Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The decision to prolong the Korean War and revisionist history

Much of modern Korean history painted from a revisionist point of view (notably that of Bruce Cumings in English, and National Liberation (민족 해방) faction of the Korean left in Korean) have painted the US as responsible for the Korean war, or for intervening in a civil war, or just responsible for Korea's woes generally ("The U.S. has committed barbaric and unpardonable crimes against our race for over 100 years," as seen here or in WWII Japanese propaganda). The idea that the Korean War was only a civil war was undone by the scholarship of  Kathryn Weathersby who found in the Soviet archives that Stalin had given Kim Il-sung permission to attack South Korea. In a recent RAS lecture, she looked at how the Soviets and Chinese prolonged the war:
Once China entered the Korean War in October 1950 and saved the DPRK from extinction, the North Korean leadership had little say in how the war was run. The Chinese took over day-to-day management of the fighting and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had the final voice on all important decisions. As a result, when Stalin decided in January 1951 to prolong the war for two to three years to tie down American forces in Korea while the Soviets and East Europeans rearmed, the North Koreans were forced to acquiesce, even though it meant subjecting their country to complete destruction from US bombing.
It can be difficult to hear at times (turn up the volume) but here is the lecture:

If the pro-North NL leftists and revisionists were to accept the fact that it was the Soviets and Chinese who prolonged the war which left the North in ruins, it might help to lessen anti-Americanism (which, though it's not manifest at the moment, is often latent). This is also interesting:
After Stalin died in March 1953, the Communist side finally agreed to an armistice. Yet the North Koreans resented the armistice, since it left the country divided. Furthermore, the North Koreans resented the Russians and the Chinese for prolonging the war by sacrificing the Korean people. Since then, North Koreans have believed that the rest of the world owes their country ongoing reparations. Even today, they often regard foreign aid as reparations.
While I'm not very sympathetic to the North, that might actually explain the North's attitudes towards negotiations with the outside world and make them seem less 'crazy.'

Also on the topic of revisionist history is this impressive lecture by Dr. In-ho Lee, former ambassador to Russia:
In this 2006 lecture, which looks at Korean history from the late nineteenth century to the present, Dr. In-ho Lee discusses the attempts by leftist historians to re-write Korean history from their point of view, one in which the U.S. is to blame for Korea's post-liberation trials. She places much blame for this on the anti-communist education of the Park Chung-hee government and its refusal to intellectually engage with communism, which she argues made a generation of young people susceptible to romanticized views of North Korea and communism.

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