우물 안 개구리

2/25/2013

Red Chapel Ironies

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:11 pm Print

I recently got around to watching the Red Chapel, the unusual guerrilla documentary by the Danish journalist Mads Brügger.1 The basic premise is a visit to North Korea by Mads Brügger and two Danish-Korean comedians for the purpose of cultural exchange. Brügger’s main ploy is the use of the speaking disability of one of the two, Jacob Nossell, as a way to create embarrassment, conceal criticism, and attempt to expose the heartless evil of the DPRK.

The movie fails at its task. We learn nothing about North Korea that any number of other documentaries, journalistic accounts, or other limited looks into the bubble of elite life in Pyongyang have not already shown us. Brügger seems to completely unable to understand the psychological universe that North Koreans live in. Instead of coming to terms with the victory the Stalinist state has had in transforming the worldview of its people, he sees everyone around him acting always and only out of fear, and engaged constantly in a kind of performance that helps him justify his own deceit. Of course, it isn’t either of these. We are seeing a people who have carved out a livable fiction, parts of which they know is a lie, and parts they grasp tightly in order to function in their society. In terms of basic technique, it is no different than the ability we develop to ignore injustice around us and participate enthusiastically in social games we know are built on fantasies. Fear and falsehood, of course, play a part, but I suspect many of the emotions he sees are as powerful and genuine as any we see these three Danes offer the camera.

Nor is there much in the way of new evils exposed. While Brügger seems almost delighted to be able to show the North Korean treatment of Jacob and his disabilities, especially when he is silenced and almost written out of the reworked comic sketch that is the product of the entire affair, this clashes awkwardly with the deep warmth Jacob is shown by their handler, and Jacob’s own complex emotions over what he sees and his own role in the deceptive game that Mads has invited him to join. For those of us who have seen or read of the treatment of some disabled elsewhere in the world, including South Korea, this documentary fails to shock.

While Brügger makes ominous references to the horrible conditions of the camps in remote places, the starvation of the multitude, and at one point reminds himself that having a picnic in the woods is like enjoying a trip to the Black Forest during Nazi rule, the only two real forms of oppression we see in the movie is the complete editing license assumed by the North Koreans over the performances of their Danish guests, and by Mads himself as he cajoles and pressures his two companions to go along with the North Korean demands and the deception they are carrying out.

But this is why the documentary is a most interesting failure. It shows how Brügger is so different from someone like Sacha Baron Cohen or the interviewers of the Daily Show. The Red Chapel makes a good pair with The Ambassador, Brügger’s adventure in the Central African Republic with credentials as a Liberian consul purchased through a Dutch supplier of diplomatic titles. As with the Red Chapel, we don’t really learn anything new. Most of us recognize North Korea as a Stalinist hell and none of us are surprised when Brügger discovers corruption in central Africa. However, these two documentaries reveal a genuinely interesting approach that Brügger takes: On the one hand he reveals his own willingness to carry his deceit to extreme limits, and his willingness to drag vulnerable individuals into the heart of his game (Jacob in Red Chapel, and two Pygmies he hires for his match factory in Africa). On the other, the both documentaries use extensive footage and commentary to the end of exposing his own failures. The result is that characters come alive in his documentaries in a way that they are merely reduced to stand-ins for stereotypes in other similar projects.

Brügger also includes footage where others criticize him directly, especially from own collaborators. Mads Brügger, the director, despite the authoritative narrative voice he offers over the action, does not spare Mads, the participant, from his own strange interrogation. This is seen throughout the Red Chapel, where the tension and interaction between Jacob and Mads nearly steals us away from the core drama of the interaction between the Danes and the North Koreans. The result is, for example, that instead of Jacob getting used as a tool of propaganda by Mads (something that Brügger admits doing), and subjected to abuse by the North Koreans, the young man’s agency comes through strong throughout the documentary. The climax of both documentaries happens at the decisive moment when Brügger’s collaborators take a stand against him and refuse to participate any more. Jacob will not join Brügger in pumping his fist in a state organized street march against American imperialism and, during a blood diamond negotiation, Brügger’s Danish assistant and French interpreter is heard yelling that the game has reached its limit, and he must proceed no further.

At the close of the Red Chapel Brügger graciously hands Jacob complete victory, a victory of compassion over the strike against totalitarianism that Brügger was aiming for. When he persuades Jacob to hand their North Korean handler a letter in which he asks why he never saw or met other disabled people in North Korea, instead of waiting for the awkward silence or some propagandistic reply, Jacob immediately lets her off the hook by telling her that perhaps next time he will get the chance to meet them.

