Dennis P. Halpin
Spring 2002 ICAS Symposium
May 8, 2002 12:30 - 5:45 PM
U.S. Senate Hart Office Building Room 216
Capitol Hill, Washington D. C. 20510
Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.
965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422
Tel : (610) 277-9989; (610) 277-0149
Fax: (610) 277-3992
Biographic Sketch & Links: Dennis P. Halpin
Dennis P. Halpin
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on International Relations
ICAS President Kim Sang Joo, distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen:
When this topic was first suggested to me and I considered its scope and range, it occurred to me that this was a subject for an entire book rather than for a fifteen-to-twenty minute lecture. I soon realized one could only provide broad brush strokes in the time provided, centering around key concepts, major issues and events, and, finally, a few historic personalities who played a role in some way in the evolution of human rights in South Korea or, before 1945, in greater Korea. I will now proceed to provide these brush strokes and I leave it to all of you to fill in the rest of the picture for yourselves.
A key misconception held by many people is that the West, or particularly the United States, invented human rights. This concept stems partially, it seems, from the Messianic nature of Western religious thought. In other words, Americans are here to preach or teach about human rights and audiences, especially from the non-Western world, are here to listen and learn. Let's dispel that thought right away. Any civilized culture has ideals on how to organize society in a humane way for the general welfare of the people. And, of course, Korean culture is possibly as old as five thousand years. Now having a social ideal does not always mean it is put into practice. Certain of our American founding fathers held slaves, possibly including their own children, at the very moment they proclaimed the words "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Just as Western leaders have often fallen short of their ideal of human rights, so too have Korea's leaders.
But a key to viewing human rights from a Korean versus a Western perspective involves perceiving two fundamental differences: first, emphasizing the welfare of the group over the welfare of the individual and second, emphasizing fidelity to social commitments at times over the rule of law. These differences stem from fundamental philosophical and cultural differences over priorities in life.
Harvard Law School-educated, Korean legal scholar Hahm Pyong-Choon, who died for his country in the 1983 North Korean terrorist attack on the South Korean Cabinet in Rangoon, Burma, made this observation on cultural differences in his work, The Korean Political Tradition and Law: "The differences between East and West have fascinated observers and thinkers for many centuries. Some have found that they were so enormous that the two ways of life could never be reconciled. Others have reached an ethnocentric conclusion that their own way was "civilized" while the other was "barbaric." Still others have concluded that the differences were not as fundamental as they might appear on the surface and that man was basically the same everywhere. In spite of these and other diverse reactions, however, one thing remains certain; namely, that these differences do exist." 1
The Western drive to pursue freedom, which is, more often than not, individual rights, is linked directly to Judeo-Christian concepts regarding the fall of humankind and the resulting fundamentally weak and sinful nature of each individual. This is closely linked to a need to pursue an individually-focused redemption from that sin. We all know the story of Adam and Eve, the Serpent and the Apple. Lord Acton's famous political axiom follows directly from this Biblical perception: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Thus the emphasis in the United States Constitution on checks and balances and the separation of powers into three branches of government with the Congress where we now stand additionally divided into two Houses. All to afford protection against the re-emergence of a tyrant like King George III.
The perception of Confucius and his disciple, Mencius, on the nature of man is directly at odds with the Serpent and the Apple. Confucius saw man as being born as a blank slate, with the degree of education determining the degree of virtue. Men, and it was invariably males who were educated, could be taught to be virtuous through rigorous training. Thus, the king had no need for overt checks on his power; surrounded as he was by the sage advice of virtuous Yangban officials educated and then examined rigorously before entry into the service of the Royal court. Mencius described the transformation of a man into a ruler as follows:
"When God intends to invest a man with high office, He first of all sends him disturbance of mind, weariness of body, hunger of appetite, emptiness of soul, and turns all he does into confusion. By so doing, He works upon his heart and awakens him to a patient humble spirit, so that the man can then do things great and high that he never could have done before." 2
A virtuous king would, by this definition, be that rare combination of humble and great, bringing peace, prosperity and social harmony to his blessed subjects. What, however, if evil local officials sought to oppress the "paeksong" (the common folk) far from the royal eyes in the capital? Chosun Dynasty Korea provided theoretically for that inevitability as well, by the secret inspector system as described in detail in the Korean folk opera "Chunhyang" or Spring Fragrance. In this tale from traditional Korea, Spring Fragrance, a dazzling young girl from the wrong side of the tracks (due to the fact she was the offspring of a kisaeng, or local courtesan) falls for a handsome young scholar preparing for the national examinations to become a Confucian gentleman and court official. The boy friend goes off to the capital and Spring Fragrance is left alone to preserve her virtue from the drunken and lecherous local governor. This governor, when he is not overtaxing, robbing and beating local peasants, is at first cajoling, then threatening, and finally increasingly brutalizing the virtuous Spring Fragrance so that she will give in to his advances. Just when the evil governor is about to torture our heroine for her refusal to surrender her virtue, the young suitor, who has returned in disguise, reveals himself holding the royal seal which allows him to travel around the countryside incognito, checking on potentially corrupt local officials for the royal court. As our loving pair is reunited in an embrace, the lecherous governor is hauled off by imperial guards to exile in a remote corner of the kingdom, or worse, while a grateful peasantry cheers. Such is the idealized Confucian version of enforcement of human rights.
The late Nineteenth Century Scot-Canadian missionary to Korea, James Scarth Gale, summed up the difference in concept of idealized rule between Koreans and Westerners in the following insightful passage:
"We think of the oriental as under the iron heel of depotism, whereas the truth is, he was usually very content and in most cases left happily alone. Our ideal of government is a noisy democracy; his, a wise and good ruler." 3But what if a king were not wise and good? (for the system did not always work, Spring Fragrance notwithstanding.) Signs and omens would emerge in a perceived scientific way when the harmony of the Court and the welfare of the State were disrupted by an unwise or even evil king: falling stars and famine, eclipses of the sun and plague, even ghostly spectres, all pointed to the fact that the "Mandate of Heaven" had changed. Koreans still remember the Fifteenth Century "little king" Tanjong, strangled to death at age sixteen by agents of his evil uncle Sejo. But Sejo got his comeuppance when:
"On the same night in which Tanjong died, the ghost of his mother, Queen Kwon, who had been dead for sixteen years, suddenly appeared in the palace of Seoul, stood boldly before King Sejo and cursed him to his face. Immediately on her uttering the dreadful sentence, Tokchong, the Crown Prince, nineteen years of age, fell dead at his feet." 4
If ghosts did not bring divine revenge, then the people, maybe even led by a wise court official or a virtuous general, had an obligation to overthrow the existing order. Thus, Korea underwent its final dynastic change in 1392 when General Yi Song-gye determined that the "Mandate of Heaven" had changed. He overthrew the Buddhist-centered and by then corrupt Koryo Dynasty replacing it with his own Confucian-centered "Chosun" Dynasty. This Dynasty lasted until Korea's annexation by Japan at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.
If one wished not to seek the overthrow of the government, one could follow the tradition afforded to scholars of making a formal remonstration to the throne, politely pointing out the ill-advised policies of the ruler (as Chinese students did to the Communist leadership in Tiananmen Square in 1989.) Most absolute monarchs, of course, do not take kindly to veiled criticism even prepared in poetic language. The criticizing scholar could expect banishment to a far corner of Korea: the far northeast of Hamkyung province (Korea's Siberia), presently the reported location of a number of DPRK concentration camps, and the far southern island of Cheju (Korea's Elba) were the favored locations. Or one could await the arrival of a cup of hemlock and quietly commit suicide. Suicide also became, over time, a method of voluntary expression of disagreement with the throne by a loyal, senior official. The most famous case of this in Korean history is that of General Min Yonghwan, a relative of the slain Queen Min. He committed suicide in November 1905 when he learned of Meiji Prince Ito Hirobumi's forced entry with Japanese troops into the Royal Palace to seize the Korean Foreign Ministry's seal to affix Korea's assent to the formation of a Japanese protectorate over Korea. The personal pain and national humiliation were just too great. Formal annexation by Japan followed five years later. 5
Demonstrations, as the Twentieth Century dawned, became an increasingly popular option for young scholars to express dissent. The March 1st Movement of 1919 emerged both as a means to express disillusionment with the self-determination promises of Wilsonian internationalism after World War I and to vent the growing hatred of Japanese imperialistic oppression. Since that date, South Korean students, protesting against both their own government's policies and that of Japan and the United States, have made street demonstrations a spring tradition in Seoul and other parts of South Korea. Even in North Korea, there was at least one attempt to carry on the March 1st tradition. A post-World War II massacre by Kim Il-Sung's police of protesting Christians and high school students on the streets of the Chinese border city of Sinuiju killed at least twenty-three and also foretold of what was to come with regard to human rights for the people of the North. 6
The most compelling post-War example was the April Student Revolution of 1960 against the increasingly corrupt and brutal administration of President Syngman Rhee. After rigged elections for Rhee's fourth term, where he claimed to have won almost ninety percent of the vote, and the discovery of the body of a middle school boy washed ashore in the southern port of Masan (he had been killed by a police grenade during election day demonstrations) student and professor-led demonstrations erupted nationwide. On April 19th, an enormous crowd of one hundred thousand students and young people converged on the presidential palace, demanding to see Rhee. Palace guards directly fired into the crowd, killing at least 115 young people and wounding nearly one thousand. More blood flowed immediately thereafter when a Seoul crowd headed toward the home of Syngman Rhee's National Assembly Speaker, Lee Ki Poong, who was believed to have advised the old man in his disastrous policies. Lee had also arranged for the childless Syngman Rhee and his wife to adopt his own son and the family, as a result, had amassed great personal wealth through corruption. Rhee Syngman's adopted son went to his biological father Lee Ki Poong's house and shot and killed his mother and father, and then himself, just before the avenging crowd broke through the gates. Soon octogenarian Rhee and his Austrian-born wife were on their way to exile in Hawaii while the slain students were buried in a special "April 19th Martyrs' Cemetery." 7
In the spring of 1987 the pattern of the "righteous students" again emerged as President Chun Doo Hwan, the "Butcher of Kwangju" as he is known in Korean history, sought to extend his grip on power by ruling from behind-the-scenes, ala Deng Xiaoping, with a handpicked successor. Human rights and religious groups harbored students as they engaged in an underground confrontation with Chun's security forces. A student was then tortured to death by the police, who, echoing the events of 1960, sought to cover up his death as an accident. The case unraveled and nationwide demonstrations began on June 10th. The Catholic cathedral of Myongdong in downtown Seoul, under the guidance of Stephen Cardinal Kim, a well-known champion of human rights, granted sanctuary to students hunted by the authorities.
In the ten days that followed, the middle class, including housewives and businessmen, at first cheered and then joined the students as "all streets in urban areas were virtual battlefields." On June 29th Roh Tae Woo, Chun's handpicked successor and a former general who also had direct links to the Kwangju Massacre of 1980, announced direct presidential elections for later that year. Winning a degree of popular support for his dramatic gesture, Roh went on to win those relatively free elections. 8
Another Confucian check exists for holding authority responsible for abuses, including those in the human rights area, when publicized. It involves the Korean and wider East Asian custom of having the high-level Minister or other person in charge submit a resignation when things go very wrong. With the single exception of President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal -- and in his case it involved being forced out with the threat of impeachment rather than leaving out of a sense of duty and contrition -- one is hard-pressed to think of examples where Western officials resign to assume responsibility. No one in the U.S. government resigned after September 11th as an act of contrition; if a similar event had happened in South Korea, half of the Cabinet would have resigned or been dismissed. People in the West resign when their individual conscience leads them to a major difference on policy with the government in office, but not to take responsibility for the failings of their subordinates. If the Korean intelligence services had a spy like Robert Hanssen uncovered, the director of the agency would have resigned or been sacked. A disaster like Waco in Korea would have sent the Minister of Justice packing. We Peace Corps volunteers were at first surprised when a rural bus went off a bridge in some remote location and the Minister of Transportation in Seoul immediately tended his resignation as if he, himself, had been driving the bus. In the Confucian ethical world, however, this is not only appropriate but expected. With great office and honors come great duty which includes the implied responsibility for the actions of one's subordinates over whom one has basically no control. The fall of the great in Korea can come as swiftly and unexpectedly as their rise.
