[KS] Re-revised posting "Revoking a Recommendation"

Sheila Miyoshi Jager sheila.jager at oberlin.edu
Sat Sep 17 09:23:15 EDT 2016

Dear List members:

I received this e-mail from Andre Lankov this morning who asked me to post this for him as he is not currently a member of KS.

Sheila Miyoshi Jager

Dear list members,

I am not an active participant here, but the recent postings prompted
me to make a small contribution to the ongoing debate around Charles
Armstrong’s recent book.

Initially, I liked the book, and widely recommended it as a good and
thoughtful summary of North Korean foreign policy. However, I have
also noted some problems with footnotes. I have not gone through the
footnotes as carefully as others, but I still noticed that there are
cases the footnotes lead to the wrong sources, while the information
in the text could possibly obtain only from other sources which by
some reasons are not mentioned in the book.

Right now, I can indicate three cases.


One of the cases has already been mentioned, but I would repeat it,
since I am myself directly involved in the situation which now seems
to be typical.

On page 105, Tyranny of the Weak one can find such a statement “In a
conversation with a Soviet diplomat in 1960, Pang Hak-se, minister of
the interior, referred to some 100,000 “reactionaries” detained
between October 1958 and May 1959 alone”. Then a footnote 57 follows,
saying: “Scalapino and Lee, Communism in Korea, vol. 2, The Society,

However, nothing like this can be found in Scalapino and Lee, because
at the time when Scalapino and Lee wrote their book the document in
question (like all other documents of this kind) was classified and as
such deeply buried in the Soviet archives. To the best of my
knowledge, I was the first person to find this document in the
mid-1990s, and then I provided it to Balasz Szalontai who cited it,
clearly mentioning in the text that the document in question had been
provided by me (Kim Il Sung in the Khrushchev Era, footnote 58, page
297). I also mentioned this document and data myself in my 2004 book
(Andrei Lankov, Crisis in North Korea: The Failure of
De-Stalinization, 1956, page 182)

It is remarkable, though, that in Balasz Szalontai’s book, few lines
below reference to 100,000 arrested, one can find a reference to page
833 Scalapino and Lee – the very same reference Charles Armstrong
wrongly used in his book. In the book of Balazs Szalontai, the
footnote in question (“Scalapino and Lee, Communism in Korea, vol. 2,
The Society, 833-35.”) follows the entire paragraph we discuss here.
There the footnote is related to the last few sentences, not to the
figure ‘100,000’ and Pang Hak-se’s statement which is clear referenced
to me.

Thus, it seems likely that Charles Armstrong borrowed the data from
Balazs Szalontai wholesale, together with a reference to Scalapino and
Lee’s book, but did not notice that the reference is related to the
final sentence alone, not to the data Charles Armstrong cites.


The second case is quite remarkable and strongly supports the
suggestion that something is seriously wrong with footnotes and/or
quotes in the book.

On page 121 of The Tyranny of the Weak, one can find such sentence
“the Bulgarian ambassador remarked to his Soviet counterpart that he
had never seen such a hostile incident in another “fraternal”
country.” This is followed by footnote 130 which says “Soviet Embassy
in DPRK, Report, 30 November 1960. AVPRF, Fond 0102, Opis 16, Papka
85, Delo 7.”

A couple of months ago, while writing a journalistic piece on the
crisis in relations between North Korea and Bulgaria in the 1960s
(abduction of NK students etc.), I decided to check the reference. I
checked the digital collection of PDF files containing the photocopies
of the Soviet diplomatic papers, including the Ambassadors’ Diaries
(the collection is held in the National Library of Korea, Pyŏngyang
soryŏn taesakwan pimil sŏch’ol, the photocopy of the diary in question
can be found at the file 012204, pages 22-50, of this collection).

I was rather surprised with what I saw. The AVPRF (Soviet/Russian
Foreign Ministry) archive has Ambassador Diary for November 10 to
December 28 period, but this diary has no reference to any talk with
the Bulgarian ambassador, and, for that matter, no entry for November
30 whatsoever. It could not possibly have such entry due to one
serious reason: as clearly stated on the first page of the diary,
Ambassador Puzanov happened to be away from Pyongyang for nearly a
month, from November 10 to December 3, 1960, and resumed his regular
duties only on December 5 (AVPRF, Fond 0102, opis 16, papka 85, delo
7, list 30). Being physically some 5000 miles away, the Ambassador
hardly could be engaged in a frank conversation with his Bulgarian
counterpart on November 30.