The result is that Brügger has created—and given his personality, he may well be satisfied with the irony of it—a documentary that repeatedly declares itself to be a condemnation of North Korea as the world’s most evil country, and instead puts humanity on display with a far more positive message.

  1. The title, Det røde kapel, is a Danish play on words from the German Rote Kapelle = The Red Orchestra communist resistance organization under Nazi rule []

9/2/2012

Things I don’t know about Korea, part 3

One of the things that I noticed about the materials I used last time I taught Korean history1 is that the texts I chose for my course did not mention, much less discuss in depth, the recently departed Moon Sun Myung‘s Unification Church. The global reach of this uniquely Korean Christian sect would seem to make it a natural topic for discussion, but even works that look in some detail at the religious changes of modern Korean history didn’t address this sect.

The absence was so striking, that I started to wonder if there was some sort of political minefield or cultural taboo at work, or if I had grossly misunderstood the scale and impact of the movement. I haven’t been looking all that hard for answers one way or the other in the two years since, but I certainly would like to have some better sense going in this time.

  1. and I’m scheduled to teach it again in the Spring, in parallel with my Modern Japan course, so it’s on my mind. I’m thinking of adding some literature to the syllabus []

5/18/2012

Diaspora And Diplomatic Communities Memorialize Conflict

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:47 pm Print

A memorial plaque was dedicated in a park in Palisades Park, New Jersey in 2010 which reads

In Memory
of the more than 200,000
women and girls who were
abducted by the armed forces of
the government of Imperial Japan
1930′s-1945
known as “comfort women,”
they endured human rights
violations that no peoples should
leave unrecognized.
Let us never forget the horrors
of crimes against humanity.

Two things struck me about this article from the NY Times. The first is in the headline: “New Jersey Town’s Korean Monument Irritates Japanese Officials.” There have apparently been two official attempts to convince Palisades Park to remove the monument, presenting two very different approaches. The first emphasized Japan’s past apologies and attempts to stage reparations as justification for de-emphasizing the sexual servitude issue:
(more…)

1/14/2012

자료소개: Chōsen chihō gyōsei (朝鮮地方行政)

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 8:27 am Print

I would like to quickly introduce one source from the colonial period, a journal called Chōsen chihō gyōsei, or Korean Local Administration. It was published monthly starting the early 1920s (I think it’s 1922). I am not sure exactly when they stopped publishing it, but we can read all the issues published between October 1924 and April 1939 online (through the National Library of Korea). I think this is a brilliant source for papers for students!

The publication of this journal reflects the turning point of the colonial administration in the 1920s, when nationalists, socialists, communists, religious groups, and of course, Japanese colonizers increasingly intervened into rural societies across the peninsula. It was the 1914 reform that fixed the administrative units in the form that still remains almost unchanged today. In the 1920s, the smallest unit, ŭp (or yu 邑) and myŏn(or men 面), were fully working as the finest branch of the colonial bureaucracy — this means they became a part of the big record-producing machine. As I flipped through (or rather click through) the journal online, some of the cover images became more and more elaborate, as if they symbolize the increasing professionalism and the officials’ pride in it:


(September 1924 —— February-June 1926 *They liked the image of Lady Justice! —— May-July 1928 —— June-December 1929)

In each issue, there are usually a couple of articles that discuss big ideological issues, but the rest is quite technical. I like reading about technical issues. They often show us more reliable fragments of life in the countryside than ideological discussions. One series that I believe have a lot to dig and analyze is 『行政論壇』 and 『當路者の批判』. 『行政論壇』introduces a couple of opinion pieces, and 『當路者の批判』is responses from usually ten various local administrators to the suggestions made in the previous issue’s 『行政論壇』. In a nutshell, this was a forum for local administrators to exchange opinions. The following is the reason why I think someone should study this closely.

First of all, this is a good source to study politics of the gunsu (the head of gun or county). Most of the participants in this series are gunsu (occasionally officials in the do (province) and the myŏn as well). The gunsu was right in the middle in the hierarchy of local administrations. Some of them were a lot keener on situations on the ground than others, I am sure. But overall we can assume that they were a little detached from everyday conducts on the ground, and more well-educated on average than the head of myŏn. Based on what I read, many local (educated) youth admired the gunsu as they found the gunsu charismatic and intellectual. Their eager participation in this peninsula-wide forum might be a reflection of their ambivalent position in the hierarchy and their desire to participate in larger politics in the central stage.