A final point on concepts before I address issues and events, as well as personalities. As I mentioned earlier, a Korean conceptualization of the "humane gentleman" would include one who adhered to his responsibilities as assumed under the five traditional Confucian relationships. This "Humaneness" requires that one assume one's proper place in the hierarchical social order, so that social harmony and welfare may be maintained at all times. Four of the five Confucian relations are perceived as having not an inkling of connection to Western concepts of equality and individually based rights. Traditional Korea was not an egalitarian but a hierarchical society.
At the top of Korean society were the "yangban" (literally meaning the "two ranks" of civilian and military officials), which in Korea, unlike China, depended more on hereditary lineage than merit. This group represented both landed wealth and political power, and those with civilian insignia theoretically received more deference than the military, given a Confucian inclination toward the scholarly. Some attribute this as contributing to Korea's lack of military preparedness when external threats appeared. Small classes of petty clerks and merchants separated the yangban from the vast numbers of peasantry and the other "paeksong" (one hundred names), the common people. At the bottom were the "paekchong", including leather tanners and butchers who were disdained in a Buddhist-influenced culture for their involvement in the bloody taking of life and the handling of carcasses. At the very bottom were the "ssangnom", a collection of beggars, bandits, kisaeng and a vast number of slaves. One source states that there were over 200,000 government slaves in Seoul alone in 1462 and by 1663, an official register suggests as much as seventy-five percent of Seoul's population may have been slaves. Probably about thirty percent of the entire population of the Chosun Dynasty were slaves, divided into those owned by the government and those privately bought and sold. Koreans remained, at least in my Peace Corps days thirty years ago, obsessive about the blood lines of each other. Students I taught at Kyunghee University mostly claimed to be descended in some way or other from the yangban class. This conjures about the old adage of "all chiefs and no Indians." Most people in Seoul I knew in 1971, in fact, claimed descent from this small privileged noble class, which in the Nineteenth Century was estimated at between nine and sixteen percent of the population. Where had all the descendents of peasants, butchers, and slaves gone? Students in those days, especially females it seemed, were meticulous in checking and confirming that a potential marriage prospect did not have the blood of a "ssangnom" butcher or slave. 9
And there is a linguistic aspect to Korean hierarchy as well as this class aspect. When one wishes to speak the Korean language, one cannot even begin to utter a sentence until one determines, based on such factors as age, sex, family background, hometown, and social position, one's relative status compared with the person whom one is addressing. Koreans are often quite good at intuitively sizing up such a situation through "reading the other's face" (nunchi) but even they cannot always guess all this information which is literally needed to carry on a conversation because of the various honorific endings in the language. That is why Koreans often seem to ask very personal, almost intrusive questions at first meeting. They have a need to know in order to address another properly.
The lack of a Western-style devotion to "liberty, equality and fraternity" among traditional Korean concepts had legal consequences as well. "Indeed, the concept that law applies only to the barbarians or to the ignorant masses and never to the proper Chinese or to the rulers is strongly rooted in Korean thought. Contempt toward the law, as typified by the boast of Su Tung-po of the Sung Dynasty that he never bothered to know the law, was shared by the learned man of Korea. A superior man had better things to contemplate. 10 Rather than the law, one turned to hierarchical relationships as the means for achieving the structure of a harmonious social order.
The five Confucian relationships are, of course, teacher and student (or king and subject since the king ideally is the ultimate virtuous Confucian teacher), father and son, husband and wife, older brother and younger brother, and friend to friend. Notice that only the last can be traditionally perceived as an equal relationship and only one out of the five specifically mentions a female (wife). One is demonstrating one's humaneness if one acts according to one's place in these circles of relationships. And what if one does not? One of Korean history's most tragic examples of this was the "rice-box prince." The relationship of the prince to his father involved two of the five Confucian ones: teacher to student and father to son. He violated both and paid a heavy price.
The old King in mid-Eighteenth Century Korea, Yongjo, had two wives, but the love of his life was an especially beloved concubine named Yongbin, "Bright Princess." She bore him his first-born son, Prince Changhon. The boy was handsome and athletic, but, as he grew older, he inclined more and more to wine, women, and other debauchery, including wandering the streets of the capital at night committing random murders. There is now speculation that the Prince was mentally ill. Nonetheless, his generally wild, cruel and reckless behavior threatened the welfare of the royal family and, ultimately, the dynasty. There were even rumors that he sought to overthrow his own father and seize the throne for himself.
It was a situation that the father of even this beloved son of his dearest companion, Bright Princess, could no longer tolerate. The king sent his son hemlock to drink to alleviate the situation but the son refused to drink it. Still, the King hesitated to execute his son directly, since to do so would require a recitation of his crimes that would cause scandal to the dynasty. So, in the end, Yongjo had his first-born son placed in a rice box which was turned into a living coffin, leaving him inside there to swelter in the heat. His cries were heard for days around the palace from the inner reaches of the horrible box. Grass was piled on it to deaden the sound, while Bright Princess looked silently upon the tragedy of her only son. The ten year-old son of the "rice-box prince," the later King Chongjo, wept to hear the last cries of his father. Still, the Confucian conscience of Korea fully justified the old King in what he had done: "for a son to rise against his father is the blackest crime imaginable." 11
Let us turn again to Korean legal scholar, former diplomat, and presidential adviser, the late Hahm Pyong-Choon, to understand how King Yongjo's handling of the "rice-box prince" conformed fully with Korean legal concepts. Hahm quoted a traditional source in pointing out that "thus the idea that law is an accumulation of collective experience of the society never had any existence in the Korean political tradition. Law was not even a product of the uses and wonts of the ignorant common man. It was an instrument for chastising the vicious and the depraved. It was an unpleasant necessity prescribed by the failure of reason in politics. Law as a political norm always meant the positive law. It was something that had been legislated by the ruler. It was sharply distinguished from custom. It always signified a norm with physical force as a sanction behind it. It was therefore synonymous with physical punishment, no more no less." 12
Besides the legal aspects, a key cultural concept here is "eri" or "keeping faith, sincerity, and loyalty to those with whom one has a relationship." This is the highest Confucian ethical concept and it often conflicts with American cultural ideas. "Eri" for all East Asians requires that one spend time for time's sake in the cultivation of a relationship; this is the humane thing to do. Yet Americans, as the Vietnamese discovered during the war there, are notoriously impatient. One example of a break in "eri" caused by cultural misperception involved the story a Japanese English language student told me years ago in Illinois. He had met an American in Tokyo and had gone out of his way to assist the American, show him around town, and wine and dine him. The American's last words before he flew home were: "when you get to Arizona, be sure to look me up." The Japanese student, en route to language school in Illinois, greatly anticipated his stop in Arizona, fully expecting his host to drop everything and give him a tour of the Grand Canyon and maybe even Las Vegas. As Confucius said "Greeting an old friend from afar is one of life's greatest pleasures." Well, it just didn't happen. When the Japanese student called from the airport the American quickly made excuses and then immediately hung up the phone. "Eri" was broken. For any East Asian, like the Koreans, in a culture where, as anyone who has traveled in Asia knows, the host assumes complete responsibility for the guest regardless of individual desires at the time or formal regulations, this American's "cold-hearted" reaction would be considered almost a human rights violation!
Keeping "eri" was a delicate and difficult proposition, as you can imagine, when I was the Visa Chief at the American Embassy in Beijing. Trying to fully meet the requirements of American immigration law while showing some cultural sensitivity to the requests and inquiries of old Chinese friends was no easy matter, a virtual clash of cultures! This is true even though "eri" sometimes even crops up among Americans. I remember old Mayor Daley on the television in Chicago at a news conference years ago explaining why a series of lucrative city contracts had gone to one of his son's companies with the "eri"-like explanation of "What father wouldn't help his own son?"
"Eri" can exist between nations as well, which can lead to profound disappointment, as I will explain later. I will now touch on a series of issues which are fundamental to an understanding of human rights in South Korea: Japan, the Korean War, Kwangju and relations with the United States, regionalism, women's rights, the question of minorities, and the challenge placed before South Koreans raised by the critical humanitarian issues of their compatriots' sufferings in the North.
The Koreans have an ancient proverb that sums up well their geo-political situation: "When whales fight, shrimp get broken." Korea, the geopolitical Poland of East Asia, has too often been the shrimp. And while four great whales have fought repeatedly around the Korean peninsula (China, Russia, Japan, and the United States) by far the fiercest and most blood-thirsty of the whales has been Japan. The Chinese early on clashed with the northern Korean Koguryo Dynasty in Manchuria and over Sino-Korean border issues. The modern land boundary, though negotiated with China's allies, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), after World War II, remains an unsettled question for some Korean nationalists. This is especially true since Mount Paektu, the sacred ancestral home of the Korean people, lies on the Chinese border with half of the mountain in Chinese territory. The Koreans were also invaded by both the Mongols and the Manchus as they advanced, in turn, on Beijing to establish, respectively, the Yuan and Qing Dynasties. A Korean student audience a decade ago, showing a historical overdrive impressive by even Korean standards, asked the newly arrived Ambassador of Mongolia, after diplomatic relations were restored at the end of the Cold War, whether he intended to apologize for the Mongol invasion of Korea in the Thirteenth Century!
None, as noted earlier, however, has surpassed Japan in the frequency and cruelty of its invasions of Korea. For those who think that Korean-Japanese animosities are just a Twentieth Century phenomenon, I would remind them of a book written by a former mentor of mine and the first Westerner to obtain a doctorate in Oriental art history, the late Doctor Jon Carter Covell. Her book is called Korea's Cultural Roots. In that book, Dr. Covell reminds readers that "a ruthless gang of freebooters" existed at this time (Thirteenth Century), keeping their boats along the shores of Tsushima Island and even as far south as Kyushu's harbors. These pirates were known to history as the "Waegu" and consisted largely of Japanese men who found it more profitable to be pirates than a taxpaying farmer or fisherman. They were joined by discontented Chinese and Koreans, either captured or else disgusted with affairs in their own country. During the reign of King U (1375-1388) it is recorded that the Waegu raided the Korean coast 378 times. Some of these "raids" were huge in scale, involving hundreds of ships; the prosperous pirates could afford their own cavalry so they carried horses aboard and could move overland quickly after landing in a harbor. Many Korean coastal towns tried relocating inland to avoid being robbed by these Waegu, who knew no law but stealing and departing with their loot. In 1373 the pirates had burned Seoul (Hanyang) to the ground. 13
The existence of the Waegu partially explains the decision of the Kings of the Shilla Dynasty of the southeast area of Korea to build the Sokkuram cave grotto with a statue of the Buddha facing the East Sea (or Sea of Japan.) This apex of Buddhist cave sculpture served as a private chapel for the rulers of the United Shilla dynasty, which brought the entire peninsula under the rule of one monarch for the first time in A.D. 668. Sokkuram faced Japan across the East Sea and United Shilla's line of kings were mindful of Japan and the possibilities of invasion. 14 The Buddha inside the cave, then, with the dawn light penetrating through the cave entrance to shine on the jewel in his forehead, served symbolically as the protector of Korea against invasion from the East.
