우물 안 개구리

5/25/2010

A Question of Credibility: The ASCK

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:11 pm Print

Of late I have become depressed by what I see as a lack of credibility in some of the efforts to counter the flood of media reports and bombastic condemnations of North Korea. I believe that continued calls for dialogue and warnings against escalation must be accompanied by an honest and active critique of North Korean policies together with a full recognition of the agency of the North Korean state as an actor – not merely a re-actor to the policies of South Korea, the United States, or other parties.

Concerned Scholars

In 2005 I joined an organization called the ASCK, the “Alliance of Scholars Concerned About Korea.” I was only in the second year of my PhD program, but was delighted to hear of an organization of scholars and graduate students who were concerned about US polices towards the two Koreas and sought to promote dialogue, cooperation, and peace on the peninsula. I believed that this organization, reminiscent of the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars (CCAS) that led academic opposition to the Vietnam War among scholars of Asia, could help provide historical context for the tensions among the Koreas, warn against potentially ineffective US policies, and perhaps spread a better understanding of the North Korean regime’s domestic and international polices that critiqued its many flaws without demonizing it.

I became disillusioned with the organization, however, when I came to see that the most distinctive and consistent aspect of its portrayal of the Korean Crisis was what it avoided, rather than what it focused upon. In its statements, emailed calls for action, and on its webpage I found that, time and time again, the ASCK carefully avoided treating North Korea as a strategic actor responsible for its own actions. Either it treats North Korea as if it were some kind of otherwise harmless chemical substance that only explodes in reaction to certain other chemicals, or else when it calls for action, North Korea is appended at the end of a list of concerned parties, as if it were some minor last minute addition to a shopping list, “Buy me some milk, bread, carrots, oh, and while you are there, a pack of gum.”

Even on issues that did not directly involve tensions between the Koreas, I have been troubled by inadequacies in some of their campaigns. In the past few years ASCK has supported the efforts to spread the work of the South Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission which has done valuable work, especially in uncovering information about atrocities committed during or just before the Korean War, but the overwhelming emphasis of reporting on their findings is about atrocities committed by anti-Communist forces in a way that occasionally leaves out context or perspective. ASCK has justly protested against heavy-handed political intervention into the revision of history textbooks by conservative forces in South Korea, a position I agree with, but if it cares about history education it should also then be willing to point out the problems in the narratives of existing South Korean textbooks and call for their reform. The ASCK has supported House Resolution 121 on the “Comfort Women” issue, again a laudable cause, but given how distant this is from the organization’s professed goals, one would hope they would direct somewhat more energy into a statement condemning North Korean treatment of returning refugees, or the abuse of its own people, which is undeniably closer to the heart of their mission.

Silence, and Other Sins

It is in its handling of the tensions with North Korea, however, that the ASCK has been truly disappointing. When North Korea carried out its nuclear weapon test in October, 2006, I expected a strongly worded statement of condemnation from the organization attached to an appeal for calm and a realistic appraisal of the alternatives going forward. Nothing. Following North Korea’s May, 2009 nuclear test, I thought surely this time the ASCK would be forced to make a statement condemning the test. Almost all of the current ASCK steering committee and other leading members did stir in June, 2009, but in an unexpected manner when they signed a circulated “Statement from Professors in North America Concerned about Korean Democracy” (English | Korean) deploring the fact that, since the election of Lee Myung-bak, “Korean democracy had lost its way.” It condemned the suppression of candlelight vigils, and problematic government moves against the freedom of press and online activism.

I too was concerned by Lee’s handling of the protests, even if I believe it is too much to say that Korea’s young democracy had “lost its way.” If anything it has been the progressive movement that has lost its way, and as a result, lost the trust of the Korean people who subsequently elected a conservative President. It is now a time to regroup, rethink, and plan for the next election. It was not, however, so much the position espoused in the 10 June 2009 statement signed by over two hundred professors (I’m not sure what organizations led the drive to collect them) that dismayed me as the fact that the ASCK or its members put together no statement and collected no signatures at the time condemning a North Korean nuclear test that happened only a few weeks earlier on 25 May, 2009 and coming, rudely, only two days after the suicide of former president Roh Moo Hyun. Compared to the more muted response to the 2006 test, which nevertheless led to the unanimous passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1718, this time even China and Russia were surprisingly vocal in their strong condemnations, which helped lead to the passing of the more sharp-toothed UN Security Council Resolution 1874 in June of last year. But ASCK mobilized no scholars against these tests, or even bother, at this point, to weigh in on the dangers of United Nations sanctions being unproductive, even if justified in their condemnation.