Second of all, this is a good place to think about how the vibrant discussion in this forum affected the imperial rule. Take a look at this exemplary table of contents from the November 1932 issue:

As you can see, the topics of the『行政論壇』 & 『當路者の批判』are technical and specific. In this issue, the suggestions are: 1. Expand the regulations on myŏn taxes, land taxes, and value-added taxes. 2. Open a path to special civil service for myŏn officials. 3. Let the myŏn office manage a model farm as a farming training center for rural youth.

I think this specificity is the key in creating a vibrant discussion forum in this journal. The contributors sound confident, and they are not afraid of challenging each other. These frank exchanges of opinions about specific issues might have provided the support base for the authoritarian rule, paradoxically. It might give a sense of independent decision-making to local administrators even without democracy, as we see in today’s Chinese countryside.

Another potentially interesting reading of this series is to compare Korean and Japanese participants. I did not pay any attention to the ratio or the contents of their opinions when I was browsing. If there is no particular difference between them, that is still interesting (and you could go back to why the Korean gunsu was so eager to participate).

Finally, of course, you could delve into the details that they discuss in the journal. You can compare the information here and memoirs and diaries written by local intellectuals, for example.

Ok. Maybe I should just write up an article by myself…

11/9/2011

Some Issues on Modern Education in Korea

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 11:37 am Print

Education is always an important issue in history, and I regret that I have read works on the history of Korea’s modern education only sporadically. As I try to organize my notes while reading both secondary and primary sources recently, I get confused about exactly what issues are on debate back then and now. I am hoping that other people will give me clearer thoughts on this. (I’m writing this off the top of my head so my apologies for not providing specific names of historians as much as I should.)

I realized there are two very common topics in the historiography. One is how we conceive traditional and private 서당 (書堂, sodang) vs public elementary schools (普通学校). It is a fact that, compared to Taiwan, the spread of elementary schools in Korea was very slow during the colonial period, and sodang continued to sprawl even in the 1930s. Traditionally, historians see this as the failure of Japanese education, and/or the flourish of strong ethnic-centered education among Koreans. Many of the city history volumes and local history articles (written in the 1980s-2000s) I read emphasize this point. So this is an indication of the “undying national identity” for them. Historians like 渡辺学 also use the numbers of those schools as evidence that the Japanese colonial government was not the main agency that provided modern education. The fact that the Japanese forced to shut down many night schools and private schools in fear of socialist activities helps their point on the antagonistic relationship between sodang and elementary schools.

On the other hand, more recent scholars like 板垣竜太 show complementary relationship between  sodang and elementary schools. Many Korean children studied in both schools, and many of the same local elites donated money and negotiated with the local office to establish a sodang and to upgrade it to an elementary school. Both 板垣竜太’s work on Sangju and 김영희’s work on a village in 충청남도 show that the government depended on those local elites in introducing modern education if not an elementary school itself, and these two parties were more cooperative in making sodang into a modern institution. I myself also was surprised to find that, in 1922 when their concern for socialist activism was heightening, 『全羅南道青年会指導方針』regarded sodang more ideal for training rural youth than elementary schools. I just realized that those historians who use the government’s sources emphasize the conflict between sodang and elementary schools, and those who study local cases see more cooperation between the two.

The other issue is the emphasis to 実業教育 (practical education or vocational training). I find this issue more confusing in the historiography. Many tend to consider practical education the emblem of modern education, and discuss that Korean enlightenment thinkers already emphasized the importance of it before the Japanese rule started. There is some ambiguity about how to judge the Japanese call for practical education in the 1920s, but starting the 1930s, historians usually find an excessive amount of 実習 (on-site practice), and an neglect of knowledge-based education. I know 実業教育 does not necessarily mean 実習, but 実習 was justified as an integral part of 実業教育. To my confusion, many historians (again, I’m sorry for not specifying who, but in general) cannot make up their mind regarding whether the overall emphasis on practical training should be celebrated (as always is when they discuss Korean enlightenment thinkers), or considered oppressive when implemented by the Japanese, given a long tradition of Confucius training of Korean intellectuals. Reading 『文教の朝鮮』 and 『朝鮮社会事業』, I find that even among the Japanese activists, emphases on 実業教育 and Confucius thoughts coexisted for a long time. I suspect that the issue at stake was more about class differences, rather than how “modern” it sounded or how “Korean” or “Japanese” practical education represented. By “class differences,” I mean more than just “the lower class appreciated 実業教育 more than the elite.” I read an article about a diary written by a relatively well-educated young guy in 1930, in Dongbok, Cholla Namdo. He owned his own land, which made him upper-middle class already, but he was always disappointed at his farming job and had to remind himself of the importance of 実業主義 over and over. In his case, the emphasis on practical education and hard labor was supposed to help him fill the gap between the dream of obtaining higher education and the reality in front of him.

