officer for the United States Information Service (USIS), first in Djakarta, Indonesia, and later in Seoul, Korea. He made more than fifty documentary films with USIS. It was during his time in Seoul that he met and married Judith L. Light, a journalist who was assigned to Seoul as a Motion Picture Officer.

Despite his successful career with USIS, Leynse tired of governmental bureaucracy and desired to produce his own full-length feature film. In 1966 he resigned his Foreign Service position and began the odyssey that led him, with Judith and their baby son, to the remote island of Ullung-Do, Korea, some 180 miles east of the mainland in the Sea of Japan. For two years he recorded the harsh life of the fishermen and their families on Ullung-Do. His film, Out There, a Lone Island, won Leynse several awards and was featured in various New York venues, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the American Film Festival, and the Ethnological Film Festival at the Museum of Natural History. Leynse made this film and many others under the auspices of Oceania Productions, a company he created in 1951 to produce educational and theatrical films concerning the Far East.

In 1970 Leynse came to Washington State University as an Assistant Professor of Communications. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1975. Throughout his tenure at Washington State Leynse played an important part developing cinema instruction as part of the Washington State University's mass media curriculum. In addition to his classes on film criticism, scripting, and documentary film, he taught the very popular "Masters of Cinema" course, which grew from an enrollment of thirty-seven students in the fall of 1970 to seven hundred in the spring of 1977. His film experience was also combined with his Asian interests in a course on Asian society as revealed through Asian films. Leynse also helped to produce one of the area's most popular radio programs, "Moviegoers," which was written by students in his film criticism classes.

Leynse became ill in April of 1977. Despite this he was able to complete teaching all of his classes and missed only two weeks of the semester; when at one point he dropped in on one of his classes to see how things were going, he was given a spontaneous standing ovation by the students. Following surgery for a brain tumor, Leynse died on August 20, 1977, at the age of fifty-six.

He also wrote a book titled Selected short subjects: studies in cinema (listed at Amazon here), published in 1974.

A review of "Out There, a Lone Island" from 1972 can be found here. Researchers on Ulleungdo discovered the film and had it screened with members of Leynse's family in 2012, and it seems copyright for the film was turned over to Ulleung County by Leynse's son James in 2014, when restoration work was to begin on it. 

Among the items in the collection of his materials at WSU is a "Green cloth bound volume of Humphrey Leynse's handwritten account of travels for and film production of 'Out There, a lone island"' and "incoming correspondence to the Leynse family at Ulleung-do, Korea," which sound like they could make for interesting reading.