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

Jiyul Kim jiyulkim at gmail.com
Sat Sep 17 19:11:22 EDT 2016

For the sake of completeness of available text on the list I am posting the
full text of the examples from the blog post that I linked in my initial
post (http://sthelepress.com/index.php/2016/09/13/revoking-a-
recommendation-b-r-myers/ ). One example, #2, is left out since it was also
discussed by and in greater depth by Prof. Lankov.

The following summarizes the examples that appeared on the list - expanded
version of Prof. Szalontai's


*Year of event*

*Page #*

*Footnote #*

*Source type*

*Source language*


*Issue raised*


Lankov 3, Szalontai






also used in the article "Fraternal Socialism," *Cold War *History, May 2005

Source content does not match text. Same mistake in 2005 article.


Myers #4






East German

Source content does not match text.


Myers #1






Source content does not match text.  Text content matches Szalontai.


Lankov 1, Myers #2






Source content does not match text. Text content matches Szalontai based on
source released only after footnoted source was published.


Lankov 2, Szalontai






Source seems non-existent. Alleged source author was absent during event


Myers #3






North Korean

Source content does not match and contradicts text.

Example # 1

Armstrong describes a congress in Pyongyang in 1953 as follows:

Han began his attack at the First Congress of Writers and Artists, held on
September 26-27, 1953. By this time Im Hwa had already been arrested and
executed, and Han accused Yi T’ae-jun, another KAPF veteran, of having been
a follower of Im…. Han also attacked Kim Sŭng-nam, the composer, accusing
him of abandoning Korean musical traditions…. Visual artists were similarly
accused of neglecting Korean traditions and lacking patriotism. (Tyranny 81)

The footnote number after *patriotism* leads to the citation: Yang and
Chee, “North Korean Education System, 1945 to Present,” 127-135.

*My Comment*:

Yang and Chee’s article (“Education*al*,” by the way) appeared in a special
issue of *The China Quarterly* later published in book form as *North Korea
Today* (1963). There is no mention of the writers’ congress in it. This
leaves one wondering what source Armstrong really used.

As  it happens, Balázs Szalontai describes the same events in very similar
fashion in his book *Kim Il Sung in the Khrushchev Era* (2005), on the
basis of Hungarian documents:

At the First Congress of Writers’ and Artists, held on 26-27 September, Han
Sŏl-ya… attacked… a writer named Yi T’ae-jun, accusing him of having been a
protégé of Yim Hwa…. Han Sŏl-ya accused Kim Sŭng-nam of having neglected
the traditions of classical Korean music…. artists should paint pictures
about the Korean War in classical style. (Kim Il Sung in the Khrushchev Era

What Szalontai includes that Armstrong doesn’t is a remark about the rise
of North Korean nationalism, “a process already reinforced by wartime
patriotic propaganda.” This parenthetical aside comes with its very own
endnote: Yang and Chee, “North Korean Educational System,” *North Korea
Today*, 127-135 (*Kim Il Sung in the Khrushchev* *Era* 276).

Example # 2 (See Andrei Lankov post for more details)

Example # 3

Here Armstrong talks about the Kim regime’s response to the crushing of the
so-called Prague Spring in 1968:

The Soviet crackdown on the Budapest uprising in 1956 was a cause for
concern among the leaders in Beijing and Pyongyang; among other things, the
crackdown resulted, as we saw in the previous chapter, in Pyongyang
withdrawing North Korean students from Hungary…. North Korean anxiety about
Soviet intervention in Eastern Europe was not expressed publicly at the
time. The Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia was another matter.
Needless to say, neither China nor North Korea was in sympathy with… the
Czech dissenters. Their concern was with Moscow’s blatant intervention into
the affairs of a fellow socialist state…. Chinese media attacked the Czech
[sic] invasion in the most vitriolic of language. North Korea’s response
was fairly mild in comparison. The Rodong Sinmun published an article
entitled “Historical Lessons We Have Gained from the Study of Affairs in
Czechoslovakia.” The most important “lesson” was the one North Korea had
long emphasized: the inviolable right of all nations to self-determination.
Juche was, as much as anything, a position of independence in the
Sino-Soviet Cold War. (Tyranny 156)

The only source cited: “Historical Lessons We Have Gained from the Study of
Affairs in Czechoslovakia,” *Rodong* *Sinmun*, August 23, 1968, page 3.