8/7/2011

Politics of Health / Medicine, post 1945

I’ve been thinking again about the broader issue of beginning to approach the South Korean post-colonial state and post-1945 medicine, recognizing the immense problems that this presents.

Even leaving aside lengthy traditons of shamans and religious healers of varying persuasions, if we restrict medicine to two loose clusters–한의학 and biomedicine–then minimally this leaves us with the need to consider at least some of the following:

a) W. Medicine as brought / conveyed by misssionaries;

b) German academic medicine / biosciences of the mid to late 19th century (esp. maybe Virchow?);

c) German academic tradition as conveyed through colonial Japanese medicine, public health, and parasitology (Meiji, Taisho, and Showa);

d) USAMGIK / 미군정 (especially the CATS lectures prepared by Winslow); also here–pre-Korean War visits by Rockefeller in the form of prominent American demographers / social scientists–among them Taeuber, Notestein, Balfour;

e) military medicine and psychiatry (here meaning the ROKA and its own internal public health practice, starts even prior to independence, allegedly);

f) Korean War era aid / efforts–UNKRA, WHO report, NORMASH, MASH, Jutlandia, etc.;

g) post Korean-War medical relief / aid projects / technical assistance: e.g., Minnesota Project, Scandinavian Teaching Hospital, CMB, AKF, KAVA, etc.;

h) Public health efforts tailored to specific endemic diseases;

i) Public health mobilizations of the Park period (FP, KAHP), including assistance from Japan’s OTCA, SIDA, and various university demography centers;

j) Vietnam War and once again ROKA military medicine (esp. 열대의학);

k) The incremental growth / provision of national health insurance (1963-1989).

This is only a partial list, but and within this diversity I have two basic generalizations:

1) Lots of continuity / overlap with previous forms of Japanese practice, especially in public health terms, that is, the large-scale mobilizations of 1960′s and 1970′s (FP, Anti-Parasite eradication).

2) Immense effort to link personal health to national welfare as related themes, especially with international aid in post-Korean War period, but even into the 70′s and 80′s.

More on this later, and for now, just recognizing the immense complexity of one little slice of time on these issues. I don’t work on the colonial period, but I suspect it’s equally complicated on issues of medicine / health, far more complicated than some would have it.

3/17/2011

Nuclear Power in Korea / Domestic and International

Filed under: — John P. DiMoia @ 9:29 pm Print

Just a quick note, even as the Japan situation continues to unfold, to recall that (1) the current ROK government wants to prioritize nuclear exports in the coming years; and that (2) the domestic industry provides a significant portion of the nation’s energy (28 plants either in operation or under construction).

At this point, it would be unfair to make any sweeping generalizations or loose analogies with the Fukushima site, but it is not unfair to recognize similar types of actors (General Electric) and contractors dating to the late 1970′s, in roughly the same part of the world, and to ask some hard questions about those plants and their lifespans.

More on this later, but I have been surprised (although I suppose I should not be) about the press coverage from Japan, much of which has focused on TEPCO, and very little of it looking at the reactor origins and hardware.

2/7/2011

Police Torture in Egypt and 1987 Korea

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:08 am Print

Historical comparisons can open up new exciting ways of understanding events that have become trapped by a dominant narrative, or proposing solutions to pressing current issues. We do, however, have to be very careful when we juxtapose highly distinct clusters of events. As I have watched things in Egypt unfold (I emerged from my own research having missed Tunisia) the democracy movement in South Korea has constantly been on my mind, but some connections are more helpful than others. If forced to connect the dots, Jo Gap-je’s linking Jeon Du-hwan (전두환) with Mubarak and No Tae-u (노태우) with vice president Omar Suleiman playing a transitional role is easy to make but the comparison is deeply problematic in both descriptive and normative terms. Nor is a making a connection between the Muslim Brotherhood and Korean Christians useful in understanding the roles either played in protests.1

There are a whole number of questions, both small and large, we could ask about Egypt now and Korea in the late 1980s that might help us both better tackle general phenomena as well as understand the two historical moments in their own right. What is the role of the politics of self-immolation?2 How important is the symbolic power of specific physical spaces such as Tahrir square or Myeongdong cathedral? How do we evaluate the rapidly changing and internally divided US policies towards its authoritarian allies? How important are highly organized movements in these moments? How is middle class support gained in each case? In this posting I wish to explore another one of the issues where I think there are deep parallels between the Egyptian January 25 uprising and the momentous spring of 1987 in Korea: the role of police torture and brutality.