I don’t think North Korea would have cowered at the spectacle of having its nuclear tests criticized by a few academics: it is not about that. It is about credibility; it is about taking the right position, of being willing to make a clear honest statement about something that touches the heart of one’s issue, and avoid the hypocrisy that plagued so many progressives in the Cold War who took a stand against American imperialism but fell silent when faced by the horrors of Communist oppression.

Sometimes the ASCK does speak up and mention North Korea, but when it does so, it is reluctant to treat North Korea like a full participant in the crisis, even when arguably (and I’m not even asking them to go this far) it is the primary source of tensions.

Let us look at two representative examples:

1) “Time to End the Korean War” (2003)

It is always the United States which is the primary target for the ASCK. Article two of this statement singles out the US for criticism and accuses it of pushing the Korean peninsula “perilously close of war” (Poorly chosen words, at any rate, since a major push of the ASCK is to get everyone to realize that the war never ended) and specifically mentions its “threats of embargo, preemptive strikes and regime change” but nowhere in the statement is there an acknowledgment that the DPRK plays a significant role as an obstacle to peace on the peninsula.

It is very unfortunate that the supporters of the statement listed at the bottom which, to ASCK’s credit, includes almost all of the leading scholars of Korea in the United States and Europe—many of whom I deeply respect—did not point out this disturbing asymmetry. At the very least they could have appended a watered down phrase to article two saying something along the lines of, “and the policies of the DPRK haven’t exactly been helpful, either.”

2) “A Transnational Appeal for Peace and Security in Northeast Asia” (2009)

The ASCK is a master of passive constructions designed to avoid difficult questions of responsibility, except when such responsibility can be directly attributed to anyone except North Korea. In this appeal, found on the positions page of the ASCK, we learn that “The United States, South Korea, and Japan are tightening sanctions” but “Tension is rising,” “military tensions actually increased,” and the “Northeast Asian region was swept by fears by a sudden change in the nuclear situation.” This sudden change, we learn, came at the end of a chain of events which places North Korea in the position of the victim. Here is the narrative as portrayed by the ASCK:

In April Pyongyang “announced that it would launch a satellite.” There is no mention of why this might be a very bad idea, completely counter productive, a potential violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1718, and that a communications satellite is not the best use of an economically failing state’s resources. President Obama and the Security Council condemned the launch and tightened sanctions. North Korea then, on May 25, “responded to what it viewed as the statement’s infringement on its sovereign right by conducting a nuclear test.” The UNSC passed Resolution 1874 to punish North Korea “for what it believed” to be a violation of previous resolutions, and North Korea “in turn” tested more missiles. This was all part of a “vicious cycle of confrontation.”

Later in the document, again in reference to North Korea’s launch of a satellite, a whole paragraph is supplied to present North Korea’s argument in defense of its satellite-loaded missile launch, but not a single sentence is spared in the document to outline why most of the world, except for such noble supporters of democracy as Cuba, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe, have expressed sentiments ranging from concern to outright shock and condemnation. No mention is made of the fact that it is highly likely that delivering a satellite into orbit was not the only, likely not even the primary purpose of the launch. Instead, North Korea’s claims are presented without any skepticism.

This entire narrative only functions, however, if we see each step as directly connected to the previous one – of each move being a reaction to some previous provocation. This, I believe, is not only incredibly naive, but seriously underestimates the intelligence and strategy of the North Korean regime.

