[KS] Tyranny of the Weak

Balazs Szalontai aoverl at yahoo.co.uk
Mon Sep 19 10:13:32 EDT 2016

Dear Professor Armstrong,
thanks a lot for your initiative! It is very encouraging that you are making such progress in reviewing the citations in Tyranny of the Weak. It is also most commendable that you decided to contact Cornell University Press with any necessary corrections. I am very glad to help you in this effort by providing Cornell University Press with the information available for me. If we continue to cooperate in this effort, the process of revisions may be completed far sooner than if you were compelled to complete this task alone. Let me provide you with a few additional specific examples (see below).
There is one potential complication, however. Some of the problematic source citations appeared in publications dated earlier and published by other publishers, rather than Cornell University Press. For instance, "Fraternal Socialism" (2005) was published in Cold War History (Routledge, Taylor & Francis), "Necessary Enemies" (2008) was published by US Korea Institute at SAIS, while "Korea at the Center" (2006) was published by M.E. Sharpe, Inc. Under such conditions, the process of revising "Tyranny of the Weak" may not fully remedy the problem, since the aforesaid three publications are beyond the purview of Cornell University Press. Let me ask whether you intend to contact the other three publishers simultaneously with Cornell University Press.  
The additional examples are as follows:
On p. 84, Tyranny of the Weak provides thefollowing information: 

A few of the other partyleaders questioned the autarkist and heavy-industry-oriented policies promotedby Kim, and this debate emerged as early as the Central Committee plenum ofAugust 1953. 132 

Footnote 132: Masao Okonogi,“North Korean Communism: In Search of Its Prototype,” in Dae-Sook Suh, ed., KoreanStudies: New Pacific Currents (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994), 181–83.

Okonogi’s cited workdoes not mention any disputes at the 6th KWP CC plenum (held in August 1953),which he describes on pp. 178-180. In his publication, the first reference to disagreementsbetween Pak Ch'ang-ok and Kim Il Sung is made with regard to the 7thsession of the Supreme People’s Assembly (held in April 1954). These disputesOkonogi did describe on pp. 181-184. This raises the question of where theauthor found the information about the disputes that occurred at the 6thCC plenum in August 1953. In Kim Il Sungin the Khrushchev Era, the following information is provided about thesubject (p. 60):

In Okonogi’s opinion,certain KWP leaders had their doubts about the feasibility of the autarkicmodel proposed by Kim Il Sung, and they attempted to raise their voice againsthis policies.138 In light of the debates that occurred at the CC plenum held inAugust 1953 (and in 1955–1956), this interpretation seems correct. 

Endnote 138: Okonogi,“North Korean Communism: In Search of Its Prototype,” in Suh, Korean Studies,181–183. The book describes the disputes that occurred at the 6th CC plenum onp. 47. 


On p. 84, Tyranny of the Weak also provides thefollowing information: 


By September1953, there were a thousand cooperatives in the DPRK. In November 1954, in themidst of a bumper harvest, the Central Committee decided to acceleratecollectivization, to coincide with a decision to complete the Three-Year Planby the end of 1955, half a year ahead of schedule. 133

Footnote 133: Okonogi, “North Korean Communism,” 184.

The date September 1953 appears to be anaccidental typo, since the correct date is, in all probability, September 1954.(In September 1953, a few months after the armistice, North Koreancollectivization was not yet in such an advanced stage.) On p. 184, Okonogidoes mention that in November 1954, “an attempt was made to solve theagricultural problem by pushing the agricultural cooperatives,” but hispublication does not provide statistical data about the number of cooperatives,either on p. 184 or elsewhere. This raises the question of where the authorfound the information about the number of cooperatives. In Kim Il Sung in the Khrushchev Era, the following information isprovided about the subject (pp. 62-63):

In April 1954,the total number of agricultural cooperatives stood at 800, and in September itstill did not exceed 1,000. […].2 The November plenum of the KWP CC brought asudden change in Pyongyang’s agricultural policies, which may have beenconnected with the simultaneous dismissal of Ch’oe Ch’ang-ik from the post offinance minister.3 The party leadership resolved to speed up collectivizationon the grounds that the 1954 harvest had been good enough to render such arapid development possible.