The Most Serious Eventuality

A CIA report from April, 1980, included this observation in its evaluation of the potential for unrest in South Korea:

Should a bloody confrontation develop, the most serious eventuality would be the death of a student at the hands of the police or military. Government officials are all too aware that it was the police killing of a high school student in Masan in 1960 that provided the student movement with a martyr, solidifying student opposition to the Rhee government, which led to Rhee’s eventual downfall.

Only a few weeks later a popular uprising in Gwangju was met with massacre, and followed by several years of renewed state oppression. The first fatality at the hand of paratroopers in the city, Kim Gyeong-cheol, contributed to an explosion in support for the protests.

The death of protesters would time and time again provide such martyrs. Byron Engle, who helped retrain police in US occupied Japan after World War II and for decades led controversial US training programs for police around the world, advised departments against using bayonets in riot control (advice apparently not heard by soldiers in Gwangju). His reason for wanting to remove these fixed knives from crowd control was more cynical. It was too easy, he argued, for a Marxist agitator to “push a demonstrator onto one” and thereby gain an instant martyr for the cause.3

Police torture and brutality tends to simmer for much longer. It is notoriously difficult to prove, especially when police use techniques that leave little mark.4 It is also double sided. Police torture can be a powerful weapon of intimidation by an authoritarian regime. It is not only used to extract confessions or reveal information; in both in Egypt and in South Korea it has been deployed as a form of punishment and to spread fear among those who challenge the state. Suspects might not even be processed, but instead given a thorough beating for a few hours or days and then released.5 To generate this deterrent fear impact, it need not be used in all or even a majority of cases, thus promoting deniability.

However, if the timing and circumstances are right, revelations about just one or a few cases of brutal torture at the hands of the police, especially if it results in the death of a prisoner, can have an effect that is arguably more powerful and long lasting than the death of a single or several protesters. Since these actions take place away from the chaotic and violent interactions on the front lines of a political demonstration, they cannot be dismissed as tragic accidents, but come to serve as a symbol of the systemic failures of the regime. Since revelations of police torture and brutality are often accompanied with shocking details of attempts to cover-up the brutality, they become a bitter cocktail of violence and corruption waiting to be set on fire.

One of the most famous Korean examples of this can be found leading up to the mass protests of June 1987: the torture and killing of Pak Jong-cheol. Before his death in January, the nation was already following another case throughout the previous year. The first woman to step forward and bring suit in accusations of police sexual torture, Kwon In-suk, had an especially powerful impact on the mobilization of women but was accused by the government of being a lying Communist sympathizer and cruelly humiliated in the censored press.6 In the tense January days that followed Jeon Du-hwan’s 1987 New Year’s policy message and tense debates on constitutional reforms, news emerged of the death in police custody of Seoul National University student Pak Jong-cheol (박종철 Pak Jung Chul). Officials announced he had fainted during questioning and died of “shock” but relatives who attended the autopsy immediately made accusations of torture. Anger and sympathy grew quickly, especially after memorial protests for Pak were held on February 7th and details of his water torture and the police cover-up emerged in May, leading directly to the resignation of the Prime Minister at the time, No Sin-yeong.

The outrage over the killing of Pak Jong-cheol went well beyond those already in the protests and sparked sympathy for the students throughout society, especially among parents. It also helped to mobilize students who had stubbornly refused to join the protests, including one Korean friend of mine who had up to then, “only smelled tear gas when it came through the windows of my classroom.” Another activist remembers the impact of the revelations about the Pak case, “From that moment on, I knew I could not live a normal life like getting married and having kids”7

Pak Jong-cheol Memorial
Students holding Pak Jong-cheol’s Picture

Worldwithouttorture
“I want to live in a country without torture”
From Pak Jong-cheol Memorial Protests 1987.2.7
See more pictures from the event here.

Since democracy movements are highly complex events, with a multitude of causes, actors, negotiations, and political changes, a case like the torture and killing of Pak Jong-cheol also provides a convenient marker for use in more compact historical narratives. For example, two 2008 Korean history textbooks for high school students I picked up last time I was in Korea note the importance of the Pak torture case (one with a photo) on their single page of coverage of the 1987 June democracy movement.8

We Are All Khaled Said

I couldn’t help thinking of Pak Jong-cheol when I first heard about the organization, “We Are All Khaled Said” (Arabic) in Egypt. A loose network of activists that formed in mid-2010 after the brutal beating and killing of Khaled Mohamed Saeed by Egyptian police, judged by its (Arabic) Facebook support alone, the group was already the largest human rights organization in Egypt many months before the January 25th uprising. Saeed was beaten to death before he even reached the station, leaving a number of witnesses, and a horrifying photograph that made laughable police claims of an accidental death caused by choking on swallowed drugs.