*My Comment*:

Let me isolate each statement. 1) The Soviet crackdown on the uprising in
Budapest led the DPRK to withdraw students from Hungary in 1956. 2)
Although not sympathetic to the Czech dissenters in 1968, the North
Koreans’ main feeling about the events in Prague was indignation at Moscow.
3) Their media’s reaction? Fairly mild in comparison to Beijing’s vitriolic
one, yet they did criticize the Soviet intervention. 4) The party organ
responded to events in Czechoslovakia by emphasizing the right of all
nations to self-determination.

How Juche of the North Koreans! And how groundbreaking of Armstrong to find
this out. The consensus in Cold War studies has always been that North
Korea joined North Vietnam in supporting the Soviet move. (See for example
Richard Wich, *Sino-Soviet Crisis Politics*, Cambridge, 1980, 50.)

Alas, the claim that the *crackdown* on Hungary resulted in the withdrawal
of North Korean students contradicts the very chapter of which Armstrong
reminds the reader. Page 100 makes clear that (as is well-known) those
students were withdrawn for fear they might have been contaminated by the
*counter-revolution* the Soviets had crushed.

To back up his quite lengthy account of the North Korean line on Prague,
Armstrong cites only that one *Rodong Sinmun* source. Its actual title is
simply “Chesŭkkosŭllobensŭkko sat’ae ŭi ryŏksajŏk kyohun.” This should be
translated “The Historical Lesson(s) of the Situation in Czechoslovakia.”
The plural is optional, considering the content of the article.

For Korean readers I am attaching a rather large file of the entire
relevant issue of the *Rodong Sinmun*. (I include the whole paper to prove
that the article does not start on page 3, but on page 4.)



“The Historical Lesson(s) of the Situation in Czechoslovakia” bears no
relation to Armstrong’s account.  No criticism of the Soviet intervention
is expressed, nor is Juche, autonomy or self-determination so much as
mentioned, to say nothing of the “inviolable right of all nations” to the
latter. Most of the content consists of fierce condemnation of the Czech
dissenters as “revisionists,” counter-revolutionaries, tools of US
imperialism, etc, and scare-quote-studded rejection of their talk of
“liberalization” and “democratization.”

This was much the same language then used in the USSR, where the pejorative
“revisionist” had come back into vogue. I should also mention (as Armstrong
does not) the highly significant fact that the *Rodong Sinmun*had published
TASS’ report on Prague only the day before. (See B.C. Koh’s excellent
article “North Korea and the Sino-Soviet Schism,” *Western Political
Quarterly*, December 1969, for a closer discussion of all these media

In the penultimate paragraph of the “Historical Lesson” article, so-called
*sadaejuŭi *or serve-the-great-power-ism appears as the third item in a
list of “reactionary” tendencies to be opposed: “revisionism, dogmatism,
serve-the-great-power-ism, bourgeois thought, feudal thought, etc.”
Naturally this asks to be read in the context of the article’s earlier
condemnation of Czech revisionists for waving the Stars and Stripes,
falling for Yankee subversion, etc. Much more textual evidence than that is
needed if we are to read an emphasis on every nation’s right to
self-determination into what is, when you get right down to it, a rejection
of Czechoslovakia’s.

Example # 4

Armstrong writes:

North Korean officials told the East European advisers in Pyongyang that
they wanted to establish new industrial centers in mountainous areas of the
interior, where they would be close to the mines and also less vulnerable
to attacks from enemy naval forces, which had caused so much damage during
the Korean War. (Tyranny, 63)

Source cited: GDR Embassy in DPRK, Report on Conversation with the
Hungarian Ambassador, 29 October 1957. MfAA A 6979.

*My Comment*:

Here is the file of the document in question.



As even beginning readers of German can see for themselves, the document in
fact records the Hungarian ambassador’s informal remarks about the state of
agriculture in his home country.