Despite the protection of the Sokkuram Buddha, the Japanese came again, most notably in an invasion launched under the command of the Japanese warlord Hideyoshi, perhaps the most reviled name in Korean history. Hideyoshi sent a letter with his intentions spelled out to the Korean King Sonjo: "Seeing how short life is, I am not content to sit quietly home in Japan but intend to reach out to wider worlds. Korea therefore must help clear my way to China. By doing so she will save her own soul and we shall be friends indeed." 15
Various sources indicate that Hideyoshi dispatched an army of between 150,000 and 250,000 men who landed in Pusan in May of 1592. Japanese forces swept up the peninsula, burning and plundering. Today in Korea one is hard-pressed to find a palace or Buddhist temple whose sign board does not bear the words "burned during the invasion of Hideyoshi." Still, one major city in the southern part of the country, the Southern Fortress at Chinju, held out against the Japanese onslaught. Hideyoshi's pride was hurt when his generals reported back to him that this fortified town had not surrendered. Angered, Hideyoshi, from his headquarters in Nagoya, ordered a second, furious assault be launched upon the Chinju fortress.
Crack troops from forces led by the principal Japanese generals (Konishi, Kato and Kuroda) were selected "to take the city at all costs and punish it severely." Thus, about 60,000 troops were pitted against roughly 10,000 Korean rural soldiers (plus of course whatever help the citizens of the town could provide.) This "Second Battle of Chinju" is often categorized as the bloodiest, cruelest, and most full of atrocities committed by the Japanese soldiers. Of course, due to their overwhelming odds, the Japanese invaders finally conquered the city.
The memory of Chinju's surrender is scarred deep into the Korean psyche, an annihilation comparable to that of the Jews of Masada after the fall of Jerusalem to Roman troops. When I was American Consul in Pusan in 1992, on the four hundredth anniversary of the invasion, I saw a Korean opera commemorating the fall of the South Fortress at Chinju, where Korean soldiers all fought to the death and Korean women flung themselves from the ramparts rather than be sexually assaulted by the invaders. Koreans tell me that the custom for Korean women to carry a small encased dagger, now for decorative purposes, when they wear the traditional hanbok dress, stems from this time of invasion.
There does exist a certain bittersweet tale to end the "Second Battle of Chinju." Chinju's defeat evolved into a final victory of sorts due to a young kisaeng girl named Nongae. Likely a country girl with no family name, she was sent for along with the other captured kisaeng to entertain the conquering Japanese officers gathered on the heights above the city. A pavilion crowned the highest promontory and there the most beautiful girls came to entertain the victorious generals. When the gayety had reached its peak of drunken exaltation, Nongae embraced one of the generals in a long and passionate kiss, some say locking the five rings she wore on each hand in a stranglehold. Drawing the general closely to her body, she gave him what proved to be "the kiss of death." Still clutching him tightly, she threw herself and him into the river to be dashed as their bodies hit the rocks below. There is a shrine to Nongae in Chinju and she remains a national heroine. 16
Just in the nick of time, a hero arose to save Korea. When the Japanese first landed, a man named Yi Sun-shin was the chief of naval forces on the southwest coast of Korea, opposite China. He at once mustered all his sailors at the port of Yosu and responded to pleas of help from the besieged Korean commander over on the southeast coast, opposite Japan. Yi set sail in his cleverly designed "turtle boats", heavily-armed vessels covered with planks thick and hard and with most of the surfaces occupied by spikes, spears, and blade points. Each boat also had a dragon's head carved at the prow for good luck and a mouth fitted with a rude cannon as the Chinese had long used. At the rear, underneath the tail, was another porthole for cannon shot. There were six openings on each side for cannon muzzle. When moving into battle, these boats were covered with light matting so as not to show their teeth. Any attempt to board them ended in hopeless confusion. Whenever they were surrounded, their guns belched forth fire on all sides. Fearing nothing, they drove straight into the heart of the enemy fleet. Admiral Yi sank one Japanese fleet off of Hansan Island, and pursued a second fleet as it retreated toward the Japanese home islands, sinking over one hundred ships off of Koje Island. The Japanese at sea were completely routed. 17 Korean students used to complain to me about American historical amnesia based on the claim that the world's first iron-clad ships appeared in the American Civil War, when Admiral Yi had invented the "turtle ships" over two hundred and fifty years before. Naturally, a statue of the man who bettered Japanese forces to this day graces the main downtown intersection in the capital of Seoul. In 1980 the South Korean navy built a replica of Yi's turtle ship to place at its Naval Academy and to "instill the spirit of preparedness against outside aggression." 18
On land, the Japanese forces advanced to Pyongyang, and so the Korean king dispatched an emissary to the court of the Ming Emperor in Beijing, seeking help. With Admiral Yi cutting Japan's supply lines and Ming forces joining a Korean "righteous army" of guerrilla warriors, which even included Buddhist monks, the Japanese forces retreated to a narrow area around Pusan -- the first Pusan perimeter. In 1597 Hideyoshi launched a second invasion of Korea but it was cut short by a crushing defeat administered by Admiral Yi once again, this time in the straits off Mokpo, and the subsequent death of Hideyoshi, reportedly of a broken heart over his losses. 19
The Japanese forces retreated with a number of Korean potters and other artisans, only one in a number of times Korean hostages have been taken by force to Japan. They also took other, more brutal mementos. In 1992, when I was Consul in Pusan on the four hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of these wars, Korean officials and monks went to Japan to negotiate the return of the ears and noses of their ancestors that had been taken home as trophies by Hideyoshi's forces. Confucianists believe an incomplete body cannot rest in peace. In 1994, the body parts were reportedly returned after four hundred years in exile.
Japan began in the eighteen seventies its next, almost century long, encroachment upon Korea, by pursuing at first commercial relations around the southeast port of Pusan. Japanese agents soon began engaging in court intrigue in Seoul as an ambitious prince, denied the throne himself, conspired to have his son placed there when it suddenly became vacant. The anti-foreign and reformist-turned-isolationist Prince Taewongun was soon engaged in a heated battle for influence over his weak son, King Kojong, with his equally ambitious and clever daughter-in-law, Queen Min. Their personal rivalry was soon caught up in the great power rivalry between Japan and China for influence in Korea.
In the eighteen eighties the Qing Court in Beijing dispatched an ambitious young military officer to Seoul as the Resident of the Chinese Imperial Court, Yuan Shih-kai, the future first President of the Chinese Republic. There he encouraged Queen Min in her anti-Japanese nationalist tendencies. In June 1894, Japan and China began to pour troops into Korea and Japanese troops soon occupied the palace and took possession of the weak King Kojong. Queen Min's protector, Yuan Shih-kai, fled Seoul in disguise. Soon a Japanese man-of-war blasted Chinese ships off the Korean coast. The Sino-Japanese War had begun. With swift victory after victory, the Japanese soon prevailed. 20
In October 1895 a Japanese guard unit in Seoul went to meet the Taewongun outside the West Gate of Seoul to escort him out of retirement and to the Kyongbok Palace. A Korean "training unit" accompanied this retinue and when it reached the palace, the Japanese and Korean soldiers fought their way inside, grabbed Queen Min before she could run away, and stabbed her in the chest. They then dragged her out to the garden, doused her with kerosene and lit a match, hoping to destroy the evidence of their foul deed. 21 Queen Min's Japanese assassins were hurriedly repatriated to Japan where they were briefly detained at Hiroshima Prison. Their trial was "a deliberate miscarriage of justice, designed to protect the culprits" as the assassination had been instigated at the Ministry level of the Imperial Japanese government. 22
I wondered at first why Queen Min is not venerated by Koreans as a heroine who had sacrificed herself for national sovereignty, like the kisaeng, Nongae. The fact is that many Koreans view her as a clever but meddlesome woman, who violated her proper role of dutiful daughter-in-law to even the cantankerous old Taewongun, and thus allowed for outside powers' interventions in court politics to the detriment of Korea.
Some time after the demise of his wife, King Kojong fled Japanese influence and became a virtual hostage in the Russian legation in Seoul. Russia and Japan competed for a decade for influence over Korea until the Japanese military launched a surprise attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur, China, in 1904 and subsequently sank a second fleet sent to restore Russia's position off the Korean port of Pusan. Japan became the first Asian nation to defeat a European power and attained ascendancy over Korea for the next forty years. American President Theodore Roosevelt negotiated the peace agreement between the Japanese and the Russians at Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1905, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 23
A group of Korean reformers and intellectuals had sought means, during the decade prior to the turn of the Twentieth Century, to preserve Korea's independence by promoting modernization. Most prominent among them was So Chae-pil (Philip Jaesohn), who started the first Western-style newspaper ever seen in Korea in 1896, the bi-lingual, hangul (Korean script) and English, Tongnip Shinmun (the Independent). So Chae-pil had returned from political exile, first in Japan and then in the United States, where he studied medicine. He went on to found also the Independence Club, with several government and civic personages who had led the nation in reform and the struggle to maintain independence counted among its members. The club's advocacy of a robust reaction to foreign encroachment and criticism of the weak government response led to the imprisonment of leading club members and a royal edict ordering the club's dissolution. The club had been involved in various civil and political rights advocacy, including the promotion of the education of women, education in hangul (Korean script) rather than Chinese characters for the masses, and the establishment of a congress. Among the young student leaders of the Independence Club was Syngman Rhee, who later would become the Republic of Korea's first President. 24
With the defeat in Korea of first China and then Russia, however, there was now no stopping Japan. Tokyo first declared a protectorate over Korea in 1905, with Meiji Prince Ito Hirobumi as the first resident general. Ito was one of the architects of a treaty of annexation promulgated in 1910. He did not, however, live to see one of his life's major accomplishments finalized: Korean nationalist An Chung-gun assassinated Prince Ito at Harbin railroad station in northeast China in 1909. An, venerated throughout Korea as a national hero, proves the adage that "one nation's patriot is another nation's terrorist." I visited Harbin in 1997 and asked local Chinese guides to show me the train station where this assassination took place, a sort of Ford's Theater of Manchuria, but the Chinese told me the station has been torn down.
Those Japanese governor generals who followed Ito Hirobumi proved far more brutal than the allegedly somewhat restrained Prince. Koreans were subjected to one of the world's most brutal colonial experiences. Koreans were transported by the thousands as slave laborers to Japan and Manchuria, where biological weapons experiments were carried out on Korean and other nationals, including U.S. POWs, at the infamous camp 731 outside of the Chinese city of Harbin between 1938 and 1945. My children and I visited the Harbin museum commemorating the 731 war crimes in 1997. The biological weapons experiments conducted on helpless prisoners there included anthrax, with which we standing in the Hart Senate Office Building should be very familiar, given the events of last fall.
The most reprehensible colonial policy of all, however, was the sexual enslavement of between 100,000 and 200,000 Korean young school girls and women as "comfort women" for the Japanese Imperial Army's combat troops (lesser numbers of Chinese, Filipina, and Dutch women from Indonesia were also so enslaved.) The forced recruitment of Korean school girls to serve as camp following prostitutes of the Japanese Imperial Army was brought to light when an elderly Japanese woman made a public confession a few years ago. She stated that, when she had been a teacher assigned to a girl's school in Korea during the colonial era, she had been asked to identify appropriate students to be sent to Japan to serve the Japanese Empire. The guilt-ridden woman stated sorrowfully that she had no idea the young virginal girls she identified were being sent off to become "comfort women." The Japanese woman presented colonial era Korean school documents to verify her claims. I once saw a South Korean television drama on this issue. The story concerned a young Korean girl who sacrifices herself by going off for what she thought was indentured slave labor for the Japanese authorities in lieu of her brother, needed at home as the only son to carry on the family name. The shocked girl ends up as a "comfort woman" in Japanese-occupied Malaysia, where she is repeatedly raped every day by drunken and shell-shocked Japanese soldiers. Her life ruined, she is too ashamed to return home after the War, condemned to a subsistence existence as a foreigner in Southeast Asia. Given the long-term trauma that psychologists have now confirmed accompanies victims of predatory sex crimes, is it any wonder that it took Korean and other Asian women, humiliated by the most profound loss of face imaginable, a half century to come forward and confront their tormentors? They seek a degree of peace, restitution and a simple apology before they die off completely. The Japanese official response of subterfuge and artificial distinction between private flesh traders and the Japanese Imperial Army they serviced has been nothing short of disgraceful. Such prolonged and consistent official evasion of responsibility would never have been tolerated with regard to Nazi war crimes in Europe. It is high time to give the comfort women justice. Japan, you should apologize!