More troubling in this statement is how little is expected of North Korea. It calls on Obama and Chairman Kim Jong-il to “return to a course of dialogue” but all of the rest of the demands made in the statement are directed to other governments: the United States, South Korea, Russia, China, and Japan. It does not ask North Korea to stop nuclear tests, stop firing its missiles, or end its constant threats of war. It brings up the Japanese frustrations with North Korea over the abduction question but does not ask North Korea to address them. On the contrary, in what must be an ominous reference to colonialism it notes Japan’s “historical responsibility for the present crisis,” and notes Japan’s “refusal to fulfill its obligations to provide oil to North Korea under the Six-Party agreements” without any reference to North Korea’s failures to follow through with its many broken promises.

In other words, if someone is coming to this issue without any prior knowledge of the background of events, they can not be blamed for getting the impression that North Korea is a pitiable, if feisty victim of international bullying.

A Call For A New ASCK

These two examples are part of a pattern that is deeply troubling. Barring a major shift in its approach, I believe graduate students and scholars who might sympathize with the noble goals set out in the ASCK mission statement should distance themselves from this organization, and refuse to support any statements such as those listed above. I sincerely hope a new cooperative alliance of scholars concerned about Korea will eventually take its place. There is a desperate need for such an organization, but the statements put out by the ASCK risk creating suspicion and attracting ridicule. Progressive supporters of direct dialogue between the United States and North Korea, a defusing of the military tensions, and a final peace treaty are often vilified as “pro-North Korean” or seen as apologists for its oppressive regime. I believe the vast majority of ASCK members and statement supporters are strongly opposed to North Korea’s Stalinist dictatorship and its oppressive policies and their individual writings often confirm this. Doubtlessly some of them believe that there is enough in the media already which condemns North Korea’s nuclear tests, its domestic oppression, and its brinkmanship, and that therefore an organization such as the ASCK plays an important balancing role by focusing on its counter-critique. To those friends I can only say that I think this is both a tactical mistake in terms of lost potential support, as well as morally troubling.

As historians and academics studying Korea, there is nothing wrong with us taking a firm political stand. There is no apolitical history, the very questions we ask in our research already betray the assumptions that guide our scholarship. However, some questions, when asked, present themselves like a mirror, reflecting naturally, if uncomfortably, back upon ourselves.

Now, as tensions are reaching a new peak following the likely North Korean sinking of the South Korean vessel Cheonan, it is more important than ever that all of us engaged in the academic study of Korea who are deeply concerned about the future of peace on the Korean peninsula speak up. If we support continued dialogue, a carefully moderated response, and oppose any talk of military retaliation, we should do so without denying North Korean responsibility and, despite our justified skepticism of all state parties, tentatively accept the most likely explanations provided. If the ASCK refuses to provide such a voice and live up to its mission, then we should either create an alternative organization or individually make our positions known.

-Konrad M. Lawson

20 Responses to “A Question of Credibility: The ASCK”

  1. I agree, this is no time for one-sided, knee-jerk responses. I’ve gone through similar cycles with almost every academic advocacy group I’ve observed, or joined. It’s a little better when you take up a leadership role, but that can result in both increased political exposure and the airing of differences with senior colleagues….

  2. sigma1 says:

    ” the ASCK carefully avoids treating North Korea as a strategic actor responsible for its own actions. Either it treats North Korea as if it were some kind of otherwise harmless chemical substance that only explodes in reaction to certain other chemicals”

    This seems to be the prevailing sentiment among my students on looking at North Korea – I am not sure if it is an idealistic urge to look for the best in everyone (I know I had it as an undergrad) or if they have come across the ASCK on the internet, but in both class and essays I have had to challenge their views a little.

    That said, they are students, and not seasoned scholars. Good post.

  3. Denizine Dizane says:

    Since you were a member of the organization, did you ever take up your problems with the organization itself? If so, what were the defenses offered to your critiques. If not, then why not? You say you joined the organization, but then speak of it as if it were something entirely separate of yourself. Where is your responsibility in taking an active part in an organization you joined voluntarily?

