[KS] Correcting the Record
ubcdbaker at hotmail.com
Thu Sep 29 12:43:38 EDT 2016
I have a question for all you Koreanists out there about professional ethics. What should we do if we discover a serious misreading of the historical record about an important historical event, and that misreading is put forward as fact in a widely-read book on modern Korean history? I don't want to name the book or the author here, since I am not interested in engaging in personal attacks or name-calling. I could point out the mistake in that book if I were asked to review it, but no one has asked me to do so. I have contacted the author, but the author did not respond. (I asked for the source of that misleading information, since it is not footnoted.)
This is not a trivial point of fact or a difference of interpretation. It is a basic distortion of one of the most important events in South Korean history since the Korean War. Here is the passage in question:The author writes that the citizens of Kwangju, angry that Chun Doo Hwan had arrested Kim Daejung on May 17, 1980, "responded by seizing arms from local police, turning the city into a fortress....Chun responding by ordering the city surrounded by army units. He then unleashed them to retake control." There is no footnote providing a source for this misinformation.
That is a mistake on the scale of saying that the Korean War started when South Korea attacked the north in full force on June 25, 1950. The historical records clearly show (and those records are supported by what people in Kwangju told me in May, 1980) that Chun dispatched special forces troops to Kwangju and those troops began killing unarmed demonstrators (as well as some bystanders) on May 18. The people of Kwangju didn't grab rifles and begin shooting back until May 21. And they didn't seize those guns from the police. Actually, some policemen gave the citizens weapons to defend themselves. But most of the weapons in the hands of Kwangju citizens came from looted reserve army arsenals.
The same book, in a footnoted reference, states that over 6,000 members of the South Korean Labour Party were sent to Cheju in 1948 to instigate the uprising there. However, the source cited says that "not over six" mainlanders were sent to Cheju. By misreading a key secondary source, the author seriously distorts the historical record here by downplaying the local origins of the Cheju insurgency.
I bring this up because, with the forthcoming publication of a government-designed history textbook in South Korea, it is more important than ever that we get our facts straight. (I am very concerned about what that government-sponsored textbook will say about the Cheju Uprising and the Kwangju Resistance.) So how do we correct the record (I should point out again that these mistakes are found in a widely-read survey of modern Korean history) without getting into unseemly name-calling? What do we do if the author fails to respond when those mistakes are pointed out? I would hate to see those mistakes repeated in a 2nd edition of this book. After all, these are factual errors, not differences of interpretation, and therefore should be corrected.
Don Baker ProfessorDepartment of Asian Studies University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada V6T 1Z2 don.baker at ubc.ca
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