The Korean-American writer, Richard Kim, in his work, Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood, poignantly describes the brutality of the Japanese occupation between 1932 and 1945 from a child's point of view, where teachers beat students for any utterance of the Korean language. The New York Times' Book Review stated that: "Lost Names is not a poem of hate, but a poem of love. . . . It is elegiac. It rises to moments of considerable dramatic power, but its finest moments, as when we see the cemeteries full of Koreans apologizing to their ancestors for having lost their names, are lyrical." The attempted denial of both national and family identity for such a proud, ancient, Confucian people is almost unforgivable. As one example of the thoroughness with which Tokyo authorities sought the cultural annihilation of Korea, the Government-General, upon the formal annexation in 1910, conducted a nationwide search for books on Korean history and geography and, in one of the greatest book burnings of all time, destroyed between 200,000 and 300,000 volumes. 25
The attempt to force a loss of national identity even reached the Royal blood line. One of King Kojong's sons, the last Crown Prince of Korea, Yi Un, was married off to the Japanese Princess Masako (Yi Panja) so that the blood of the royal Yi family, which went back to the "Mandate of Heaven" coup d'etat of General Yi Song-gye in 1392, could be diluted with that of Japan, as so many Koreans saw it. The couple's first-born son died as an infant in mysterious circumstances during a state visit to Korea in 1922 and most Koreans suspect Japanese foul play. The second son married an American and never produced an heir, so there was a popular rumor in Seoul in the nineteen seventies that the Japanese government had sterilized him as a boy to bring the Royal Yi blood line to an end. The Japanese Princess, Yi Pangja, remained true to her adopted country until the end, quietly performing charitable works and living out her final days as the last royal resident of Naksonjae, the royal women's quarters in Seoul's Secret Garden Palace. 26
I have referred earlier to the resistance to Japanese rule, most notably the March 1st Movement. This nationwide explosion started in Seoul's Pagoda Park where thirty-three intellectuals, gathering during a period of public mourning for the recently deceased last King of Korea, Kojong, promulgated a petition, the Declaration of Korea's Independence. The March 1st Movement arose as much out of frustration with Woodrow Wilson as with the Japanese, since the final arrangements in the Versailles Treaty implied that "self-determination" was for white Central and Southern Europeans, but not for Asians and Africans. Syngman Rhee, then in the United States, attempted to participate in the Versailles Peace Conference to make an appeal for Korean independence. He was not permitted to travel abroad, however, by the U.S. government, due to its relationship with Japan. As an alternative, Rhee made a personal appeal to President Wilson, who was in Paris for the conference, asking that Korea be placed under the trusteeship of the League of Nations. 27
Back in Korea, at least half a million Koreans took part in nationwide demonstrations over the period of the two months following March 1st. At the end, the number of dead protestors was in the 7,500 range. In the cruelest act of suppression, Japanese police locked protestors inside a church and then burned it to the ground. 28
In 1929, in Kwangju, a city whose name would later be written in blood in Korean history, a group of student demonstrators, shouting "Long live Korean Independence!" headed in procession toward the Japanese governor-general headquarters. So Chong-ju, then a thirteen year-old boy, wrote in a poem what happened next: "Mounted police drove us like sheep into a corner. From the police station yard, one by one we were dragged into a room, stripped to the waist, beaten fifteen, twenty times with leather straps. Those who had been followers were turned loose, though for days after I could not lie down in bed, for soreness, each day angrier, I muttered at them, "Butchers! Bastards! Just you wait." 29
Koreans, however, divided in general not into demonstrators but into these groups: guerrilla fighters, often going to Manchuria to carry out resistance from near the sacred Paektu Mountain, as is claimed for North Korea's Kim Il Sung; collaborators, who like the Vichy French Captain in "Casablanca," said "I'll take what comes;" and the great mass who were just trying to scratch out a living and get by under an oppressive regime.
Korean folk songs such as "the Tears of Mokpo" (Kim Dae Jung's hometown) about exile from home, and "Arirang," (as in Pyongyang's current Arirang festival) are closely identified with resistance to Japan. In "Arirang," a woman pleads with her lover not to go off from her mountain village and leave her to join the resistance, stating: "if you go and leave me all alone, I hope you fall and break your foot before you travel even the short distance of ten li."
Some, like resistance leader Kim Ku, carried the resistance overseas, forming the Korean Provisional Government (KPG) in Shanghai. Kim Ku, a veteran of the late nineteenth century semi-religious and populous-centered Tonghak "Eastern Learning" revolt against the Chosun Dynasty (in many ways comparable to the Tai Ping Rebellion in China.), did not shy away from terrorist methods in order to propel Korea toward independence. In 1931, he sent a Korean nationalist to Tokyo to throw a bomb at the Japanese Emperor's car, which failed to harm the Emperor. In 1932, Kim and the other KPG leaders gained international notoriety by engineering a terrorist attack on Japanese officials at a park in the city of Shanghai, which killed Kawabata Teiji, head of the Japanese Residents' Association, and maimed Shigemitsu Mamoru, Japanese Minister to China. The latter lost a leg, causing him afterward, as Japan's Foreign Minister, to limp aboard the USS Missouri to offer Japan's surrender to MacArthur in Tokyo Bay. 30
The Americans, aroused by the Port Arthur-like surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, led the Allies in defeating Japan and ending its colonization of Korea. One might find this bloody recounting of Korean-Japanese relations for the past five hundred years or more to be excessive. Yet one needs to comprehend the depth of the feelings held by the Korean people. A discussion of the history of human rights in South Korea inevitably involves Japanese human rights violations of the past.
For those in America who wish this would all go away, I would like to point out the fact that, although "the end of history" was declared with the finish of the Cold War more than a decade ago, history came back to bite us last September 11th. Historical amnesia can simply not be the answer. Reconciliation must precede the burial of old grievances and reconciliation requires first atonement. We Catholics know "confession is good for the soul."
Who in this room can even imagine a German Chancellor going to a memorial ceremony for leaders of the Third Reich? Or a French official honoring Marshall Petain? When President Reagan laid a wreath at Bitburg Cemetery, which included the remains of forty-seven members of the dreaded SS, on the fortieth anniversary of the end of World War II, there was an international outcry. Yet just a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Koizumi entered the Yasukuni Shrine to honor War Dead who include War Criminals, Tojo among others.
This is simply unacceptable, and not only for the Korean people and others in Asia. My mother told me the other day that she had found the WWII discharge papers of my uncle who died when I was a child of an illness he contracted in the Pacific War. Honoring Tojo dishonors the memory of my uncle and other WWII veterans. There is a double standard here in the reaction of America, especially, to how Germany and Japan handle historic legacy issues. From where does it stem? Americans' historical amnesia? Or a sense that European lives sacrificed to fascist madness are in some way more valuable than Asian lives?
This has profound foreign policy implications. Germany, having atoned, is fully integrated with her former enemies in Europe, in NATO, in the EU, in the new Euro dollar. And what of Japan? Would her neighbors share her currency or welcome her self-defense forces in regional cooperation? All of the United States military alliances in Asia are bilateral in nature for a very good reason: Asians will not accept a regional alliance that includes Japan until Tokyo shows greater remorse.
I have heard the excuses: Japanese political leaders must appease their extreme right-wing. Do German political leaders appease neo-Nazis and fascist skinheads? The Japanese must honor their ancestors. As I noted earlier, in reference to those American Founding Fathers who may have held their own children as slaves, revelation of the truth is no dishonor. And the Korean people have the right, along with other Asians, to have the memory of their own ancestors, who suffered under Japan's Imperial aggression, to be honored by atonement.
The United States could risk, in the end, the complete loss of the trust of the Korean people, already sorely strained by the Kwangju Incident. Koreans, because of their history, cannot entrust a major regional security role to a Japan that refuses to atone for the past. Who did the Koreans call for help when Hideyoshi burned their peninsula? The Ming Emperor. Who did Queen Min call when the Japanese began their encroachment on Seoul? Yuan Shih-kai. Who did Kim Il Sung call when he had his back to the Yalu River? Mao Tse-tung. Make no mistake about it. A precipitous push on our part for Japan's rearmament, which dismisses historical legacy issues, could leave the people and government of a united Korea feeling as if they have no option but to rush into the waiting arms of Beijing. Is that what we really want?
But if you don't want to take my word for it, refer then to the insights on the traditional closeness of Sino-Korean ties presented by Korean legal scholar Hahm Pyong-Choon. Please keep in mind that he wrote these words in 1967, at the height of the Cold War and Chinese xenophobic isolation during the Cultural Revolution, when Seoul and Beijing had no diplomatic ties and virtually zero contacts. Still, Mr. Hahm wrote: "Situated as it is on the eastern periphery of the Asian continent, the Korean peninsula has been placed under the dominant influence of China from an early period. Although its inhabitants were ethnically more closely related to the Manchu-Tungustic peoples to the north, they early decided to emulate the Chinese people. Soon after they had moved into the peninsula, they abandoned hunting and a nomadic way of life in favor of agriculture. Since then, they have felt more cultural affinity with the Chinese than with the Manchu-Tungustic peoples. Just as the Chinese had to suffer repeated invasions from the nomadic peoples to their north and northeast, the Koreans had to contend with the same kinds of threats from their nomadic neighbors. While there were instances when the armies of the Chinese Empire invaded the peninsula, they were of little significance in terms of destructive ferocity as compared with those of the Mongols and the Manchus. The horrendous devastation and indescribable suffering visited upon the Korean people by the Mongol invaders could not fail to embitter the Koreans against "the northern nomadic savages." Centuries of border wars that culminated in the devastating as well as humiliating invasion by the Manchus in the second and third decades of the Seventeenth Century had the same effect. Thus, from the distrust of radical change to xenophobic contempt of northern nomads, the Koreans have come to share many of the values of the Chinese people." 31
I would like, however, to focus again on Korean-Japanese relations, making one last point dealing with human rights. At this moment, I would like to call upon the people of South Korea to exhibit a generosity of spirit that could light not only their region but the entire world. On May 2nd the British newspaper, the Guardian, carried a story on the 1983 abduction by North Korean agents of 23 year-old Japanese student Keiko Arimoto from Europe to Pyongyang. The paper quotes a Ms. Yao, wife of a member of the Red Army faction, as telling a Tokyo district court that she had helped abduct the missing girl. "Miss Arimoto was blameless. I tricked her and ruined her entire life." Let South Koreans, in raising human rights issues concerning the oppressive North Korean regime, mention also the abducted Japanese nationals and their families, as a major step toward bi-national reconciliation. Let us not forget that Kim Hyun-hee, the young, female, North Korean terrorist bomber of Korean Air 858 in 1987, just one year prior to the Seoul Olympics, said that she learned her Japanese from one of these abducted Japanese nationals.
