[KS] Re Correcting the Record

Don Baker ubcdbaker at hotmail.com
Thu Sep 29 20:13:57 EDT 2016

There is nothing amiss about my record of the episode. Eyewitness accounts and a government investigation over a decade later make clear that Chun's troops, who were primarily special forces troops trained to fight behind North Korean lines, began killing unarmed demonstrators on May 18 (They had been told that Kwangju had been infiltrated by North Korean agents.) The first officially recognized fatality was a deaf man who was shot and killed on May 18 when he didn't heed a call to stop which he couldn't hear. 
Don Kirk's story doesn't explain why the people in Kwangju grabbed weapons on May 21st, chased the military from the provincial capital building to the outskirts of town (The citizens' militia had placed a couple of machine guns on the roof of the hospital overlooking the provincial capital building), and demanded that Chun step down and that the government in Seoul apologize for killing so many innocent people. 
The whole incident began with only about 200 to 300 students gathering at the front gate of the closed Chunnam University on Sunday morning, May 18. Those peaceful protestors were attacked with clubs by Chun's special forces. Later that day those same troops chased demonstrators on the streets of downtown Kwangju. In some cases, their clubs had been replaced by bayonets.  It was the sight of unarmed people being maimed and killed that made so many people in Kwangju angry enough to seize weapons and begin fighting back. 
The time has long past for us to join with the South Korean government in recognizing that the resistance to Chun's coup in Kwangju (the only place that resisted it at the time) was a true democratization movement and deserves both our respect and an accurate recounting of what happened those days in May, 1980, starting with May 18.

Don Baker ProfessorDepartment of Asian Studies University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada V6T 1Z2 don.baker at ubc.ca

Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2016 23:42:22 +0000
From: kirkdon at yahoo.com
To: ubcdbaker at hotmail.com; koreanstudies at koreanstudies.com
Subject: Re: Re Correcting the Record

There's something amiss about your record of the episode. When I got to the Gwangju gov's bldg, the bloodshed that you mention hadn't yet happened. The protesters, though, were in charge. Incidentally, you might want to reconsider your term "cowards all" for the army. These are mostly kids, draftees. They're hardly "cowards all," just soldiers following orders, like soldiers everywhere. This terminology suggests bias. Oh, and reading down, your statement, "There were already dozens, possibly hundreds," dead when I got to the gov bldg is absurd.That's about where I stopped reading your message.Donald Kirk 

    On Friday, September 30, 2016 8:19 AM, Don Baker <ubcdbaker at hotmail.com> wrote:


Don, were  you in Kwangju on May 18? I believe you got there after May 21, which is when the citizens of Kwangju seized weapons, and then the army, cowards all, withdrew to the outskirts of the city.  The citizens didn’t seize the provincial office building until the evening of May 21. By then, hundreds of Kwangju citizens had already been shot, clubbed, and otherwise attacked (there were rumours of flame-throwers used against a crowd of demonstrators in a pedestrian underpass).  There were already dozens, possibly hundreds, dead by then. 
And some policemen did give guns to the citizen’s militia. After all, the police were also Kwangjuites and they saw what Chun’s thugs were doing to the innocent people there.  But as I mentioned earlier, most of the weapons were seized from reserve army arsenals. The citizen’s militia also stole armed cars from a nearby factory. 
The people of Kwangju call the period from May 22 to May 26 the period of liberation because that is when Chun’s forces were forced to retreat to the outskirts of town. That ended early in the morning on May 27th, as you know since you were an eyewitness. That is when Chun’s troops returned to the centre of the city of Kwangju. However, we can’t forget that, starting with the first attack on unarmed demonstrators at the gates of Chunnam University on Sunday morning, May 18, Chun’s special forces ran rampant throughout downtown Kwangju, clubbing, bayoneting, and shooting a lot of unarmed people before the people of Kwangju had guns to resist them. Those special force troops were able to maim and kill at will for three days, until the people of Kwangju finally were able to fight back. 
And a lot more than 160 people were killed.  One of your colleagues, another American reporter, told me he counted over 400 corpses. I doubt that he counted the number of bodies accurately, but we know Chun’s military hid corpses and therefore it was difficult to learn exactly how many people were killed. 
I agree with you about this resistance in Kwangju being a local phenomenon. It was in response to the brutality of Chun’s troops starting on May 18th. If there were any North Koreans there, they had nothing to do with it. After all, Chun never produced any North Korean corpses or North Korean prisoners. 
I am not going to publicize the name of the author of the book I criticized earlier, or even the name of the book, since the author has since contacted me and is now checking on the sources for those statements to see if my criticisms were correct. I am not in this business to harm someone’s reputation. All I want is an accurate account of the recent history of South Korea.
I can tell you that the statement about “no more than six” members of the South Korean Labour Party going down to Cheju in 1948 comes from a report by a US colonel which is cited in volume II of Origins of the Korean War by Bruce Cumings. I haven’t seen the original document, but the author I criticized cites Cumings as the source of the claim that there were 6,000 Communists operatives from the mainland in Cheju in 1948. That is a clear misstatement of what Cumings wrote. 
Don Baker
Don Baker ProfessorDepartment of Asian Studies University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada V6T 1Z2 don.baker at ubc.ca 		 	   		  

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