Admittedly, on December 15, 1960 Ambassador Puzanov did meet
Ambassador Georgii Kostov Bogdanov of Bulgaria. During that meeting,
Ambassador Bogdanov expressed in passing some dissatisfaction with the
treatment of the Bulgarian diplomats in North Korea, but there were no
references whatsoever to the episode mentioned by Charles Armstrong.
Bogdanov merely complained that North Koreans did not provide
statistical data and some publications (Pyŏngyang soryŏn taesakwan
pimil sŏch’ol, file 012204, pages 37-38).


The third case is the Memo of conversation between Counselor Yang
Yŏng-sun (DPRK Embassy in Moscow) and Halin (Deputy Head of the Far
Eastern Section in the Soviet Foreign Ministry), 29 September 1953.

In Charles Armstrong’s book, on page 56, one can read the following:
“Kim Il Sung led a delegation to Moscow in September 1953, primarily
to settle the terms of Soviet assistance. The Soviet government agreed
to cancel or postpone repayment for all of North Korea’s outstanding
debts and reiterated its promise to give the DPRK 1 billion rubles in
outright aid, both monetary and in the form of industrial equipment
and consumer goods.” This remark is followed by footnote 19 which
cites the above mentioned Memo of conversation between Yang Yŏng-sun
and Halin on 29 September.

The Memo indeed exists, and it is available in the above mentioned PDF
collection (file 010105, pages 12-14). However, the Memo’s content has
nothing in common with what is stated in the book. It does not mention
the issues of the Soviet assistance at all.

Actually, the Memo of the short talk (it lasted, as explicitly stated,
merely 20 min) is an itemized list of the issues which were discussed.
There were five issues: 1) The return of the North Korean workers from
the USSR; 2) The dispatch of teachers to a Soviet school in Pyongyang;
3) Request for the printed UN materials, difficult to obtain for the
North Koreans; 4) Inquiry about a young daughter of a North Korean
official of the Soviet origin; 5) Request for reference material about
the Soviet periodicals. None of these issues is in any way related to
the matters mentioned in the book. I would add that, given the
relatively low rank of both participants and shortness of their
encounter (mere 20 minutes), one would hardly expect that such issues
would be raised during the 29 September meeting.

Once again, I did not (and could not) check hundreds of footnotes, but
the very random and semi-incidental check of the materials I know
and/or have within few meters from my desk, has demonstrated that
footnotes are a mess. What we see from the above mentioned three
examples are:

a)       The use of data likely been obtained from work which is not
referenced and even mentioned, but supported with a footnote to an
irrelevant third source (to make things even more strange, the
footnote is the same as the footnote in the work that was omitted);

b)       The reference to a document which does not exist, describing
an event which did not (and could not possibly) happen on the date

c)        The reference to an existing document which, however, deals
with completely different issues.

So, there are issues to be clarified.


Andrei Lankov,
Kookmin University, Seoul

On 9/15/2016 12:09 AM, Jiyul Kim wrote:
> [NOTE TO ADMINISTRATOR: please discard two earlier versions and review 
> this for posting]
> I came across this recent posting by B. R. Myers revoking his 
> recommendation for Charles Armstrong's /Tyranny of the 
> Weak/ (2013)/./ Myers' revocation is, for me, unprecedented.
> Myers compares Armstrong's /Tyranny /with Balazs Szalontai's /Kim Il 
> Sung in the Khrushchev Era/ (2005)/. /He gives detailed examples why 
> he can't support the book.  If there is any truth to what Myers says 
> then it is all very disturbing since Armstrong's books are widely 
> admired and used.
> I wonder what others think.  Myers' post can be found at
> http://sthelepress.com/
> Jiyul Kim
> Oberlin College
> Oberlin, Ohio

Sheila Miyoshi Jager
Professor of East Asian Studies
Oberlin College

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