The post-World War II era in South Korea saw rightist (including former collaborators) and leftist (nationalists as well as socialists) tensions, epitomized in the struggle between Syngman Rhee and Kim Ku, unleashing a wave of violence on all sides that had been repressed during Japanese rule. Rhee, an English-speaking elderly man, with ties to Christians and the Americans, had spent most of the colonial years in Hawaii, the United States and Europe, even taking an Austrian national as his wife.
Chinese-speaking Kim Ku, who usually wore the white nationalist clothing of the Korean hanbok to advertise his credentials, had spent the colonial years on the front lines in Shanghai, directly resisting Japanese rule. Both felt their efforts gave them entitlement to be the leading political figure in South Korea, but the country wasn't big enough for both. In April, 1948, Kim Ku even traveled to North Korea for a summit meeting with Kim Il Sung, seeking national reconciliation over a half century before the current "Sunshine" policy.
Another cause of friction between the two concerned the fact that Syngman Rhee depended on an inner circle comprised largely of those who had directly collaborated with Japanese rule in implementing political and economic policies. This was a development that Kim Ku, who despised such collaborators, found hard to stomach. (Even today, during the current ROK Presidential campaign, rumors of ancestral collaborators have trailed certain candidates.) Kim Ku was also irked that the American occupying forces refused to recognize his Korean Provisional Government (KGP) from Shanghai as the legitimate government of at least South Korea.
Syngman Rhee, meanwhile, under American patronage, consolidated his hold on power. He also expanded the remnants of the police into a wide and intrusive force by drawing upon those trained by the Japanese authorities, including the kempeitai, or Japanese secret police. (When I was in Rajin, North Korea, for a UNDP-sponsored economic conference in 1996, I went to an old "hotel" for a drink with a group including an Australian academic who was considered a Korean expert. He told me that the building had once been a training headquarters for kempeitai agents before they were dispatched across the border into Manchuria. I thought for a moment I could almost hear the screams of the ghosts of the victims interrogated there.)
As possible kempeitai veterans, South Korean police gained a reputation as brutal human rights abusers. When I was U.S. Consul in Pusan and Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles, a former police chief, visited his sister city of Pusan, he confirmed this. He told me LA police found a major challenge in the large Korean immigrant community in getting people to trust the men and women in blue and to report even rather serious crimes. "They learned to fear the police back home in Korea," Mayor Bradley told me. He said that the force in LA, when he ran things there, sent out Korean speakers "to reassure especially the grandparents and the kids that we were their friends."
But what of the rivalry of Syngman Rhee and Kim Ku? Like so much history at that time in Korea, it ended in violence. On April 26, 1949, Kim Ku was assassinated by Ahn Du Whi. Ahn, a former low level security official, was widely rumored as having ties to those close to Syngman Rhee. "Who killed Kim Ku?" was a favorite parlor game of South Korean college students in the nineteen seventies. Many pointed directly to the Seoul government of the time. Other conspiracy theorists linked assassin Ahn to the Americans. What is certain is that Ahn was sentenced to life in prison for his crime in 1949 but was quietly released from prison less than a year later. Ahn lived a quiet life under an assumed name, eventually giving a reported confession that Syngman Rhee's secret police chief had ordered the Kim Ku assassination. A South Korean television drama in the nineteen eighties showed Syngman Rhee's complicity in the assassination and virtually everyone in South Korea today connects Kim Ku's death to Syngman Rhee. A paper by one South Korean, posted on the Internet, reports that Ahn was himself killed at the age of 79 in 1996, being beaten to death by an assassin with a wooden club inscribed "justice is served." Syngman Rhee, by the way, had no choice but to grant the populist Kim Ku a state funeral.
Communist commandos and other guerrillas played upon popular unrest and the instability of the post-World War II period. Some guerrillas were centered in the high Chiri Mountains of southwest Korea and others on the island of Chejudo. I was shocked to learn, when I was U. S. Consul in Pusan, that Communist commandos had come ashore at Koje Island, near Pusan, on the eve of the Korean War, and had murdered former President Kim Young Sam's mother. It certainly must be hard to negotiate with the people who killed your mother. But everyone's alliances were in flux. Future President Kim Dae Jung was involved with some leftist and labor youth organizations in his hometown of Mokpo, earning him the appellation of "Red" during the subsequent era of the South Korean generals.
Future President Park Chung Hee was a veteran of the Japanese Imperial Army in Manchuria, where he may have assisted in tracking down Korean guerrillas. In the post-World War II period, Park became involved in the "Yosu Rebellion" of leftist-leaning officers and was himself arrested as a "Communist" until he allegedly cooperated with authorities in turning in his former colleagues, including his own brother who was reportedly executed! 32
Some of the most serious internal human rights violations occurred, however, on Cheju Island, south of the Mainland. Right-wing Youth groups, who played a prominent role in oppression on Cheju, had been first organized by Yi Pom-sok, leader of the powerful Korean National Youth (KNY), a kind of home-grown fascism modeled on the youth movements of the nineteen thirties and using the slogan "minjok chisang, kukka chisang" (the Korean race first, the nation first.) Such South Korean youth groups were little more than gangs arrayed around a rough tyrant. 33
Leftist leanings were considered strong on Cheju Island, a beautiful but at the time poverty-stricken place many of whose residents voluntarily emigrated to Japan in search of employment during the colonial period. The effective political leadership on Cheju until early 1948 had been strongly rooted local People's Committees. (This may partially explain Kim Jong Il's sudden affection for the group of Cheju tangerine farmers invited to tour North Korea for a week while, at the same time, Pyongyang abruptly cancelled already scheduled economic talks with Seoul.) An official 1948 examination by a U.S. Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) judge of conditions on Cheju found that "the police had failed to win the hearts of the people by treating them cruelly." The people were also found to be "deeply separatist and did not like mainlanders; their wish was to be left alone." (When I periodically visited the island as part of my consular district of responsibility from 1989 to 1993, the locals invariably complained about "mainlanders" who took the luxury hotel profits up to Seoul while the locals worked as waitresses and busboys. They held a special resentment of "Seoul tightwads" who sought to bargain for a cheaper price on everything.)
The USAMGIK investigation determined that Cheju had been subjected to a reign of official terrorism with the current governor, an "extreme rightist" and mainlander with close connections to two right-wing youth groups. The governor filled national police units on the island with mainlanders and rightist North Koreans, who worked together with "ultra rightist party terrorists." After a March 1, 1948 demonstration, the police arrested 2,500 young people. Islanders fished out the dead body of one of these who had been tortured to death. A group of thugs from Northwest Korea, called the Northwest Youth, was then unleashed on the populace of Cheju. They fought 102 battles with local guerrillas in the Inmingun or "People's Army." By 1949, 20,000 homes on the island were destroyed, as were 230 of 400 villages. 422 insurgents were dead, and nearly 6,000 locals were in police custody. The total estimated number killed in the late nineteen forties, out of an island population of roughly 100,000, ranges from a low of 15,000 to as many as 60,000. 34
The Irish Colomban missionary priest, Father McGlinchy, who was a legendary figure to Cheju farmers due to his establishment of the St. Isadore cooperative farm after the Korean War, confirmed the basis of these stories to me when I called on him as Pusan's U.S. Consul in the early nineteen nineties. He presented an indirect, but compelling account. Once, soon after he first arrived on Cheju just after the Korean War, Fr. McGlinchy was out driving along a dirt road with a local farmer friend. Fr. McGlinchy was surprised when his friend suddenly stopped the truck and pointed to the side of the road. He said that this was the place where "half of a village had died." The farmer told the priest that local police had determined this village was "leftist" and had marched the people out of the village, making them form two lines. Father and son, brother and sister, husband and wife, grandmother and grandson, all were divided by the lines. One side was ordered to dig a deep ditch next to the road as the other watched. When they completed their task, it was their turn to watch helplessly as the police fired random rounds into the other line and family members, neighbors, and friends fell, one by one, into the waiting ditch.
The internal political struggles in South Korea came to a sudden end as North Korea launched a sudden, unprovoked attack on a Sunday morning in June 1950. Thanks to Yeltsin's release of the former Soviet archives, we now know irrefutably who started the war, Pyongyang's "big lie" notwithstanding. The Northern attack was brutal and took few prisoners. I was surprised once when American Horace Underwood, of that distinguished missionary family, described how North Koreans soldiers shot and killed his mother as she went to answer the door shortly after the outbreak of hostilities.
Father Coyes, a French missionary priest long resident in Andong, used to tell us Peace Corp volunteers of the slaughter of innocents, when Seoul fell, in front of the Anglican cathedral where the North Koreans took particular delight in shooting Christians and religious -- something which does not appear to have changed in fifty years. Father Coyes himself was captured and taken on a POW death march to a prison camp in North Korea, where he watched the systematic human rights abuses and brain washing of the young GI prisoners. The late Father Coyes survived himself but said many POWs "just gave up under the oppression, rolled over and died." Father Coyes was released via the Soviet Union after the war, returned to France to recover his health and to write a book about his experiences. His family and fellow Frenchmen were flabbergasted when he announced he intended to return to his mission in South Korea after the war. He traveled en route through the U.S. and was interviewed on Bishop Fulton J. Sheehan's widely popular nineteen fifties television program. After a life in the missions, Father Coyes died peacefully among the South Korean people he loved.
Of course, there were excesses and abuses on both sides. The highly disturbing revelations made a few years ago by AP reporters' interviews with Korean War veterans and Korean survivors, confirmed that, a dark incident took place at Nogunri in the confusing, opening days of the war. In July, 1950, with the Allied forces in full retreat, AP confirmed that American soldiers had fired into a tunnel under a railroad bridge, killing a large number of the 300 to 500 hundred fleeing Korean refugees, mostly women, children and old men. AP reported that a small number managed to escape, but most were killed in a bloody heap under the bridge. There were conflicting recollections from veterans of the incident as to whether any North Korean guerrillas were discovered among the corpses.
My father once told me how, as a captain in the 88th Infantry in the liberation of Italy in World War II, he was riding in a jeep with a driver through a northern Italian village known to contain a number of Communist partisans. A sniper in a building suddenly fired a bullet that whizzed between my father's head and that of his driver. A few more inches to the right, and I wouldn't be standing here today. This is not meant in any way to justify the shooting of innocent civilians nor to minimize the pain and suffering caused to survivors and family members. I myself apologize here today to the Korean people for what happened at Nogunri. I might add that, given a human rights incident that arose for my wife's family in Pusan directly related to the American entrance into the Korean War, I can identify with the pain of those who suffered losses at Nogunri. It is certainly noteworthy that, unlike Mylai in the Vietnam War, the story of Nogunri took almost a half century to be revealed and is an indication of the close nature of the Republic of Korea-U.S. alliance.
Chairman Henry Hyde of the House International Relations Committee, however, reminded us all of a compelling truth about the events of the Korean War in a statement entered into the Congressional Record for last week's East Asia/Pacific Subcommittee hearing on North Korean humanitarian and human rights issues. Chairman Hyde noted: "President Truman faced an excruciating decision when Pyongyang launched a sudden, unprovoked attack on a Sunday morning in June 1950. He either had to acquiesce in the extension of the Iron Curtain over the entire Korean peninsula or come to the immediate rescue of those in the South. Truman knew the cost involved. It was a cost paid with the blood of almost fifty-five thousand heroic young American military personnel, not to mention the soldiers of allied nations under the U.N. command, and the millions of Korean casualties. Was Truman right to perceive evil in the North Korean regime? I think today's testimony will make clear that he was. We can all be thankful that our friends and allies in South Korea were not subjected to a half-century of the ghastly oppression of which we are about to hear." I read of a recent student demonstration in Seoul, denouncing President Bush for his "axis of evil" remarks and calling for solidarity with North Korea. After hearing the compelling testimony on the most sinister human rights abuses imaginable taking place in North Korea today, I could only think of the old Korean proverb with regard to these South Korean student activists: "The day old puppy does not know enough to fear the tiger."