Szalontai, citing a Hungarian document from 1954 as well as B.C. Koh’s
article “The War’s Impact on the Korean Peninsula” (1993), writes the
following in his book:

[T]he industrial centers created by the Japanese in Korea … were too close
to the sea and too far from the mines. Attacked by air force and naval
gunfire, they suffered enormous damage during the Korean War. This is why
the KWP leadership decided to construct the new factories in mountainous
areas where it was easy to hide the machines in tunnels in event of war. (Kim
Il Sung in the Khrushchev Era, 50)

On Sat, Sep 17, 2016 at 12:19 PM, Balazs Szalontai <aoverl at yahoo.co.uk>

> Dear List members:
> Let me add, for the benefit of readers who may have found it difficult to
> follow the thread, that the sources that have been criticized so far were
> cited on the following pages of Tyranny of the Weak:
> P. 56, Footnote 19 (Chapter 2), Russian archival source (also apparent in
> the article "Fraternal Socialism," 2005)
> P. 63, Footnote 47 (Chapter 2), East German archival source.
> P. 81, Footnote 125 (Chapter 2), secondary source.
> P. 105, Footnote 57 (Chapter 3), secondary source.
> P. 121, Footnote 130 (Chapter 3), Russian archival source.
> P. 156, Footnote 50 (Chapter 4), North Korean press source.
> This is not fully compatible with the description that "most of the
> criticism is directed to a small section of Chapter 3 of the book,
> basically pp. 121-23," but, if I understood Professor Armstrong correctly,
> he has identified additional inaccuracies among the AVPRF sources cited on
> pp. 121-123. This might refer either to Footnote 131 (p. 122) or 135 (p.
> 123), or both, since the earlier posts mentioned only p. 121 but Professor
> Armstrong also found it necessary to drive attention to pp. 122-123. This
> way it will be indeed possible to create a comprehensive list of
> inaccuracies. It is very encouraging that so much progress has been made in
> such a short time. For the benefit of readers, Professor Armstrong might
> also be kind to explain why he felt it necessary to select these specific
> pages.
> Yours sincerely,
> Balazs Szalontai
> ------------------------------
> *From:* Charles K. Armstrong <cra10 at columbia.edu>
> *To:* Korean Studies Discussion List <koreanstudies at koreanstudies.com>
> *Sent:* Saturday, 17 September 2016, 23:30
> *Subject:* Re: [KS] Re-revised posting "Revoking a Recommendation"
> Dear list members,
> I have observed this criticism of my recent book from some distance and
> have finally decided I cannot avoid responding. I will not here go into a
> detailed defense of my book, which I continue to stand by as a sound work
> of scholarship. But every complex work of scholarship has its flaws, often
> not evident to the author at the time. I appreciate the questions brought
> up by Brian, Balazs and now Andrei. I would like to point out that most of
> the criticism is directed to a small section of Chapter 3 of the book,
> basically pp. 121 -23. This has caused me to re-examine carefully that
> section and the chapter as a whole, where I have indeed found problems with
> some citation of Russian sources. I do not believe this affects the overall
> narrative and argument, but I have endeavored to make corrections where
> warranted. I am in the process of going carefully over the footnotes, with
> the help of Balazs, and see where corrections should be made. If these are
> indeed extensive, I will send a revision to Cornell University Press and
> ask them to republish the book in a revised edition.
> I have learned a great deal from my colleagues in the study of North
> Korea's history, particularly Andrei and Balazs, who are much more familiar
> with the Soviet sources than I am. I hope to have made a contribution to
> this field in my own way, one that complements their fine work. For the
> errors in my own work I of course take full responsibility, which includes
> the responsibility to correct my errors and improve the work.
> Sincerely,
> Charles Armstrong
> On Sat, Sep 17, 2016 at 9:23 AM, Sheila Miyoshi Jager <
> sheila.jager at oberlin.edu> wrote:
> 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,
> 833-35.”
> 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
> mentioned;
> c)        The reference to an existing document which, however, deals
> with completely different issues.
> So, there are issues to be clarified.
> Sincerely,
> Andrei Lankov,
> Professor,
> 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
> --
> Charles K. Armstrong
> Professor of History, Columbia University
> 516 Fayerweather Hall, 1180 Amsterdam Ave
> New York, NY 10027
> Tel: 212-854-1721
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