Endnote 2:Hungarian Embassy to the DPRK, Report, 22 October 1954, KA, 11. doboz, 22/a, 08103/2/1954;Hungarian Embassy to the DPRK, Report, 22 December 1954, KTS, 5. doboz, 5/c,001128/1955.

Endnote 3:Okonogi, “North Korean Communism: In Search of Its Prototype,” in Suh, KoreanStudies, 184, 187.

In sum, theinformation provided in the cited sentences of Tyranny of the Weak shows a marked discrepancy with the content ofthe cited secondary source but it shows a marked correlation with certain partsof Kim Il Sung in the Khrushchev Era.Both books cite the same page numbers of Okonogi’s work. Since Okonogi’s citedchapter was published in English, the factor of linguistic misinterpretationcan be reasonably excluded.

At the sametime, linguistic inaccuracies did appear in the citation of certain Russianarchival sources, sometimes in combination with text-citation discrepancies. Onp. 114 of Tyranny of the Weak, the following information is provided: 

A number of high-ranking academics were alsoexpelled from the party, for supposedly siding with the anti-Kimoppositionists. Purges took place as well within the upper ranks of themilitary.98 

Footnote 98: Soviet Embassy in DPRK, “Interviewwith DPRK Foreign Ministry First Secretary Pak Kilyong,” 4 October 1957. AVPRF, Fond 0102, Opis121, Papka 7, Delo 16.

This Russian document does exist; it can be found in Pyŏngyang soryŏn taesakwan pimil sŏch’ol,   (KM011602, p. 42). ItsRussian title is "Zapis besedy s zaveduiushchim I Otdelom MID KNDR Pak KilEnom, ot 4 oktiabria 1957 goda,” from the diary of N.M. Shesterikov. That is,the position of Pak Kilyong is specified as head of the 1st Departmentof the Foreign Ministry, rather than Foreign Ministry First Secretary. In theSoviet ministerial hierarchy, there was no such position as First Secretary.The actual archival location of this file is Opis 13, Papka 7, Delo 6, ratherthan Opis 121, Papka 7, Delo 16 (as cited in Tyranny of the Weak). This file does not contain any informationabout academic or military purges. This raises the question of where the authorfound the information cited above. In KimIl Sung of the Khrushchev Era, the following information is provided (p.117):

On 4 October, aHungarian diplomat reported that the first secretary of the Polish Embassy hadrecently informed him about Pak’s coming arrest. In the fall, the basic anddistrict organizations of the party held meetings and conferences everywhere inthe country. In the course of themeetings held at the Academy of Sciences and Kim Il Sung University, severalacademics lost their party cards. They had allegedly sympathized with thedissidents of August 1956 or merely disagreed with certain policies of theregime. General Kim Ung, a Yan’an Korean and one of the KPA’s most brilliantcommanders, was replaced, deprived of his rank, and supposedly arrested. 14

Endnote 14. Hungarian Embassy to the DPRK,Report, 4 October 1957, KTS,3. doboz, 4/bc, 003870/2/1957. 

In sum, the contentof the AVPRF document cited in Footnote 98 of Tyranny of the Weak shows a strong discrepancy with the content ofthe actual document. Further discrepancies can be found between the cited andthe actual title and folder location of the document. In contrast, the contentand date of the cited document shows a strong correlation with the Hungariandocument cited above. A further correlation can be observed between the allegedposition of Pal Kilyong (First Secretary of the Foreign Ministry) and theactual position of the diplomat from whom the Hungarian diplomat received theinformation (First Secretary of the Polish Embassy). 


In certainoccasions, discrepancies can be observed not only between the sources cited in Tyranny of the Weak and the actualsources but also between the book’s narrative and the actual course of events.On p. 87, the following information is provided:

In a conversationat the Soviet embassy in Pyongyang in July 1955, Soviet ambassador Ivanovinformed his East European colleagues that the Soviets were well aware of NorthKorea’s extreme sensitivity to any perceived interference in their internal affairs,and that therefore Soviet and other foreign advisors had to be wary of pushingtoo hard or appearing to scold or lecture the Koreans for their “errors.” 150

Footnote 150:Soviet Embassy in DPRK, Report, 17 August 1955. AVPRF, Fond 0102, Opis 11,Papka 60, Delo 5.