Let us look at South Korean-American relations for a moment. South Korea is certainly one of the most dazzling economic and political success stories of the post-War era and even a cursory look at the failed, "evil" regime in North Korea would serve to justify American intervention. Still, a half century of dependence on the part of South Korea breeds what is only a natural resentment. A key factor is the Korean concept of American responsibility for Korean history, including the Japanese colonization and national division. Koreans in general see the Taft-Katsura agreement, which grew out of the Treaty of Portsmouth ending the Russo-Japanese War, as the death warrant for Korean independence in the early Twentieth Century.
If Americans think of the Taft-Katsura agreement at all, it is out of gratitude for the cherry blossoms that it brought to Washington. Korean students of history, however, remain largely furious that America entered into a "trade-off" of U.S. supremacy in the Philippines in exchange for Japanese supremacy in Korea. Not exactly the kind of action one would expect from a "filial" friend. 35 They view Wilson's rhetoric at Versailles on "self-determination" as a further betrayal because it ignored Korea's situation.
Koreans also point to the division of their nation by a supposedly temporary line (the 38th parallel), drawn hastily by a young Colonel Dean Rusk to expedite the occupation of Korea, as making America responsible for all the national grief which has subsequently followed. A brief euphoria swept the Korean peninsula following the unconditional surrender of Imperial Japan on August 15, 1945, a date still celebrated in Korea as a national holiday of "liberation." This hope of a new day for Korea was quickly dashed when Koreans, feeling again like "shrimp," saw the "whales" of the United States and USSR divide their country with absolutely no consultation with the people and families so dramatically and suddenly torn apart. The sincerity of "Eri" demands that the ones who created a problem be actively involved in its solution.
On the positive side has been the inspiration and fidelity of the American missionaries. Catholicism arrived earlier, via emissaries returning from the court at Beijing, and had its share of martyrs, recently canonized by John Paul II, including those ordered executed by the xenophobic Taewongun. It is the American and other Western Protestant missionaries, however, who helped transform Korea. This was especially true of Pyongyang and North Korea before the Korean War. Pyongyang, home of the boarding school for missionary children that Mrs. Ruth Graham once attended, became the cradle of Christianity in Korea with Pyongyang itself serving as the "new Jerusalem." The Korean War changed all that, in any event, as documented in another book by Korean-American writer Richard Kim. This one is based on the story of an elderly relative who served as a Presbyterian minister in Pyongyang. This novel is called, appropriately, The Martyred, and concerns the kidnapping and executions of twelve Christian ministers by North Korean soldiers during the Korean War. Sadly, as you will note later in this paper, kidnappings and the possible murder of South Korean ministers continue to this very day along the DPRK border with China. These South Korean missionary efforts on behalf of North Korean refugees on the Chinese border are a direct result of the American-North Korean missionary link of the past. At a recent gathering of American Christians concerned about Korean human rights, I was told that South Korean Christian missionaries now are the most numerous in the world, even outnumbering the Americans.
Such names as Underwood, Moffett, Linton, and Crane, which are linked with the hospitals, schools, including the first for girls, and colleges they established, stand tall in Korean history. The missionaries also kept fidelity with the Korean people throughout the harsh period of Japanese colonial repression. They stood with Korean Christians in their resistance to Shinto ceremonies held for the Japanese Emperor in schools and offices, as a form of idol-worship. (I have often thought some Korean experts missed the boat in tracing the roots of the cult of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to Communism. There is more of Shintoism than Marxism in the public, ritualistic adulation demanded for the "Great" and "Dear Leaders.") Indigenous Christian leaders, such as Stephen Cardinal Kim and the more mercurial Reverend Moon Ik Hwan, to name but just two, provided key moral and symbolic support in the post-war struggle of the Korean people against the human rights violations of military rule.
There has been no incident that has contributed more to the rise of anti-Americanism in South Korea than the Kwangju Massacre. Kwangju was the Tiananmen Square of Korean history or, since it preceded Tiananmen, perhaps Tiananmen was the Kwangju of modern China. I was a young U.S. Embassy officer in Seoul at the time, so I have a direct perspective. Kwangju was a great watershed; most Koreans have never viewed the United States in the same way since. In the older and younger brother relationship of Confucianism, the elder is expected to come to the immediate aid of the younger. I am aware of the rumors of a plot, possibly inspired by the U.S., to unleash drug-crazed Korean "Black Beret" Paratroopers on the innocent people of Kwangju. 36 There is no basis at all for that rumor, as far as I am aware. The fault of Kwangju was the advocacy of silent diplomacy where a clear statement of solidarity with the Korean people in their moment of supreme crisis was required. Let me explain.
The assassination in October 1979 of President Park Chung Hee by close friend and advisor Kim Jae-kyu struck the Korean body politic a sudden and unexpected blow. Park had ruled South Korea with an iron fist for eighteen years, surviving all previous attempts, including one by North Korean commandos sent to the streets of Seoul, to kill him. He had raised South Korea in those eighteen years from an economic basket case dependent upon American and other aid to a streamlined economic machine well on its way to becoming one of the most successful of the Asian tigers. A price had been paid. And that price was in human rights and the sweat and blood of workers. Not only did Park Chung Hee round up the usual dissidents at any first sign of trouble, but he kept a tight lid on information flow and the press (we Peace Corps volunteers used to laugh at the young girls hired to go over Newsweek and Time editions before they were released on Seoul's streets, applying broad, black ink strokes to passages to be censored without having the least idea what the offending words said.)
But it was labor issues that finally brought Park Chung Hee down after almost two decades of rule. Korea's economic rise, as with China's today, depended directly upon the provision of a cheap and relatively well educated work force to fill the sweatshops set up to manufacture consumer goods for export. Pusan was "King of the athletic shoe industry" when I was Consul there and I visited one shoe factory under contract to an American firm. There I inhaled briefly the all encompassing smell of glue, saw the dust in the air as the mostly women workers huddled over sewing machines and lined up along the assembly lines, while piles of junk blocked the fire exits. Such sweatshops were centered in the Pyonghwa (Peace) Market of Seoul in the nineteen seventies as workers, mainly female from the countryside, poured in to find jobs from which they could make a marginal, subsistence living. South Korea's dissident poet laureate, Kim Chi Ha described the sacrifices of these young women in his poem "The Road to Seoul": "I am going. Do not cry; I am going. Over the white hills, the black, and the parched hills, down the long and dusty road to Seoul, I am going to sell my body." Pyonghwa Market made an indelible mark on the national psyche in 1970 when a textile worker, Chon Tae-il, immolated himself in protest there, shouting "Obey the Labor Standards Act" and "Don't mistreat young girls!" 37
In 1979 the Korean economy entered a slowdown caused largely by external issues like rising oil prices and the labor issue came to a head. Young female workers from a large textile factory started a sit-down strike. Police mishandled the situation, evicting the sit-down strikers and beating the women as well. Some of the women fled to opposition leader Kim Young Sam's party headquarters, and police stormed the building, killing one female worker in the process. Kim Young Sam was placed under house arrest. The ire of workers and students soon spread to Kim Young Sam's home region in the southeast, with crowds taking to the streets in Pusan and Masan during what became known popularly as the "Pu-Ma Incident." It reportedly was Park Chung Hee's severe criticism of KCIA Director Kim Jae-kyu's handling of this incident which led Kim to suddenly shoot his former friend at a dinner party.
In the chaos that emerged from Park's murder, two men became rivals for the future political destiny of South Korea. One was General Chun Doo Hwan who emerged from the shadows in an attempt to fill the vacuum left by military strongman Park Chung Hee. The other was Kim Dae Jung, who had championed human rights consistently throughout the nineteen seventies following his near miss in the 1971 presidential election against Park Chung Hee. (As a Peace Corps volunteer, I passed Sajik Park on a Sunday afternoon in spring 1971 and saw the tumultuous outpouring of popular support for Kim Dae Jung when he appeared at a rally there.) Despite all of Park's ballot-box manipulation in the finest tradition of political machines, Kim Dae Jung made a very respectable showing of 45.3 percent of the popular vote. 38 This was despite the fact that he was run over by a truck during the campaign, causing an injury to his leg that still endures.
Kim Dae Jung's strong showing in the spring 1971 election was considered too close a call and drew the less than benign attention of Park Chung Hee's Blue House. Kim Dae Jung was a main voice in opposing the "October Revitalizing Reforms" (Yushin Constitution) proclaimed in 1971 to assure that Park Chung Hee would not have to be bothered by another close popular election. We Peace Corps Volunteers all remember Yushin since, when the campuses exploded in demonstrations, we were introduced to the particularly repulsive experience of pepper gas, rumored by students to have been imported for riot control from the United States, as well as the Darth Vader black helmets and gear of South Korean riot police. Yushin closed the campuses down for much of the next two years. We Peace Corps university teachers found ourselves, as a result, sent to countryside locations to give workshops for Korean middle school English teachers. Park Chung Hee later in the seventies had Kim Dae Jung kidnapped from a hotel in Japan. The story goes that the KCIA had him on a ship and was ready to pitch him into the East Sea when a plane flew over signaling a halt to the plot as the Americans had intervened to save him.
While Chun Doo Hwan saw Park's death as an opportunity to become the new Shogun of Korea, Kim Dae Jung saw it as the window to democracy. The two inevitably clashed. In the spring, when Chun placed Kim back under house arrest and rounded up the usual suspects among dissidents, student leaders, and labor and religious activists, Kim Dae Jung's home area of Kwangju exploded in popular outrage. A ten day stand-off in May 1980 followed. Crowds, joined even by local police and taxi drivers, evicted the increasingly brutal Special Forces ("Black Berets") who entered the city shooting and bayoneting the people. Chun then sent the Twentieth Division of the ROK Army in the pre-dawn light of a Tuesday morning to retake the city.
The American Embassy soon received a full account via photographs supplied by a Maryknoll missionary priest, who dropped by on his way to Kimpo Airport where he planned (successfully) to smuggle the evidence out and back to the United States. This priest said that the Catholic Bishop of Kwangju, himself originally from North Korea, had personally witnessed the bayoneting in the breasts of a co-ed directly in front of his offices and said that "this is even worse than North Korea." There was no doubt that a massacre had taken place, although everyone entered the numbers game, with the South Korean government claiming two hundred had died and dissidents two thousand. As Peace Corps volunteer Tim Warnberg, an eyewitness to the events in Kwangju, noted in discussing the body count controversy "even one death was too many." 39
The main issue involving the United States was the allegation that USFK Commander-in-Chief John Wickham had twice "allowed" Chun to use components of the Combined Forces Command to promote his political ambitions - in December 1979 to seize the Defense Ministry and Army Headquarters and in May to engage in the bloody recapture of Kwangju. 40 Matters were not helped when a press quote (taken by Terry Anderson of later Lebanon hostage fame) was attributed to "a senior U.S. military official," almost universally presumed to be General Wickham himself, to the effect that Koreans were like "lemmings" who always blindly follow their leader. 41
I was at the American Embassy at the time in the political section. I can unequivocally state that I never saw any indication of overt official American support for Chun's unilateral actions. The problem was rather more one of distraction. The American Presidential delegation to Park Chung Hee's funeral in the fall of 1979, including then Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, had received word, as their plane flew home, of the taking of American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Iran. Although Jimmy Carter was the human rights President, his eyes were more focused in the spring of 1980 on Teheran than Kwangju, or so it seemed. For those of us in Seoul, it was, however, a time of great concern. It was the only period of the total of eleven years that I spent in South Korea that I seriously considered that the North might launch an attack, as waves of massive student demonstrations on Seoul streets were followed immediately by the eerie silence of parked tanks and martial law. Embassy reporting, despite a sense of accepting reality and dealing with Chun, seemed to reflect the situation, in my opinion. As a young junior officer I drafted early reports regarding the public relations problems of General Chun, no great insight since he, as "the Butcher of Kwangju," became the most despised figure in post-War South Korean history. I wrote, however, of public disgust with the dress and manners of Chun's wife and new First Lady, Lee Soon Ja. She affronted people by wearing a hanbok in a queenly style for her first White House meeting. The students laughed at her pointed chin and caustically referred to her as "magui halmom" (the devil grandmother.) I also noted the corrupt uses to which Chun Doo Hwan's little brother, "Baby Chun" as he was derisively referred, put the offices of Saemaul Undong or "the New Community Movement" which Park Chung Hee founded to modernize rural South Korea. Ambassador Richard Walker actually encouraged me in preparing these reports.