We Are All Khaled Said began as an organization dedicated to opposing the rampant police torture that has been attacked by Human Rights Watch and in US Department of State human rights reports, though the US has been known to make use of their skills. The organization also collected video clips of Egyptian police torture and organized protests.

Jan 25 RevolutionAs I understand it, following the revolution in Tunisia We are All Khaled Said shifted into new gear, and cooperated closely with other older political organizations such as the April 6 Youth Movement that had experience in mobilizing workers and an emphasis on economic issues. These groups decided to combine their forces and on or around January 15th settled upon the date of January 25th for the beginning of a nationwide uprising. Of these organizations, We are All Khaled Said was the largest and, according to Freedom House researcher Sherif Mansour, “promoted the [initial] event widely and managed to get it to over one million people. They also were the central location for organization, instruction, sharing information and sharing materials could be printed out and distributed by hand.” The Facebook wall postings and event announcements on their site from the time already began to embrace a wider set of issues: unemployment, dictatorship, oppression and fear under the emergency law, and the stagnant economy.9 However, the day chosen was not random: it was Egypt’s annual Police Day – celebrating the police as nationalist heroes by remembering a moment decades ago when their officers stood up against the English colonial oppressor.10 In Youtube clips (2011.1.20, 2010.1.22) posted by the coalition and spread widely on Facebook and twitter, it was the theme of police torture that was most emphasized. One of the videos transitions from patriotic clips of the police fighting the English to scenes of police beatings.

There was no guarantee that Jan 25 would become what it did. Even before the internet was shut down in Egypt, the movement was already an organic force of its own, driven by deep structural circumstances that have been building for years. The protester victories of those first days were in a war fought directly with a clearly despised police force and their triumph was made visible to the world as the Egyptian interior ministry forces almost completely melted away. Torture in their hands, alas, has continued up to day I write this posting. New York times reporters who were detained on Friday were not themselves hurt, but during their short stay, they could hear the sounds of tortured detainees in cells nearby.

As we continue to watch developments in Egypt and calls for a calm and smooth transitional regime, I hope no one will forget that while this takes place, the repressive institution that continues to hold thousands of protesters will be free to continue its practices, especially under a vice president who is no champion against police torture.

Even when there is a clear and unambiguous message sent to police that torture will not be tolerated under any circumstances, it takes years to reform an institution of that size, even without a process of reconciliation or retribution against torturers. That work needs to begin now.

  1. The Korean government did not, for example, frighten its US ally with ominous reports of Christian terrorists waiting in the wings. Beck’s short article can be found with slight modifications half a dozen places online. It mentions a spring 1987 election in the posting, but think this is an error. []
  2. Readers in Boston interested in this might be interested in attending an upcoming Harvard Korea Institute talk by Professor Kim Sun-Chul, on “The Politics of Self-Immolation in South Korea, 1990-2010” I am certainly looking forward to it. []
  3. A. J. Langguth Hidden Terrors (Pantheon Books, 1978), 54. []
  4. Judging from video clips, Egyptian police, for example, apparently like to engage in heavy slapping at the base of the neck or upper back as one of their milder forms of brutality. Does anyone know if this has some cultural significance or is done due to the ratio between pain caused and marks left behind? Also see the powerful arguments on rise of hidden tortures in Darius Rejali, Torture and Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2009) []
  5. On the Korea side, see Jerome A. Cohen and Edward J. Baker “U.S. Foreign Policy and Human Rights in South Korea” in William Shaw, Human rights in Korea: historical and policy perspectives (Harvard Univ Asia Center, 1991), 180. []
  6. The importance of the Kwon case goes beyond the democratization issue and is seen as pivotal in changing Korean views on sexual violence. Chilla Bulbeck, Sex, love and feminism in the Asia Pacific: a cross-cultural study of young people’s attitudes (Taylor & Francis US, 2009), 78. Also Ueno Chizuko argues that the Kwon case was important in motivating former ‘comfort women’ to step forward in the years that followed. Chizuko Ueno and Beverley Yamamoto, Nationalism and gender (Trans Pacific Press, 2004), 71. []
  7. Mi Park, Democracy and social change: a history of South Korean student movements, 1980-2000 (Peter Lang, 2008), 127. When the Korean democracy movement reached a dramatic climax in June 1987, the anger over the martyrdom of Pak was compounded by the ultimately fatal injury of Yonsei student Lee Han-yeol by a direct hit from a tear gas canister on June 9, yielding a photograph that has become one of the most famous in recent Korean history. Both of these cases are important and the Lee Han-yeol image especially can be found invoked by many protest movements in Korea since. []
  8. 김흥수 et al 고등 학교 한국 근 현대사 (천제교육 2008 5th edition, 304 and 한철호 et al 고등 학교 한국 근 현대사 2008 6th edition, 277. Interestingly, neither textbooks mention the death of Lee Han-yeol. []
  9. Here is one of the January 15th calls (screenshot) on Facebook for the January 25th protest. I’m only able to get a general gist through Google translation. []
  10. Korea also has its own annual Police Day on October 21, 경찰의 날. Does anyone know if there were ever a protest movement in Korea which chose the day to protest police torture and brutality? []