    Please, just go ahead and start your new organization. In the end, what will you offer beyond the standard liberal pablum where offense is taken at radical critique that doesn’t appreciate how good the US really is and how bad NK really is? The NY Times, Washington Post, Slate and the like will certainly welcome you to the chorus, and then you can engage your more skillful “tactics” and gain the “potential support” that otherwise is turned off by the radicals who always seem to go “too far.”

    When non-Koreanists ask me – “what the hell is going on over there?” they are quite easily persuaded, and often volunteer the notion that indeed, a country that has few nuclear weapons is quite sensible in trying to develop them in order not to be invaded by a country that has thousands. While they might find that country deplorable, they understand the notions of 1) not wanting to be invaded and 2) having an otherwise insurmountable gap in military power. Most then point to Iraq and Afghanistan and say, “Yeah, if I were them, I’d see those countries and think, ‘I better get a nuke, or else.” None needs any further information about the depradations of the Kim regime, given that they’ve associated North Korea with “evil” from as long as they can remember.

    Frankly, this all makes me question your credibilty more than ASCK. I mean, if you really want to get after the ASCK for their faulty tactics – attack their website! When’s the last time they updated that thing? Half the links are defunct – there’s no blog – no day to day engagement with the issues. That’s far more distressing in terms of their ineffectiveness than being too soft on North Korea.

  4. slim says:

    What did you expect from the far left?

    Note to DD: North Korea is the one that has done the invading on the Korean peninusula and the one whose forces are still deployed offensively.

  5. K. M. Lawson says:

    Thanks for your comment Denizine. You are right: I should have spoken up within the ASCK.

    I was, and am, only a graduate student who was somewhat intimidated that so many leading scholars in my field signed some of its statements, and there was very low traffic on their mailing list so I was reluctant to suddenly cause a splash. I stopped paying my dues after the first year but didn’t make any stormy exit. These are not really good excuses, however, and this posting is my much delayed open letter to my colleagues.

  6. lirelou says:

    Thank you for an articulate and focused post. My memory of the Vietnam War activists places the CCAS on a plane with the ASKC, with one major difference. The membership of the ASKC appears far more familiar with Korea than the founders of the CCAS were with Vietnam. But then, Vietnam was not their true concern. They were about getting the United States out of Asia and Asian affairs. And among the truly radical, it was about seeing any side that the United States was opposed to win. Today’s ASKC may be far more knowledgeable of Korean history, politics and affairs than their CCAS counterparts, but I venture to guess that you’ll find some of those same tendencies. The supreme irony is discovering thta Bruce Cumings was a founding member of CCAS, but is only a signatory to ASKC petitions, and is not listed among their founders or on their steering committee.

  7. hlee says:

    I for one appreciate the work of ASCK. I only wish they would do more to expose U.S. hypocrisy in Korea. Especially at a time like this, when tensions are escalating on the Korean peninsula, we need scholars brave enough to speak up against the status quo and not be intimidated by red-baiting tactics such as yours. I applaud ASCK for taking tough positions that may not be popular, but encourage critical thinking and debate.

  8. seoulbrotherno1 says:

    The American public has little to no understanding of the most fundamental problems affecting Corea. The existing unilateral tirades against North Corea are devoid of historical context and an insult to the intelligence of any halfway educated scholar. The purpose of the ASCK is to interject rationale and nuance into the current conversation about the DPRK, and for that, I appreciate their efforts.

    While it might have been appropriate for CCAS to decry the treatment of American POWs during the Vietnam War, the larger issues of French Colonialism, US Imperialism, and the Vietnamese right to self-determination took precedence. If the CCAS failed to take a stance on that issue, it didn’t mean that the organization failed to stand up for human rights in general. In this context, the lack of dialogue by the ACSK does not axiomatically reflect their support of DPRK policies towards returning economic migrants -it might simply reflect the lack of reliable, consistent information about conditions in DPRK camps. Currently, the media is filled with “DPRK porn,” in which American superiority is affirmed through tales of despotic Oriental barbarism: “Kim Jong Il bathes in the blood of virgins to maintain his youth.” “Pregnant women in DPRK labor camps have their babies cut out from their bodies, and they watch in horror as sadistically delighted guards kick it to death.” “Prisoners are executed by having molten metal poured into their mouths.”

