A Korean Tragedy

by fulltimestudent 32 Replies latest jw friends

  • fulltimestudent

    What was happening in Korea while it was under Japanese control? Certainly, there were a lot of investments by Japanese companies. Heavy industry and mining developed in the north. Lighter industry developed in the south. But not many native Koreans were able to share in those developments.

    The whole point of Japanese expansion was to gain control of “resources” and “markets” (as was the point of British control of India and her other Asian colonies). Japanese government policies in Korea therefore (on one hand) promoted development, and on the other hand, exercised tight control. The administration rewarded “co-operative elements in Korean society,' while increasing police control. An army of informers worked to eliminate political dissension before it could become organized. Even so, and in spite of heavy censorship of information, a sense of Korean identity and nationalism continued. That sense of nationalism was often conflated with leftist ideology, fed by growing interest in communist ideology among exiled Korean groups. Not surprisingly, considering the close proximity of Russia, the first formal Korean socialist organisations emerged among exile groups in Russian and Manchuria.

    These groups often split and reformed and members may have belonged to, or have been involved in other groups with radical ideologies. Curiously, Japan itself was the home of at least some radical thinking. Korean students in Japan, often became members of such radical Japanese groups.* The increase in such groups led to efforts by the Japanese administration in 1925 to control political interests. That in turn led more Koreans to seek some sort of unity of purpose among the fractured leftist/nationalist groups.

    Interestingly, it was the Korean Communist Party that became a major force for unity among these radical groups. In 1927, the New Korean Society, with top posts held by moderate nationalist was permitted to operate by the Japanese authorities. By 1930 this group claimed 386 branches throughout Korea, that managed to link worker groups, peasant groups and youth groups, but as this organisation grew, at local level, leftists were gradually elected to office. This led to a division on goals and by 1931 it collapsed.

    1931 also saw the Japanese Kwantung Army manufacturing a pretext to attack Chinese troops in Manchuria, and Japan soon assumed control of all of Manchuria, as the puppet state of Manchukuo, with the last Chinese Emperor, Pu Yi as nominal Head of Government. In Korea, the Japanese now required a higher level of support from ordinary Koreans. This, in turn, led to more arrests for “political crimes” and harassment of the leaders of peasant and worker groups.

    In the border zone between Korea and Manchuria, the Korean Communist Party began to organize underground guerilla groups, and this is likely where Kim Il Sung, may have begun to make his name.**

    From (circa) 1935 there was an increased effort by the Japanese Colonial administration to enforce a cultural assimilation onto the Koreans, In schools, there was more emphasis on learning Japanese. All students and government employees had to attend Shinto services and adopt Japanese names.

    In 1940, the administration re-organised all Koreans into 350,000 Neighbourhood Patriotic Associations. Each basic association consisted of ten households and became the basic unit for all government programs and requirements.

    From 1943 all college students were required to serve in the Japanese military. And in later war years any ordinary Korean could be “mobilized” to work anywhere the government directed. By 1944,

    16 percent of Koreans (4,000,000 people) were working outside Korea. This is the explanation for the wide dispersion of Koreans into other areas. Their descendants still live in both Japan and Manchuria. Socially, the policy aroused resentment, raised political and social consciousness and increased hatred for Koreans who collaborated with the Japanese. Korean prisons held thousands of political prisoners, which also spread radical ideologies.

    · Japan is home to one of the largest non-governing Communist parties in the world, with 305, 000 members in over 22,000 branches. After the 2014 elections it held 21 seats in the House of Representatives and since 2016, 14 seats in the House of Councillors.

    ** There is some dispute as to whether the Kim Il Sung who became leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is the same person that was leading a guerilla group. In any case, a North Korean TV program claiming to show this Kim’s guerilla war is a total fairy tale.

    Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ul24uHOfY-A

  • fulltimestudent

    What Koreans themselves may have wanted (and, it can be argued they nearly achieved it) became clear by events in August 1945,

    The Japanese Colonial Administration, likely in close contact with Tokyo, knew that the end was near for their control of Korea, and with concern for the lives and property of Japanese citizens made an approach to a Korean Nationalist with conservative connections (Song Chin u), to establish a transitional government. Song refused. On the morning of August 2, 1945 the Japanese approached Yo Un-hyong, a highly respected and popular Korean politician. He was far to the left of Song, but was not a communist. (Remember that at this stage, the Japanese would have been expecting to find the Soviet Army in Seoul very soon). Yo accepted the Japanese offer, with three conditions: 1, All political prisoners were to be released immediately, 2. The Japanese were to guarantee three months food supplies. 3. And were not to interfere with any peace-keeping activity, and independence processes, or any Korean mobilization.