12/13/2010

The North Flank Guard: Everyday Life in North Korea

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 2:03 am Print

This is the last of three postings in this series. Read the first posting here for an explanation of the idea of the “North flank guard” and the second posting on its reactions to the Yeonpyeong incident last month here.

In 1985 Roland Jahn, an East German dissident who had been expelled from the country by the Stasi, illegally reentered the GDR. Though he soon returned again to the West at the urging of his fellow dissidents, he managed to smuggle in a video camera. On October 9, 1989, during one of the rapidly growing Monday protest marches in Leipzig, this video camera made its way in the hands of Aram Radomski and Siegbert Schefke who filmed on a night when all foreign journalists had been expelled from the city. The day after the protest, during which some 70,000 or so protesters gathered peacefully and chanted, “We are the people,” the first uncensored footage of the Leipzig marches was shown in the West and therefore, since a majority of East Germans also watched West German news reports at the time, in the East. The reports helped spread the protests and contribute to an explosion in their size.1 The anniversary of that night, which we now know came very close to ending in a brutal police crackdown, is still remembered today as one of the key events of that momentous autumn of 1989.

Footage of such protests, and government reactions to them are no guarantee of success for mass movements. The huge amount of reporting only a few months before covering the June protests in Tian’anmen show this only two well. In authoritarian China, where students are able to relatively easily bypass the internet censorship of Jingjing and Chacha, clearly many of the relatively unpolitical youth of today have either not seen, or have at least not been moved to action by footage such as that of the famous Tank Man, as a PBS documentary suggests.2 However, even if states are effective, to various degrees, at controlling information flows, few would deny, that getting and spreading such footage taken inside authoritarian states that offer no protections for freedom of press, and collecting reports from those who are experiencing life within—however fragmentary or riddled with contradictions—is an absolutely essential component to promoting resistance to state oppression and mobilizing concern and support outside.

If this is true for reporting on large political movements, I believe it also holds true for the far more modest goal of reporting on the changing daily lives in a country like North Korea, where there is no known organized dissident movement. Where great economic hardship prevails, mass protests are completely out of the question, and even being caught watching South Korean television dramas can land you in a labor camp or worse, the collecting of video fragments and anecdotes of daily life still requires incredible courage and can contribute in a small but meaningful way to growth of a political, or at least journalistic subjectivity. Thus the Rimjin-gang (림진강/リムジンガン/臨津江) project, which in 2008 began to publish a journal, and online articles containing the fruits of journalistic efforts of a small number of North Koreans who still live in or move into and out of the country, is incredibly valuable. It helps give us a view of North Korea that goes beyond the tired depictions of goose-stepping soldiers or of Kim Jong-il looking at things . It allows a very small number of North Koreans, as paid journalists, the opportunity to learn the skills of gathering information, analysis, and to participate in the creation of their own narrative of life within the country, albeit within the constraints—as is the case with any journalistic publication—of the editorial direction of the project’s founder, Ishimaru Jirō.

It is thus with deep frustration that I read the December 6 Japan Focus article by Suzy Kim about the project: “Understanding North Korea: Rimjin-gang Citizen Journalists out to cure the “Sick Man of Asia”?” Below I discuss the more troubling aspects of the article.

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  1. Mary Elise Sarotte 1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe Princeton University Press (2009), 20-21. []
  2. Part six of the documentary shows the film maker presenting an image of the Tank Man to a few Beijing University students. I have my doubts about this scene, in which the narrator claims that students don’t know anything about the Tank Man. He may be right, generally speaking, but in this specific case at least one of the students whispered “89″ but then reported not being able to recognize the image. It is possible the students knew or suspected the reference but refused to acknowledge it on camera. []

12/10/2010

The North Flank Guard: A Military Exercise Escalated into Artillery Exchange

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 2:26 pm Print

This is the second of a three part series. Read the first posting here.