    Unfortunately, refugees are the number one source of information about this issue, and as anyone familiar with the WMD reports from Iraq will attest, refugees are extremely unreliable sources of information. There are financial and political incentives for sensationalized stories, so it seems wise for scholars to withhold judgment about DPRK prison camps until more information is available.

    But again, a focus on internal policies in the DPRK is premature without the acknowledgement of the DPRK’s right to exist. The order of priorities, the context of the issue, and the process of resolution all seem to be problems for the writer. In regards to the DPRK, it is crucial to recognize the brutality of Japan’s illegal occupation (an issue that is still diplomatically unresolved between the DPRK and Japan). The fundamental problems with the US’s misguided occupation from reinstalling Japanese collaborators to power, to General Hodges declaration that “Corea is the enemy of the US and will be treated as such,” to the repression of democracy in the South, down to the murder of Kim Gu and Yeo Woon Hyeong -all these issues need to be highlighted.

    Essentially, any informed conversation about Corea requires a re-writing of history from the ground up, because of the rampant, politically expedient misinformation about the region. With so much ground to cover in any discussion of Corea, issues like the true nature of DPRK camps, a handful of Japanese abduction victims, and Kim Jong Il’s drinking habits may fall to the wayside. This doesn’t mean that the ACSK supports Kim Jong Il’s reported alcoholism (or anyone else’s for that matter). It is just that most conversations about the DPRK do not assume that the country has a right to exist. If people have become inundated with misinformation that they cannot agree to the basic notion of “self-determination,” then many issues will be eclipsed in order to first establish foundational understanding.

    This is what makes engagement about North Corea so tricky. The dialogue about the country has never proceeded past misinformed, colonial assumptions that North Corea has no right to exist. In that respect, every time there is an international problem with the DPRK -be it missile tests, military skirmishes, or even weapons trade, alternative perspectives (as espoused by the ACSK) all have to go back to square one, because we are still having the argument about whether or not North Corea has the right to exist.

    Thus, it is the order of priorities, context of issue, and process of resolution which need to be highlighted. It seems that the writer has lost perspective on these issues to assuage a need to appear fair and balanced. But it is a disservice to mention the abduction of less then 20 Japanese citizens in the same breath as the unresolved Japanese colonial occupation of Corea. Certainly North Corea isn’t entitled to terrorize random Japanese individuals because of their suffering under Japan, but at the same time, juxtaposing these issues puts them on similar levels in regards to consequence and importance. Two US soldiers were hacked to death by North Corean soldiers at the DMZ (an act that should be decried), but this isn’t remotely similar to the policy of firing on Corean refugees, saturation carpet bombings and napalming of civilians that happened during the Corean war. While existing textbooks in Corea could use improvement, this doesn’t compare at all to the white-washing initiated by the 2MB administration.

    Without context, none of this information makes any sense to the uninitiated. Just as the ACSK may not touch upon the 1968 DPRK assassination attempt of Pak Jeong Hee, so too they avoid the 1987 murder of Suzy Kim in Hong Kong. Both issues are important, but these details make little sense without a clear understanding of the larger framework surrounding North / South relations. Ideally, a larger, more influential, more active ACSK would be able to investigate these issues more thoroughly. However, without establishing a fundamental understanding of the basic issues and challenges facing both halves of the peninsula, detailed investigation of issues such as freedom of movement in North Corea only bring about more confusion.

    This is not to say that political and ideological freedoms in North Corea are unimportant and extraneous details. However, failing to understand the issue in a holistic manner will result in equally flawed policy. For example, when the US occupied Corea, they attributed Corean leftist fervor to USSR brainwashing, and their management of Corean leftists (imprisonment, execution, repression) only resulted in more resistance to the US occupation. Thus, it is critical to establish the DPRK’s right to exist, and from there other conversations can ensue.