The problem for the American government became not one of facts but of perceptions. Koreans felt a sense of betrayal by the "big brother," the leading democracy and advocate of human rights. "Eri" was broken and it may well never have been repaired. Linda Lewis, the anthropologist who provided an eyewitness account of the Kwangju Massacre, noted that many of the people in Kwangju actually believed during the incident that America would come to their rescue: "Throughout the uprising, the lack of some overt American action was taken as evidence that the American Embassy in Seoul did not understand what was happening down south, and this idea came from the conviction (to my friends clearly obvious, to me naive, even fantastic) that the U.S. government would step in and stop the violence." 42
Silent diplomacy, as is so often the case, was advocated instead as a real politics acceptance of the reality of Chun. But silence in common law means assent, and that is how most South Korean people read Washington's muted reaction. I, a junior officer, attended as a international observer the martial law trial where Chun had Kim Dae Jung condemned to death. I remember the screams of the women relatives as the verdict was read, and the embarrassment of the young Korean MPs who had to, in violation of Confucian norms of respect for the elderly, carry out the limp bodies of middle-aged women and grandmothers after they fainted. Washington cut a deal: a State visit for Chun with President Reagan in exchange for Kim Dae Jung's life, but Chun made sure that the particulars of the deal did not reach the Korean people at the time.
As I prepared to go to Pusan in 1989, the Korea Desk at the State Department enthusiastically informed me that the new Bush Administration was about to release a White Paper on Kwangju. Having been working in Canada and on Cambodian and UN issues for the past several years, I hadn't kept up with Korean issues. I was simply flabbergasted. It had taken nine years and the retirement of General Chun before Washington was prepared to release a report on an incident that had more impact on Korean-American relations than anything which had happened since the Korean War! Even before seeing the report, I sensed it was too little and too late; Korean attitudes on the American role in Kwangju were already hardened like dry cement. That was what I found in my dealings with students, intellectuals and others in Pusan. They were reading a book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, and gleefully predicting that Uncle Sam would be next. When the LA riots took place in 1992, students, often after a visit to Pizza Hut, threw lit gasoline-filled bottles at the Consulate car I was in and denounced the U.S. for "exploiting" their Korean compatriot shop owners in LA. Any attempt to explain that riot control in the U.S. is usually a local government issue, fell on deaf ears. Largely because of Kwangju, young Korean people wanted to believe the worst about the United States. And, besides, Korea in 1992 still lacked local autonomy; the Pusan Mayor was appointed by Seoul, so the buck, these students thought, should stop even on local issues with the Blue House or the White House, respectively.
I remember, in my time in Pusan, visiting a dissident religious Minister in Taegu whose son had died on the streets of Kwangju. He told me then, with great anguish, that his son would be avenged and that Chun Doo Hwan would pay for his crimes. It is a tribute to the justice system that has evolved in South Korea that this indeed happened, as unlikely as it seemed at the time. Chun was first internally exiled to a Buddhist temple where he feigned repentance and later tried and sentenced to prison, along with his colleague, former President and General Roh Tae Woo, who also had been involved in a corrupt slush fund worth reportedly hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars. And so those responsible for the crime of Kwangu were held accountable in a democratic Korea. Even the United States has never sent two former Presidents to prison.
Korean politics has always been colored more by personalities (the three Kims) and regionalism, than by ideology or substantive issues. The great divide in South Korea is between the southwest (Cholla, home of Kim Dae Jung) and the southeast (Kyungsang, home of Kim Young Sam). Korean regional prejudices date back to the period of the three kingdoms when Shilla (the southeast kingdom) conquered Paeche (the southwest kingdom). Koreans in the southeast have never forgotten they were the winners in this ancient, dynastic war, and this made things hard at one point for Kim Dae Jung. There are all sorts of myths in Korea about people from other regions. People from Chungchongdo, where the third Kim, Park Chung Hee's nephew-in-law Kim Jong-Pil is from, reportedly speak so slowly that a passenger on a train will arrive in Seoul before the Chungchongdo person seeing him off at the station finishes saying good-by. People in remote and mountainous Kangwondo are "potato-rocks" (sorry, too many rocks to grow good Korean rice there) and people from the southeast are called derisively "lepers" because of the one time prevalence of Hansen's disease there. This regionalism was also a factor in public perceptions of the struggle between Kim Dae Jung (southwest) and the Generals (southeast) and still colors South Korean politics as Koreans await the upcoming presidential elections.
I will now make a brief mention of women's rights. Korean women have traditionally been "the home minister" overseeing family finances, real estate, and the children and their education while their husbands serve as "the foreign minister" out at the office, climbing the corporate ladder, and maybe carousing a bit at night. On those occasions where alcohol leads to abuse and domestic violence, it is considered a domestic and family matter and outside intervention by the police or other officials is usually discouraged and even frowned upon. The Korean woman who made the greatest effort in the late Twentieth Century to raise women's status was South Korea's first woman lawyer, Lee Tai-Young. In a 1980 interview, she said that "I believe that the 1980s will be one of the most important turning points for the women's liberation movement in Korea" and she called on women's groups to "reinforce women's political consciousness." 43 Although it has been slow going in Confucian Korea, housewives did join students in street demonstrations in 1987 to throw out Chun Doo Hwan.
South Korean NGOs also took the lead at the Fourth UN Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, to raise the issue of the "comfort women" on the international stage. The Chinese authorities, meanwhile, always fearful of their people's emotional reaction to issues involving Japan, placed their advocates for the comfort women under house arrest. The clearest sign of a new, overt political role for women in South Korea politically is the emergence of the late Park Chung Hee's daughter, Park Geun Hye, as a politician in her own right, Member of the National Assembly, and a potential King-Making Queen in this year's presidential elections. She also is about to undertake a historic visit to Pyongyang as the first South Korean female political leader to do so. Her meetings in Pyongyang, possibly even with the "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il, will allow her to eye ball some of the aging North Korean officials who likely plotted to kill her own father in the North Korean commando raid on the Blue House in the late nineteen sixties. These North Korean leaders also likely dispatched a Korean resident of Japan in August 1974 to try again to target her father. The killer ended up assassinating Park Geun Hye's mother, South Korea's most beloved First Lady, Yuk Young-Soo, instead.
An extremely symbolic revelation of the traditional male Korean political leader's view of women and the need to maintain stoic Confucian appearances in public took place at the site of Mrs. Yuk's assassination. President Park Chung Hee, a very short man, was standing behind a podium delivering an address when the shots rang out, hitting his wife as she was sitting attentively by his side listening. As security guards carried the critically wounded Mrs. Yuk from the stage, her traditional Korean rubber shoes dangling from her feet and her traditional hanbok dress stained crimson with her blood, her husband, as much a Confucian authoritarian as ever, returned to the podium and, as the chaos died down, continued to read what was left of his interrupted speech.
Whether Park Geun Hye will think of her parents' violent deaths when she is in Pyongyang is unknown nor is it certain what exactly she will accomplish there. What is known, however, is that Park Geun Hye, a daughter who remained unmarried, living in modest means and devoted to the legacy of her parents, is widely admired for her Confucian fidelity and lack of ostentation. In a country where there has been for the last two decades a continual stream of presidential children, one after another, involved in financial scandal, Park Geun Hye stands out.
Human rights also involves minorities. Koreans will generally say that their minjok (racial group) is pure, and that there are no minorities. The fact is that there are, but they are largely invisible. First and foremost are the Amerasian children, the real product of those "blood ties" people are always talking about at dinners toasting the South Korean and U.S. military alliance. They are there and their lives have not been easy. I heard of one little girl with blondish hair who was beaten up by boys in her Pusan school yard when President Carter announced plans to withdraw some U.S. forces. These boys couldn't get to Jimmy Carter to vent their wrath on his "abandonment" of Korea, so a little Amerasian bastard was the closest and next-best object of their rage. When I was Consul in Pusan, and worked with the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, I heard many sad stories. The worst was of the little dark-complexioned girl, ten, who was being prostituted by her alcoholic mother at the GI bars she frequented. Korea is, of course, a Confucian culture. As a Korean woman government official told me, when I made a demarche on the Amerasian issue in the early nineteen eighties: "We are a Confucian society. The identity of children is derived from their father. These children should go to their fatherland."
The Korean derisive word for Amerasians, by the way, is "twigi", a reference to the brown, greasy fried batter of tempura when it is prepared ("twigim"). Americans are sometimes called "hellos." Koreans often don't see the insult in the American derisive term for them, "gook," since it means "country" in their language. (Wartime GIs must have overheard "gook" frequently repeated in conversations about Koreans or "Han gooks" and Americans or "Mi Gooks." In that sense, we're all "gooks" I guess. Koreans also focus on Americans' nose size, so we are "big noses", or feet size, as in "boat shoes." We of course are fixated on Asians' "slanted eyes."
On the Amerasian issue, I would just like to take a moment to pay tribute to two men, the late Representative Stuart McKinney and the late State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary, Louis P. Goelz, whose tireless efforts saw the passage of Amerasian immigration legislation back in the eighties. May both men rest in peace.
Other minorities include the Chinese, who fled across the Yellow Sea from the Shantung peninsula during China's revolution. There was a thriving China town in Seoul when I first arrived there in 1971, where one could even see old Chinese grandmothers with bound feet. It is gone now, of course, a victim of urban change and new construction's wrecking ball. Luxury hotels rise over the former China town. But there is a second reason it is gone. The Chinese left and went to Taiwan, Canada, or America because they did not feel completely welcome. In my day, they could not enter the most prestigious national universities, only private ones such as where I taught. They were discriminated against as to employment and what property they could own. I remember one graduating Chinese student in my office at Kyunghee University, in tears because he couldn't find a job. "I was born here, I grew up here, but they don't want me, " he said. Couldn't Korea have done better, given the harsh discrimination faced by Korean residents of Japan for these many years? Another group I became aware of, because of a priest who was assisting them, were the Vietnamese War brides, abandoned with their children on the streets of Seoul. This was after their Korean mother-in-laws had taken one quick look-over of them, when their Korean soldier husbands brought them back from Vietnam, and decided they weren't good enough for their Korean sons. These women ended up working in bars or setting up little restaurants just to get by with their children.
In my visit to Korea last month, I noticed large numbers of South Asian illegal immigrants, many of whom are reportedly exploited in sweat shops, as often happens to illegals in the United States. And when I was in China, there were reports of South Korean and Taiwanese business managers driving normally docile Chinese workers into open revolt over their excessive demands and punitive practices. South Korean managers of plants in a unified Korea must be on guard not to exploit their North Korean fellow countrymen in a similar way even if, as often is the case in today's China, it is done with the connivance of corrupt local officials. Spring Fragrance, where are you when we need you?