On November 28, a South Korean artilleryman mistakenly fired a single 155mm shell north into the Demilitarized Zone during a drill. Although the defense ministry notified its counterparts in North Korea of the mistake some two hours after the incident, it was all too late. North Korean artillery forces, fearing that the attack was the prelude to a full scale invasion, responded by firing over a hundred shells into the south, pounding a South Korean military base but also a nearby village community, resulting in four deaths, including two civilians.

This is how a military exercise can escalate into an artillery exchange. It reveals the dangers of having two bitter opponents, armed and opposing each other on opposite sides of a thin stretch of land with nothing but a fragile armistice preventing the continuation of a war that still awaits its peace treaty. While each side must keep their front line forces prepared for an outbreak in hostilities by means of military exercises, even the smallest mistake like this can result in tragedy.

Of course, this is not what happened. There was an artillery shell mistakenly fired into the demilitarized zone on November 28, and it did reportedly take two hours for the North to be informed of the mistake, but this is not the incident that recently resulted in a deadly North Korean artillery attack on a South Korean military base and a nearby village.

Instead, the island of Yeonpyeong, one of a small collection of islands which hug the North Korean coast but which, under the terms of the 1953 armistice, remain under South Korean control, came under artillery attack from the North on November 23, in the first such incident since the end of major hostilities over fifty years ago. Four people died, many were injured, and an entire community was evacuated while the village on this heavily militarized island shared the fate of the nearby bases.

That morning South Korean forces had conducted an artillery training drill but no shells struck on or near North Korean shores before the North launched its attack. Southern forces shot their shells to the southwest, in order to avoid crossing the Northern Limit Line (NLL) which has, rightly or wrongly, served as the maritime border between the two sides for decades.1 Nor was this exercise some irregular or sudden move to threaten the North, being part of a monthly drill not associated with any larger joint US-Korean military exercises. That morning North Korean forces demanded a halt to the drill, but this too was anything but new. North Korean forces regularly demand a halt to such exercises in the South, including those in the contested maritime territory around the NLL.

As far as I can tell, we are left with a picture of a morning that was business as usual: North Korea protesting South Korean drills, whether or not those are connected to the larger joint exercises, North Korea contesting the Northern Limit Line, and South Korean forces conducting their monthly drills, firing to the southwest into the sea, an act that North Koreans nearby have surely seen them do many times before. Is there a casus belli here? I fail to see it. At the very least (and I still don’t think this would be enough), the North would need to offer some clear and public indication that they will no longer tolerate any further artillery fire into the contested seas and that further exercises will result in a military response. The problem, of course, is that it is difficult for the North to make any such warning credible when they threaten not just military force, but the complete destruction of its enemies on a fairly regular basis. Even if North Korea was trying to make a unique and credible threat in its messages on November 23, what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate that North Korea must itself take responsibility for.

So how has the North Flank Guard responded to this incident? Let me offer two examples: The statement recently issued by the Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea2 and the Factsheet: West Sea Crisis In Korea by Nan Kim, posted with an introduction by John McGlynn at Japan Focus and also available as a PDF directly from the National Campaign to End the Korean War.
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  1. The Northern Limit Line, established unilaterally by the United Nations Command in 1953, without consultation with North Korea, cuts to the north of the islands left in South Korean control. While it aimed originally to prevent southern ships from going north and serves a useful security purpose to protect the islands, North Korea has contested the line since the 1970s. It also violates the 1982 UN Law of the Sea Convention provisions for a 12 nautical mile coastal limit. The maintenance of the line is an important part of the unfair economic environment for northern fisherman in the area, as well as blocking direct egress of ships from the North Korean coast there. The North Koreans claim a line much farther to the south, the acceptance of which would surround South Korean islands, barring a small corridor, with North Korean military waters, an untenable arrangement. I’m very much in favor of adjustments in the line, fair coastal access for North Korea, and a fair division of the economic bounty of the region, all to be accomplished through negotiations between North and South Korea, but the reality today is that the security tensions in the region, and the fact that the region around the NLL has become a graveyard for those who died in so many conflicts in the waters will make it difficult or not impossible to make any changes while tensions are so high. The more blood is spilled in the region, the more each side will harden their views. For helpful background see John Barry Kotch and Michael Abbey “Ending Naval Clashes on the Northern Limit Line and the Quest for a West Sea Peace Regime” Asian Perspective 27.2 (2003). []
  2. They do not give the statement a separate page so I unfortunately cannot offer a permanent link to it. []

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