    However, US sanctions are designed to destroy the Pyeongyang regime, not to increase engagement. Diplomatically speaking, if one country has an issue with another, there should be dialogue and cooperation to achieve a solution. The US refusal to sign a peace treaty does nothing to invite dialogue. The US claims that it wants Pyeongyang to integrate into the world system and liberalize, but at the same time, they have taken unilateral action to bully the DPRK. The US has spearheaded the longest economic embargo in history, they have illegally seized DPRK assests, they have DPRK blocked attempts to integrate into the IMF and Asia Development Bank, etc. Although the US isn’t ready to rhetorically claim that the DPRK has no right to exist, the actions of the US clearly demonstrate where they stand on this issue.

    Thus, advocating for a more enlightened resolution of Corean issues requires a strategic approach. Decades of misinformation about Corea needs to be counter-acted. The right for North Corea to exist must be respected. Outstanding / unresolved historical issues need to be contextualized, evaluated, and prioritized. Engagement -not bloody, violent regime change is the path change in North Corea.

    In the same way, although the author calls for “regime change” in the ACSK, engagement should be the route to change. As a Denizen Dizane mentioned, you did (and probably still do) had / have ample opportunity to engage with others within the organization to advocate for change. Public criticism and a hostile stance will probably work as well against the ACSK as it does for the US against the DPRK.

  9. Sayaka says:

    Well put, Konrad. We are not pro- or anti- certain countries. It is very irritating when I hear people speaking as if everything American, everything Japanese, everything North Korean is either good or bad. Our capacities to understand the motivations behind the North Korean policies should never be confused as acquiescence or support for them — of course, the same is true for policies of any country.

  10. Brian says:

    Perhaps the next generation will bring more non-Korean scholars into Korean Studies, and produce a Steering Committee of such an organization not dominated by ethnic Koreans along with a broader set of positions.

  11. K. M. Lawson says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    hlee – I am often in agreement with the positions they take and I hoped that I made it clear in this posting that it is the position they don’t take which I find troubling: that is, a clear and responsible position on North Korea, recognizing its agency and the part it plays as an obstacle to peace.

    sb1 – It is certainly wise to carefully evaluate the reports of refugees, as we do all historical accounts, but we should not ignore them. We must treat them and their hardships with a measure of respect. We have learned a great deal about what we know of the atrocities of the twentieth century from refugees and survivors, whether they were committed by fascists, communists, or the US and its often unsavory allies. Apologists of every flavor have always sought to dismiss them. You have much more to say in your comment, but unfortunately, I find us far apart on almost all of your points, and I feel it is unreasonable for me to write a full essay on Korean history here as a corrective. We do seem to agree that context is vital, but clearly disagree about what shape the appropriate context takes.

    Brian – This has nothing at all to do with the ethnicity of members of the steering committee, which, at any rate, is not as you describe it. I find the mere suggestion offensive. It includes a number of truly excellent scholars and graduate students, who I continue to admire, even if I openly express my criticisms of the ASCK here.

  12. ID says:

    hLee,

    Courage is recognizing the truth, even when it contradicts your own assumptions. What prevents North Korea from engaging the world peacefully? The fear of invasion? They’ve given us just cause to do so many times over, and yet we haven’t. No, the North Korean government’s prime objective is to maintain its grasp on power. It’s got a hand in the cookie jar and the other out in a fist because it doesn’t want anyone else to those have a taste, not even a crumb. North Korea is an oligarchy and its government is motivated by greed and self-preservation (it’s good to be king, you know). It’s really that simple.

  13. salome says:

    Interesting article. By the way, didn’t the author admit to receiving grants from the infamous Sasakawa Foundation? What political standpoint would he urge us to take and how can we be sure that the author is sincere with his agenda? And, Brian, what you said is racist and un-scholarly.

  14. salome says:

    It appears that my previous post has been “moderated,” because I pointed out the KML’s affiliation with the Sasakawa Foundation (you know the history, right?) and problematized Brian’s ethnically biased comment. If you really want an open discussion, you need to be fair.

  15. K. M. Lawson says:

    ID: All states are motivated by greed and self-preservation and wish to maintain their regimes.