The diary of Soviet Ambassador V.I.Ivanov contains no entry for 17 August 1955 (see Pyŏngyangsoryŏn taesakwan pimil sŏch’ol, KM010801, pp. 40-66). During July, the followingentries contain references to his conversations with East European diplomats:27 July (with Hungarian Ambassador Pal Szarvas and East German AmbassadorRichard Fischer), 28 July (with Czechoslovak Ambassador Sikora and RomanianAmbassador Anton Tatu Jianu), 29 July (with Polish Ambassador Jerzy Sedleckiand Hungarian Ambassador Szarvas), and 30 July (with Albanian Ambassador MafuzLaze). Of these recorded conversations, none contains the information describedabove. In general, the record of the conversations is heavily focused on thestatements made by the East European diplomats, rather than on Ivanov’s ownstatements. For instance, the record of his 29 July conversation with Szarvasquotes Szarvas saying that the North Korean leaders admitted certain errors inagricultural policy but that he had not discussed these issues with theKoreans. This raises the questionof where the author found the information cited above. In Kim Il Sung of the Khrushchev Era, the following information isprovided (pp. 74-75):

On 29 July,Ivanov told Szarvas that “the mistakes made by the Korean comrades should beraised in the presence of the top leaders, and in certain issues, the opinionof the whole diplomatic corps should be made known so as to ensure that the[Korean] comrades do not consider these comments as lecturing and ordering butnotice the sincere helpfulness that inspired them.” Szarvas noted in hisreport, “Our attitude will facilitate their [the Soviets’] situation if they takesides or give advice to the Korean comrades.” However, he also made clear thathe did not intend to poke his nose into the internal affairs of the DPRK justbecause the Soviets had asked him to do so. He knew by experience how“sensitive” the North Koreans were.59

Endnote 59:Hungarian Embassy to the DPRK, Report, 17 August 1955, KTS, 10. doboz, 24/b,008020/1955 (p. 298).

The Englishtranslation of the aforesaid Hungarian report (which is much longer thanIvanov’s one-paragraph record of the conversation) is publicly accessible in Cold War International History ProjectBulletin 14/15 (Winter 2003-Spring 2004), pp. 108-110. Fromthis document, it can be clearly ascertained that the references to the NorthKoreans’ sensitivity were actually made by Szarvas in his subsequent report,rather than by Ivanov. 

I would like tomake an additional remark about the whole question, namely, that the issue isquite delicate. One can touch it only very cautiously. One must think twicebefore raising questions like this so as to find the appropriate way. […] Itmust be emphasized again that the Korean comrades deal with their own issues inan extremely reserved way. There are few opportunities for a completely sincerediscussion of domestic issues.

In sum, the content of the AVPRF document cited inFootnote 150 of Tyranny of the Weakshows a strong discrepancy with Ivanov’s records of his conversations with theEast European diplomats but its content and date shows a strong correlationwith the Hungarian document cited above. The statement about the North Koreans’sensitivity, attributed to Ivanov in Tyrannyof the Weak, was actually made by Szarvas after the conversation, in such away that Ivanov was not even aware of it. While the narrative of Tyranny of the Weak suggests that theSoviets were aware of this sensitivity and instructed the East Europeans totake it into consideration, the real situation was that Szarvas’ awareness ofNorth Korean sensitivity induced him notto comply with Ivanov’s instructions. 


 Yours sincerely,Balazs SzalontaiKorea University, Sejong Campus, Department of North Korean Studies

      From: Charles K. Armstrong <cra10 at columbia.edu>
 To: Korean Studies Discussion List <koreanstudies at koreanstudies.com> 
 Sent: Monday, 19 September 2016, 20:44
 Subject: [KS] Tyranny of the Weak
Dear KS list members,
I have begun a thorough review of the citations in Tyranny of the Weak and will contact my publisher with any necessary corrections. I would like to thank my readers for their useful comments.
Charles K. Armstrong
Charles K. ArmstrongProfessor of History, Columbia University516 Fayerweather Hall, 1180 Amsterdam AveNew York, NY 10027Tel: 212-854-1721

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