    The Japanese administration did not like the terms, but had little choice but to accept.

    Yo acted fast and formed a Committee for the Preparation of Korean Independence (CPKI) and quickly contacted a wide range of Koreans throughout the nation, while calling for all Koreans to work together for National Unity and refrain from violence. The CPKI quickly developed into a de facto National government with branches of the CPKI spontaneously springing up, almost overnight across Korea, assuming control of local area administration. Within three months, there were CPKI committee’s at all administrative levels down to the smallest villages. The National CPKI convened a representative assembly in Seoul on September 6, and announced the formation of the Korean Peoples Republic and set about organizing future national elections.

    So what happened to this spontaneous organization?

    It’s a sad story.

  • fulltimestudent

    I intend to cover the sad fate of the Korean People's Republic in my next entry (it was charged that it was 'communist' but the evidence is strong that it had spontaneous suppoprt from a wide range of Korean people) - then I can (at last) get into tragic events that have been covered up in western lore, but should not be - its far too sad. In both North and South Korea the will of the people became distorted.

  • fulltimestudent

    My apologies for this interrupted series of posts.

    I had the opportunity to do some work as a research assistant for a Sydney University academic who is writing an article on ‘China’s New Accounting Standards for Government.’ So I had to put this series on a backburner as fact-checking takes time. As an illustration, I know that the memoirs of former Soviet Foreign Minister make mention of the bad relationship between North Korea’s Kim Il sung and Mao Zedong and Kruschev, but a search for the actual statements has already taken two hours without finding that on the web. I have found an article by two South Korean academics, so I may have to make do with that as a secondary source when I come to need it.

    I will post the next installment soon.

  • cofty
    bad relationship between North Korea’s Kim Il sung and Mao Zedong and Kruschev

    I can't help with a primary source but I have read the same in Frank Dikotter's trilogy on Mao and in Paul French's book "North Korea, State of Paranoia".

  • fulltimestudent

    To review the fate of the Korean People’s Republic, I intend to rely on a text book, that was used as the main textbook in the one year (two study topics) of study on Korea that I undertook at Sydney Uni. The textbook is called, ‘Korea: Old and New,’ published in 1990 by Ilchokak Publishers for the Korea Institute, Harvard University.

    There were five contributing authors:

    Carter J. Eckert, Associate Professor of Modern Korean History, Harvard University.

    Ki-baik Lee, Professor of History, Hallym University, Korea.

    Young Ick Lew, Also a Professor of History at Hallym University, Korea.

    Michael Robinson, Associate Professor of History at the University of Southern California

    Edward Wagner, Professor of Korean Studies at Harvard University.

    I mention those details, so that if anyone feels there is bias in any further statements, they may check for themselves as to the legitimacy of the authors.

    The bright hopes of Korean nationalism were to be wrecked in the break-up of the war-time alliance between Russia (as the USSR) and the USA.

    It’s useful at this point to attempt to discern the political leanings of that nascent Korean People’s Republic. Later American and South Korean political wisdom has it that the Republic was controlled by Communists. But the above publication states that still later scholarship dissents from that view. Why? There certainly were a large number of communists involved, but the later view is that it was a genuine ‘people’s movement’ with a leftist tendency. (Could we compare it to Atlee’s Labour government in the UK, that came to power in 1945?) (For more detail see 'Korea: Old and New'. pp 330-332). A review of the cabinet posts indicates that many right wing Koreans were to hold office. For example Kim Song-su was one such old time right winger. And the appointment of Syngman Rhee as Chairman (even though he was not physically in Korea), is also indicative of an effort to produce a genuine political coalition of Right and Left. Rhee later became President of South Korea, and can certainly be described as ‘anti-communist.’

    From August through to November, 1945 the Korean People’s Republic, in conjunction with local groups dismantled the former Japanese Colonial Administration and expelled Koreans who had collaborated with the Japanese and began instituting a 27 point program that had been agreed to by the new Government.. If that program had held, it would certainly have been radical, in that it would have changed Korean Society, as traditional land-holders (who had often collaborated with the Japanese) would have lost their property rights.

    The above authors of Korea: Old and New, suggest that the 27 point program was a reasonable reflection of the hopes of ordinary Koreans.

  • fulltimestudent

    One thing I believe I should have added to my last post detailing the political leanings of the (almost) stillborn Korean People’s Republic was this: It is sometimes stated that the speed with which ordinary Koreans formed associated grassroots structures was itself evidence of Communist influence. The reasoning here is that no-one else had the necessary organizing skills to form these grassroots organisations so quickly. I can’t comment as to whether or not the Korean Communist groups had such widespread organising skills. They may have, or they may not have, had such skills.

    But it is not necessary to look past an existing community system in East Asia, the system is known in China as Hukou and often translated as “household registration.” In Japan it is called koseki, and it seems to be the (possibly) traditional system which the Japanese used as a basis for the their 1940 action of organizing all of Korea into some 350,000 ‘Neighbour Patriotic Associations. Each basic grouping consisted of ten households and became the basic unit for a variety of Japanese government programs such as collecting contributions for the war effort, recruitment of labour, rationing and maintaining local security.

    These groups would still have been in existence in 1945 and as Japanese control collapsed, could quickly have become the basis for the local ‘peoples committees’ of the ‘Committee for the Preparation of Korean Independence.’ To me that’s a far simpler explanation for the speed with which these ‘peoples committees’ were established, to the more difficult explanation that somehow the various Communist groups were so well organized that within three months they had the numerical strength to form and control these grassroots committees.

    We can now examine, why the Korean People’s Republic failed, at least in part.

    The USA and USSR were allies in WW2, not because of any great love for each other, but for entirely pragmatic reasons. But time was to show that the alliance was an aberration.

    Between 1918 and 1920, the USA had sent a contingent of 9,000 troops to Siberia to support the rightwing White Movement and its goal of crushing the Russian Revolution. That war effort failed, defeated by the communist’s Red Army and in 1922, the USSR came into operation, However, generally the USA and most Western Powers had an anti-Communist stance.

    As already noted, pragmatism brought something of a change in attitude during WW2. During the war it seems the ‘West’ was willing to cede some territory to the USSR if the USSR would enter the Pacific theatre of the war and help defeat Japan. The death of Franklin Roosevelt, the ascension of Truman to the Presidency, the successful development of a nuclear weapon, the imminent defeat of Japan and maybe most of all, the successful Russian entry into the war and its capture of vast amounts of East Asian territory seems to have caused a re-think in American government circles.

    No-one in the American government seems to have had much concern for the Koreans from the time of the previously mentioned Taft-Katsura Memorandum of 1905 until Japan finally surrendered. The text-book Korea: Old and New suggests that the USA was willing to allow the USSR control of all of Korea and Manchuria in return for participation in the war against Japan. And, as events turned out, nothing could have prevented the USSR military from taking control of all of Korea in August 1945. An American army contingent could not have been moved into Korea in time to prevent a Soviet occupation of all of Korea.

    On August 10-11 1945, at a meeting of the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee a decision was made to attempt the division of the Korean Peninsula into two separate occupation zones. It was decided to try and make the dividing border the thirty-eighth parallel, because it placed Seoul in the American zone. The offer was put to the Russians, and to the surprise of the American planners the Russians agreed. Even so, it took until September 8 for an American military force to arrive in Korea.

    So there at last we see the beginnings of the present stand-off between North and South Korea. Both occupation forces were confronted with the existence of the KPR, the Korean people’s own preference.

    How would the two military occupational forces react to the nascent formation of a free and independent Korea?

  • fulltimestudent
    Cofty: I have read the same in Frank Dikotter's trilogy on Mao and in Paul French's book "North Korea, State of Paranoia".

    Thnx Cofty, I think that its a common belief, but Mikoyan gives some interesting details concerning the attitudes of the Soviets and China (in conjunction) to the methods used by Kim Il-sung to eliminate rivals and to take complete control of the Korean Workers Party. I assume this may be a reference to the death of Ho Ka-i, who Andrei Lankov calls, the "Forgotten Founding Father of the KWP.

    As far as can be known, there were a number of factions in the DPRK. In addition to the Soviet faction (as above) there was a group identified as the Yanan faction, men who'd been in China during the war against the Japanese. Another group had been in Manchuria, others who had managed to stay in Korea itself for the war, and still others like Kim who the Japanese had managed to drive out of the Manchurian-Korean border zone and who had eventually fled to Russia for refuge. What their differences were, or their similarities may not be understood clearly.