    Salome: I apologize for only now approving your messages. In the case of your comment, I was simply away for a family outing all day on this memorial day holiday and didn’t get a chance to check my email while away.

    It is true that I accepted money from Sasakawa, and I wrote about the experience here at Frog in Well some years ago:
    http://www.froginawell.net/japan/2005/06/sasakawa-money/

    I tried to put forth some of my ideas about dealing with North Korea in the text of my posting above which I think constitute my “political standpoint” with respect to this issue. As for my broader political sympathies, I am a democratic socialist with a strong pragmatic streak; but one in the much maligned anti-communist tradition of Orwell and Koestler. As for my sincerity, I am not sure how to convince you of it.

  16. K. M. Lawson says:

    One note about comment moderation since it was brought up:

    All of our comments at Frog in a Well here are moderated both to prevent spam getting through as well as providing each of our contributors here the freedom to delete contributions they find make no useful contribution to the discussion or otherwise offensive. Brian’s comment certainly came close as a candidate for deletion but I generally prefer to err on the side of letting comments through. Though some will see any moderation as a form of “censorship” I would just like to point out you are welcome to say whatever you wish on your own websites. If you wish to paint on our wall, we ask only that comments remain relevant and respectful.

  17. salome says:

    Thanks, Konrad, for clarifying the misunderstanding.

    What NK did was repulsive and unforgivable. But it is important to not fall back on the rhetoric of belligerence like B Myer’s op-ed article below.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/28/opinion/28myers.html?ref=opinion

    Anything that triggers conflict can have irreversible consequences in places like Korea. Unfortunately, some pundits (on both ends) take advantage of terrible situations to promote their own agendas. Their political affiliations usually say something about where they are headed to and I am wary of that. Very few scholars are truly neutral and balanced these days. They all have interests. As for funding issues, well, I have turned down a few offers myself after checking where the money came from–some neo-con organizations in the US. It’s hard to refuse easy money, but it sometimes helps to clarify where one stands. Hunger teaches humility.

  18. Brian says:

    It certainly wasn’t my intention to be racist or inflammatory, as most readers who know me will attest. I’m sorry the comment was indelicate and that offense was taken, and I don’t want to distract from the topic at hand.

  19. lirelou says:

    Seoulbrotherno1. in re: “Diplomatically speaking, if one country has an issue with another, there should be dialogue and cooperation to achieve a solution.” Actually, such a approach was tried, at Munich by Neville Chamberlain. And of course, it was a resounding success which earned Chamberlain the undying gratitude of serious scholars. And shouldn’t your “DPRK” be “DPRC”, just for the purpose of consistency? And as long as you’re adding issues that need to be highlighted, how about the murder of Pak Hyon-yong to the murders of Kim Gu and Yeo Woon Hyeong.

  20. salome says:

    Konrad,

    This is an afterthought to my raising suspicion over your previous statement. ASCK has recently issued a statement on teaching initiative on Korean War and bunch of people signed up again for the cause. I didn’t. I never signed up for anything they issued; I guess I am boycotting them quietly, though for different reasons than yours. But I am glad that you raised your opposition, though I was critical at first. I know it’s tough to voice your opinion frankly as a grad student. What I dislike about ASCK is its obsession with “political show or self-parading” and, to a degree, their cliquishness. I think all the members know each other, ganged up together as an academic network, but mostly for self-promotion and mutual adulation. A lot of them just love limelight, but not all are serious intellectuals, some might even be accused of plagiarism, shows in their recent works. Very few advocate the old fashioned love of knowledge; they think that if you profess such love without “setting out your political agenda,” then, you are not enlightened enough. How I hate that gang-minded attitude. Some of them are neglectful (I know this because I know a lot of the signers personally) about the genuine pursuit of knowledge, which is why we are doing what we are doing as intellectuals. I call for a dissent to the organization’s narrow minded approach to scholarship. I want to teach classes where students really learn something, enjoy them, and profess their love of learning without being compelled to agree with a group politics. I think we need that kind of organization–standing against ASCK’s shallow leadership.

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