Which brings me to my last topic: North Korean refugees. There have been numerous press reports on the social adjustment and economic problems in Seoul of the resettled North Korean refugees, which, until now, have been a trickle. Other reports give the high price that South Korea will have to pay, compared to Germany, to achieve final unification with the economically crumbling North. When I was recently in Seoul, observers there told me that the South Korean people, distracted by other issues, "wealthy, content, and self-absorbed," no longer care about North Korea and unification.
This is a far cry from 1972, when students toasted with "unification"makkoli when KCIA chief Lee Hu Rak made a secret trip North. Or when Im Su Kyung, "the Flower of Unification", made her unauthorized trip to North Korea and back across the DMZ more than a decade ago. She was, of course, then imprisoned in South Korea for her unauthorized travel, and became a political martyr to activists and students. With the South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, himself, traveling to Pyongyang in the summer of 2000 for the historic Summit with Kim Jong Il, many friends of South Korea find the South Korean anticommunist and national security laws archaic in the face of "Sunshine" policy. It is, however, left to the ROK National Assembly to address this issue.
I heard a recent conversation in Washington between an African-American taxi driver and the North Korean defectors who came to testify at last week's East Asia and Pacific Subcommittee hearing on North Korean humanitarian issues. The taxi driver, a Korean War veteran, noted that he had been treated shabbily by an immigrant from South Korea, a shop owner, when he went to make a purchase at his store. The taxi driver reported that "I said to him that I saw Americans die, Koreans die, Turks die, Ethiopians die, all to keep you free and now you treat me like this?" The taxi driver said the Korean shop owner then bowed to him. One of the North Korean defectors replied by telling his new American friend that "People in Seoul look at me strangely when I speak with a North Korean accent, even though certain South Korean accents are stranger than mine."
Defector Kang Chol-Hwan addresses the treatment of North Korean defectors in the South in greater detail in his work, Aquariums of Pyongyang: "What I do wish to denounce--based on my own experience--are the countless prejudices that are held against people from the North. Their poverty and economic inferiority are too often taken as a reflection of some natural inferiority. I myself have been the target of such misperceptions: whenever I dress elegantly, people look at me with suspicion. I'm not acting the way I'm expected to. The same goes for work. Money is so important in South Korea. I always felt I would never be seen as equal unless I earned lots of money."44
People of South Korea, while you are blessed with increasing wealth, your fellow countrymen are starving. When I read in Mrs. Lee Soon Ok's work, Eyes of the Tailless Animals: Prison Memoirs of a North Korean Woman, that mothers were being arrested and put in concentration camps for stealing corn for their hungry children, my Irish blood boiled. Ms. Lee wrote: "Their husbands were miners-one of the lowest paying jobs in North Korea-so their husbands could barely support their families. When the two women could no longer stand watching their children starve, they sneaked into a threshing factory to steal a pack of corn. Unfortunately, they were caught." 45 I was reminded of the old Irish folk song on the Great Famine, The Fields of Athenry: "By a lonely prison wall, I heard a young girl calling, Michael they are taking you away, For you stole Treveleyn's corn, so the young might see the morn, now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay." I was shocked to think that the conditions of the Great Irish Famine, as recorded in this folk song, could actually exist in the world today.
Mrs. Lee also noted in her book that she encountered in the North Korean prison camps a number of South Korean prisoners of war still being held as virtual slaves, forced to work in mines almost forty years after the armistice and the exchange of prisoners.46 South Korea has been very generous, beginning in the early nineteen nineties, in returning North Korean prisoners, including spies and agents, incarcerated in South Korean prisons. But what of the South Korean POW slaves, the abducted fishermen, and the air crew of a hijacked South Korean Air civilian plane from years ago, all still languishing in the North Korean gulag? And the South Korean missionaries reportedly abducted against their wills in northeast China? One prominent case was the Reverend An Sung Woon, a missionary from Seoul's Full Gospel Church, who was abducted from Yanji in 1995 and is still being held after all these years in North Korea as "a voluntary defector?" If his defection was voluntary why did a Chinese court convict and imprison a North Korean man for kidnapping the Reverend An and removing him across the border? And what of South Korean businessman Park Byong Hon, head of Kia Motors maintenance plant in Yanji, who was mysteriously murdered -- perhaps for assisting refugees -- in 1996 by a group of Koreans possibly working for Pyongyang? 47 What of the feelings of the families of these South Korean hostages and victims? Should there not be some reciprocity in these prisoner releases? Is forgetting one's own, even in consular protection, a means likely to win respect from the totalitarian regime on the other side?
When I recently visited the South Korean Embassy, I was told that Kim Dae Jung is the "Nelson Mandela of Asia." Mr. Kim is a great man. You heard today how he championed human rights, at the risk of his own life, against the rule of the Generals. Like Mandela he won the Nobel Peace Prize. But, as I recall, Nelson Mandela was so concerned about the genocide in neighboring Rwanda that he assumed a role in the Arusha peace process.
And a number of Members of the United States Congress were deeply concerned last year when this champion of those human rights, which include at their very core freedom of speech and the press, had his Administration begin an investigation of reportedly corrupt newspapers. The National Tax Service launched a major audit of 23 media conglomerates in what authorities conceded was the most extensive investigation of any single industry in South Korean history. These papers included a number of major Seoul dailies that had a record of being critical of the government and its policies. The former honorary chairman of the major Seoul newspaper,the Dong-a Ilbo, Kim Byung-kwan, was sentenced in February to three years and six months imprisonment as well as a 4.5 billion won ($3.4 million) fine. The Dong-a Ilbo had, as I personally recall, been subjected to similar investigations in the era of the Generals, the sworn enemies of Kim Dae Jung, where the intent was clearly to muzzle the paper. Aiming an investigation at a critical voice is always a questionable business, even if one feels in the right. And let us not forget that in today's South Korea, corruption is not limited to newspapers.
Further there are other South Korean Mandelas. Heroes and Heroines of a magnitude of Harriet Tubman, who ran the American underground railroad for slaves before the Civil War or of the magnitude of Raul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who sacrificed his life saving Jewish refugees from Hitler. One of these South Korean Mandelas is Chun Ki Won, a South Korean Christian who languishes in a Chinese jail, his only crime being that he was caught assisting North Korean refugees crossing from China into Mongolia. Let all of South Korea call for Chun Ki Won's immediate release!
Another is the Reverend Kim Dong-Shik, who preached the gospel to refugees in China's Northeast and participated in a signature campaign on their behalf. In early 2000, he disappeared from northeast China, likely kidnapped by North Korean agents and taken across the border. Some say he is now dead. Let all of South Korea call for a full accounting from Beijing and Pyongyang on what happened to Reverend Kim, Reverend An, and other kidnapped South Korean citizens!
There are countless others working quietly behind the scenes on the Seoul train - the Underground Railroad. They are South Koreans. They are foreigners. They are diplomats from third country Embassies. They are journalists. They are doctors like German Doctor Vollertsen. They are housewives. They are Christians. They are Buddhists, like Venerable Pomnyun, executive director of the Korean Buddhist Sharing Movement in South Korea. They are secularists. Let us not forget them. Let us applaud them.
I recently read that Beijing has been repeatedly urging Seoul to shut down these "underground railroad" non-governmental organizations' (NGOs') domestic offices. Not only would this suggestion be a clear violation of the South Korean constitution, it also makes one wonder whatever happened to Beijing's mantra concerning "noninterference in the internal affairs of another country?" I suggest, instead, that the Government of China lift its own curtain of secrecy and publish the text of its secret extradition treaty with the DPRK, so that these NGOs can discern exactly what they are up against.
I stand before you here today because of President John Kennedy , the founder of that Peace Corps which first sent me to South Korea. Let me quote some of the words of his Inaugural Address to my South Korean friends: "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty." Our martyred President went on to say those famous words: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
North Korean refugee, Ms. Lee Sun Ok, in her Congressional testimony last week, told how she went to the South Korean Embassy in Beijing and wept bitter tears when "my own people" turned me away. She went to a third country embassy instead and received the assistance she needed to escape her hunters and safely reach South Korea. Why do North Korean refugees find more potential hope in the Spanish Embassy, the German Embassy, the American Embassy, and now the Japanese Consulate in Shenyang than that staffed by their fellow countrymen?
Kang Chol-Hwan tells a similar tale to Ms. Lee: he too went to the South Korean Embassy in Beijing in 1992 in a desperate search for humanitarian assistance. He reports that: "I had hoped that the consulate would be willing to hide and protect us, but that, it turned out, was out of the question. The diplomat gave us a bit of pocket money, wished us luck, and bid us to come see him in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, he would see what he could do for us...Before we could respond, we were being led out to the staircase...In Seoul, many years later, I ran into the same diplomat who had received me so coldy. You must realize, he began by way of an apology, that establishing our burgeoning diplomatic relations with China has taken us a long time and required enormous efforts. We simply could not allow ourselves to act in a manner that would place China in an embarrassing situation vis-a-vis its ally in the North." 48 The irascible, xenophobic Taewongun referred to such an attitude of subservience to the Great Powers as "sadaejuui" or "toadyism."
Mr. Kang's story then took a turn of epic, Biblical portions. He headed for the port of Dalian, hoping to hitch a ride on a South Korea-bound boat. This is a port, however, where many would-be defectors have been seized by authorities and deported back to North Korea. Kang heard a small number of street girls speaking Korean and took a wild gamble, speaking to the one "who seemed particularly nice." He told her who he was. This lady of the evening took Kang and his friend for a much-needed Korean meal of bulgogi. The Good Samaritan, unlike the high official from the Embassy, was willing to listen and help: "She sat listening to us for a long time, occasionally nodding her head to encourage us to continue. She was visibly moved, but afterward the only thing she would reveal about herself was that her parents were also from North Korea and she had no sympathies for Kim Il-Sung--we could be quite sure of that. By the time we ended our meal, she had invited us to stay with her." After putting Kang and his friend up in the bordello she ran for a considerable time, this Madame finally arranged, after several refusals, for a South Korean ship captain to take them as stowaways. "If I do this, will it be good or bad?" the ship captain asked. The bordello Madame replied "It will be good for the country, good for peace, and, most importantly, you'll save these two young people's lives." 49
I call on the people of South Korea not to belittle or abandon their brethren to the North in their hour of peril. The classic refugee movie, "Casablanca," begins with the words: "With the coming of the Second World War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully or desperately toward the freedom of the Americas." Now we can say, "With the coming of the great famine, many eyes in imprisoned North Korea turned hopefully or desperately toward the freedom of South Korea. Hong Kong, then Mongolia, then Beijing became the great embarkation points. But not everybody could get to these places directly. And so a tortuous, round-about refugee trail sprang up. >From the North Korean border across the Tumen River or Mount Paektu into China, then to Yanji in the Korean Autonomous Prefecture. Next up to Harbin in Heilungjiang province. And from there, by train, or auto or on foot, across the wind swept plains of Manchuria to Beijing or now Shenyang. There, the fortunate ones, through money, or influence, or luck, might scurry into third country diplomatic compounds and obtain exit papers for Seoul. But the others wait in China, and wait. And wait. And wait.
Every South Korean school child knows the opening words of the ROK national anthem: "Until the waters of the East Sea run dry and Mount Paektu grinds into dust, may the Lord in Heaven protect our nation these ten thousand years."
And where is Mount Paektu? Not in the South. The last time I checked it is at the northern end of Korea, on the Chinese border. People of South Korea, Mount Paektu, the ancestral home of your people, is calling to you. Do you hear the cries of the refugees at the foot of the sacred mountain? Let us stand and sing the ROK national anthem.
May the Lord in heaven protect North Korean refugees these the thousand years!Footnotes: