We recently got our hands on a few “history” books a friend of ours brought back from Pyongyang. Given the North Korean stance on free speech and their flat-out refusal to accept the truth as set out by the obviously better informed great West, we thought we would get our friend HyeMee Chung from UCL to have a flick through them. She is from South Korea and didn’t think too much of the North Korean take on events of the last 70 years.
THE US IMPERIALISTS STARTED THE KOREAN WAR
This book is complete fiction. Every story in it is either fabricated or twisted so much as to be useless as an historical account. We South Koreans believe we could have united with the North straight after the end of Japan’s occupation when we became independent, but the Russians, Americans and Chinese drew a line. So to an extent it is true that American policies led in part to the north-south divide. But the people who actually started the war were the North Koreans—that is beyond dispute. This book claims that Kim Il Sung was responsible for freeing Korea from Japanese rule, it fails to mention the Second World War, or the American war in the Pacific, which had rather a lot to do with the demise of Japan’s empire, in my opinion. This book insists that in 1948 there was a general election across the whole of Korea and that the north won. Kim Il Sung was apparently officially elected head of state by the whole of Korea, which is a lie. This book couldn’t be further from what I was taught at school.
THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN SOUTH KOREA
This book is disturbing for me to read—mainly because some of it is true. There were in the early times of South Korea a number of organisations and laws that seriously infringed human rights. We were told it was necessary because there were lots of communists hiding in the south waiting to act. So the National Security Law, which was illegal, said we could not go to the north, couldn’t talk about communism, and couldn’t protest or riot. To an extent it was aiming to protect us but it was far too extreme. But it’s pretty rich hearing that coming from the North Koreans, given the state of their human rights, though the book went on to talk about communists who were imprisoned in South Korea without fair trial. This I believe to be true.
The stuff about women’s rights in South Korea is totally false. They claim South Korean women are free prostitutes for US soldiers, and that they have no rights at all. Not a single one of the references cited in these books could be found when I looked for them. It is all unsubstantiated and totally useless as historical matter.
JAPAN’S WAR CRIMES PAST AND PRESENT
This is just a collection of unpleasant stories about Japanese war crimes. I mean, to be honest a lot of this is true. Everyone knows the Japanese committed atrocities. Most of this is in line with what I was taught at school in Seoul. Our school books didn’t delve into the details of torture like this does, though. It seems to have been written with the sole motive of creating hatred toward Japan, not for educational purposes. It is more propaganda or polemic than history. All the accounts of horrific acts are unsubstantiated—it’s all anecdotal, the accounts are not attributed to any individuals. Another odd thing about it is that it hugely exaggerates the role of Kim Il Sung. We in South Korea accept that he was a resistance leader between 1934 and 1941, although at school we were taught he was a myth, but this book implies he was an active partisan throughout the whole colonial period, which he clearly wasn’t.