우물 안 개구리

4/5/2007

National Archives: Captured North Korean Documents

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 6:57 pm Print

I returned last week from the second of what will be four trips to the National Archives before I leave for Korea in June. On my first trip I had only two days and decided to stick to easily accessible microfilms of early postwar South Korea related State Department documents that were not available in published reproductions in the Harvard-Yenching library. My second trip however, and in other trips to come, I have been focusing entirely on North Korean documents captured by the United States during the Korean War found in Record Group (RG) 242.

A lot of the best research related to the early postcolonial history of northern Korea and the first years of the North Korean regime to come out in recent years has made use of RG242 material. The captured North Korean documents only make up a tiny fragment of RG242, a record group which is primarily made up of the vast ocean of captured documents from World War II Germany, but is still said to consist of more than 1.6 million pages of wonderful material.

There are some articles floating around in English about the archive1 and I understand that there are several papers and a full length index of the collection available in Korean. In his book on the North Korean Revolution, Charles Armstrong has a great appendix dedicated to these sources, and also reports that many of the documents have been reproduced in a Korean source collection that I hope to get a look at when I no longer have easy access to the originals in Washington D.C.

So what is to be found in this collection? Well, just about every sort of document you might imagine, though the majority of what I have seen dates from 1946-1950. For a short time during the Korean War the United States was in control of large proportion of North Korean territory and the fleeing North Korean forces certainly weren’t able to burn or evacuate documents fast enough to prevent many materials from falling into the hands of US/UN forces. A lot of this material, however, clearly seemed to be of a normal published nature. Many of the documents, photos, books, newspapers, and magazines found by troops in North Korea were put together, organized by date and location of capture and sent back to the US divided up into a collection of boxes grouped by Shipping Advices (SA). A few items appear to have been removed from the collection during and after the Korean war for “local exploitation” and not all of these items were returned to the archive. Most of this material was declassified in the late 1970s and I only saw a handful of items in the index blanked out and accompanied with a sheet designating an item as restricted.2

You can find a hundred page handbook on swine-raising for farmers3 listed in the same original shipping box with three thousand pages or so run of a journal on Korean linguistics.4 You can find a book of military songs5 in the same original shipping box with the minutes of a Peasant League Committee on village defence.6 You can find applications to join the North Korean Democratic Boy Scouts7 or a bunch of handwritten reports on education in Christian sunday schools8. There are long lists of Chinese and Japanese residents in various counties throughout North Korea9 or a handwritten “table of truant school children.”10 There are trial records, police records, financial records, salary receipts, student lecture notes and idle doodles, propaganda books, election posters, literature, folders full of photos, political cartoons, thousands of pages of newspapers and journals, lots of speech compilations and meeting minutes. It is, in a word, overwhelming.

I spent an entire day at the National Archives just going through the large English-language index to the collection available on a single reel of microfilm which allowed me to locate potential items that are of interest to me in my own research. This index divides the RG242 captured North Korean materials up by SA (2005-2013, and 10181), Box number, and Item number. It shows the date and location of capture for each box. Each item has a one or two line description in English of what it contains. However, I have learnt to treat this information with caution, because occasionally what you actually get when you request the material is more or less, and sometimes somewhat different from what this index shows. I sympathize with the monumental task the indexers faced, however, because many “items” consist of a vanilla folder which contains a pile of sometimes completely unrelated handwritten documents.

It is truly wonderful that any of us can walk into the National Archives, which is a short metro subway and bus ride from Washington D.C. at the College Park complex (Archives II), sit down in their wonderful second floor reading room, and look through these documents at our leisure. But how do you request this material? Below I offer a few tips for anyone who would like to look at this collection:
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  1. Including Thomas Hosuck Kang “North Korean Captured Records at the Washington National Records Center, Suitland, Maryland,” in The Association for Asian Studies, Committee Asia Libraries Bulletin (Feb 1979). 30-37. []
  2. Classified materials appear to include SA 2009 1/31 “Handwritten sheet, titled “Roster of Informants” containing the personal history of ******* born on 5 Aug 31 and dwelling at MANSU-dong, INCHON city, dated 14 Sep 50, belonging to NAM-dong Police Substation, 1 p.” – withdrawn 3/10/77 because it contained “Otherwise restricted information” and an item in SA 2011 box number 8: “Handwritten and typewritten file of personal history of civilians living in Pusan, ROK August 1950 written by ***** pp. 45″ Also withheld for “Otherwise restricted information” 3/10/77. I did not try to request these materials so I don’t know if they are still restricted. []
  3. SA 2012 1/131 []
  4. SA 2012 1/24 []
  5. SA 2012 5/12 []
  6. SA 2012 5/145 []
  7. SA 2005 4/30 []
  8. SA 2005 4/41 []
  9. SA 2005 all over box 9, those interested in Japanese repatriation, Chinese minorities in Korea or in Korean-Japanese intermarriage could potentially find some great material here and I have no idea if this has been exploited yet []
  10. SA 2005 10/17 []

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