    Ho was an ethnic Korean born in Russia, who became the leader of the Soviet Korean faction in the first political structures in what we call NK. Ho and Kim seem to have had a falling out, that may have started in 1951. It is thought that the failure of the NK army to totally defeat the South Koreans in the first weeks of the war (You'll likely recall that they drove the SK army into a small 50 x 50 mile section around the Port city of Busan) . That gave the USA and its allies the opportunity to provide reinforcements to the south and in Macarthur's quite brilliant Inchon landing, allowed a pincer movement that almost destroyed the NK army, and since Kim Il-song had always pushed for a military solution (but so had Syngman Rhee) he may have copped a lot of flak. That nearly caused the defeat of the North and became the source of much internal stress and conflict at high levels within the KWP and the NK government. In any event Ho was supposed to have committed suicide, but may have been murdered.

    Mikoyan also mentions that the Soviets and China made an attempt to assassinate Kim Il-sung. That surely must have influenced attitudes and behaviour for a long time

    Whether, this can all be regarded as dependable, is (of course) a different matter.

  • fulltimestudent

    The two ‘new’ occupying armies, the USA and the USSR that now controlled Korea, shared one goal – both wanted to influence the political form of an independent Korea would be friendly to their own concept of world security. Already, it seemed the Americans had quickly assumed an outlook that saw communism as a monolithic force controlled by Stalin’s USSR, rather than a grouping of localized nationalist and socialist movements each with unique historical roots founded in patriotic opposition to European/ American colonization.

    That view was likely founded on advice (to the American Military) from the conquered Japanese government sectors that had controlled captive Korea, to the effect that an alliance of communists and independence agitators were attempting to take control of Korea. So its not surprising that General J.R.Hodge, commanding the American forces in South Korea, had orders not to recognize any form of independent Korean government, but to establish a USA Army authorized Military Government in Korea.

    Faced with the task of forming a government, Hodge first called on existing Japanese officials from colonial days, which led to a vociferous resistance from Koreans. Hodge then turned to Koreans who had served in the Japanese Colonial Administration, most of whom were judged to be former Japanese collaborators. So sadly right from the start of the USA’s military government, many Koreans were dismayed by American insensitivity. Tensions were created that persist to this day in the political make-up of the eventual Republic of Korea.

    Hodge had a difficult job. The only people who had governance experience were discredited, in the eyes of most Koreans, by their association with colonising Japan.

    A new conservative political party was formed, the Korean Democratic Party, founded by a group of wealthy landowners and businessmen. The Military government then set about closing down the Korean Peoples Republic organization and branches, which led to often violent protests. To counter the protests, the American Military Government used a police force that included thousands of Koreans that just months before had been serving and upholding the authority of the Japanese Colonial Government. These ex-servants of the Japanese State worked alongside American servicemen to suppress the unrest. By the end of 1946 most localized rebellions were controlled, except one major rebellion, which we must come back to at a later point.

  • fulltimestudent

    And in the north ...

    Its likely difficult to imagine ourselves in the Korean milieu of 1945. And it is even more difficult to imagine the northern sector, effectively under Soviet Russian control from some point in August/September 1945.

    Most Koreans were still involved in small scale subsistence farming, the Japanese had developed heavy industry in the north of the peninsula, so that 65% of the peninsula’s heavy industry was in the north, and the Koreans employed in the mines, hydro-electric plants, steel mills etc. could be described as an industrial working class. In contrast, only 37% of agriculture was located in the north. The border areas between Korean and Manchuria had also been the chosen location for resistance fighters against the Japanese colonisers. One other unique feature, now almost forgotten is that the northwest of Korea, and centred in the Pyongyang area, was a Christian stronghold.

    During August, 1945 People’s Committees associated with the Korean People’s Republic movement had also been formed in the Pyongyang area, so the Russian army entering Pyongyang on August 8, 1945, found a People’s Committee, led by longtime Christian nationalist, Cho Man-sik, already functioning. Unlike the American army in the south, the Russians accepted the People’s Committees and the idea of the Korean People’s Republic. Some accounts suggest that Cho Man-sik was the first choice of the Russians as a potential leader of a government in the north.

    On September 19, Kim Il-sung and 36 other Koreans who had fled to Russian territory after harassment by the Japanese Army, arrived in Wonsan. On October 14, the Soviet army introduced Kim to the population as a guerrilla hero.

    In December 1945, at a conference in Moscow, the Russians agreed to an American proposal for a trusteeship for five years before independence for Korea. Under Soviet pressure, Kim and other Communists supported the Moscow agreement, but Cho Man-suk opposed it publically and the Russians placed him under house arrest. In December 1945, existing Communist groups were combined intp a new North Korean Communist Party, and later in August 1946 the NK Communist Party was merged with the New People’s Party to form the Worker’s Party of North Korea. In December an election was held and an alliance of the Worker’s Party and other groups won the election.

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