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

Balazs Szalontai aoverl at yahoo.co.uk
Tue Sep 20 21:52:59 EDT 2016

Dear Professor Baker,

I am fully agreement with your opinion in this matter. Isolatederrors of smaller or greater significance are indeed to be dealt with in anon-public manner, for they are not of public concern. In the case of recurrentand pattern-like inaccuracies, however, there may be a need for publicdiscussion. Let me explain my point by an admittedly folksy analogy:

Mr. Hunter goes hunting with his colleagues. He aims at a deer,and shoots. He misses the deer but hits one of his colleagues in the leg. Anunfortunate incident, surely. Next month, however, the incident occurs again.Mr. Hunter shoots at a deer, misses it, but hits one of his colleagues in theleg. During his hunting career, Mr. Hunter shoots a number of deer; he alsomisses a few. It also occurs, about twenty or more times, that Mr. Hunteraccidentally hits a fellow hunter, each time when he misses a deer. Of thesetwenty-some cases, he hits one specific hunter at least eighteen times. Onemight excuse the hunter who was hit eighteen times if he starts to think thatthis matter is no longer the strictly private business of Mr. Hunter and thedeer. Should we accuse him of showing insufficient respect for Mr. Hunter if hedraws his colleagues’ attention to the recurrence of these shooting accidents?

I also agree with the point that if the central argument of a bookseems to be in accordance of the known facts and only minor details areinaccurate, the book can be usually acknowledged as reliable. Still, it is alsonecessary to establish how the author reaches these conclusions. Let me use onemore analogy, this time a more scholarly one. Let’s suppose that we encounter abook that describes the events of the Kwangju massacre in detail, day by day.One of the sources that the author regularly and extensively cites toreconstruct the orders that were given first to the paratroopers, andthen to the other military units, is titled “Secret Diary of President ParkChung Hee, 1961-1980,” discovered by the author. Even if the described eventsand orders are well in accordance with the currently known facts, and even ifwe do know from alternative sources that President Park Chung Hee had a diary, onemight raise questions about this specific source, particularly if the authorextensively relied on it.    

Case in point:

On p. 83 of Tyranny of the Weak, the followinginformation is provided:

The DPRKfrequently rotated the Korean employees of the East European embassies, aproblem Soviet ambassador Suzdalev told his Hungarian counterpart there waslittle the East Europeans could do to address. 129

Footnote 129:Soviet Embassy in DPRK, Report, 29 September 1954. AVPRF, Fond 0102, Opis 10,Papka 44, Delo 9.

Since the authorclearly specifies that Szarvas told these words to the Hungarian ambassador, we can obtain evidence of the conversation from the Hungarianside, too. The Hungarian ambassador did record the conversation, and the contentsof his report are in accordance with the description above. The Hungarianreport (dated 23 October 1954) also specifies, however, that this conversationoccurred on 21 October 1954. This raises the question of how a Russian documentdated 29 September could record a conversation that occurred on 21 October. Onemay suppose that September is an accidental mistake, and the actual date of theRussian document was 29 October. Still, it is remarkable that in Kim Il Sung in the Khrushchev Era, thedate of the first cited Hungarian document is also 29 September 1954:

In fall 1954,the Foreign Ministry began to replace the embassies’ Korean employees veryfrequently so as to prevent them from becoming loyal to their foreign employers.On 21 October, Szarvas discussed this problem with Suzdalev, who told him that“one may raise the issue of . . . the Korean employees in the ForeignM[inistry], but in any case they will reply that the replacement of the employeesoccurred for political reasons.”107 

Endnote 107:Hungarian Embassy to the DPRK, Report, 29 September 1954, KA, 4. doboz, 5/e,010941/1954; Hungarian Embassy to the DPRK, Report, 23 October 1954, KTS, 7.doboz, 5/f, 001567/1954.

As I said, it isthe recurrence of this kind of date discrepancy that raises real concern.Similar cases may be found on the following pages: p. 126 (Footnote 148), p.131 (Footnote 169), and p. 134 (Footnote 183). In each case, the date of thecited Russian or East German document is earlier than the event described. Ineach case, the date of the cited document is fully identical with one of theHungarian documents cited in the comparable parts of Kim Il Sung in the Khrushchev Era.


Due to theserecurrent and pattern-like inaccuracies, I concluded that it will be necessaryfor me to see the actual sources cited by Professor Armstrong to decide howreliable the source citations are. When Professor Armstrong contacted meprivately on 17 September, I asked him to send me a list of the inaccuracies hehad identified. I also asked him to scan the AVPRF documents cited in thesection of pp. 54-126. If Ican see the cited documents, it will be easy to reconstruct which ones containinformation compatible with the information provided in Tyranny of the Weak,and which ones do not. On 17 September, Professor Armstrong expressed his readiness to startpreparing such a list of inaccuracies on 19 September. I welcomed his decision.If I receive this list and the actual Russian documents, it will be far easierfor me to decide if this matter can be settled privately or not.

All the best,

Balazs Szalontai

      From: Don Baker <ubcdbaker at hotmail.com>
 To: Korean Studies Discussion List <koreanstudies at koreanstudies.com> 
 Sent: Wednesday, 21 September 2016, 0:56
 Subject: Re: [KS] Re-revised posting "Revoking a Recommendation"
#yiv3966179029 #yiv3966179029 --.yiv3966179029hmmessage P{margin:0px;padding:0px;}#yiv3966179029 body.yiv3966179029hmmessage{font-size:12pt;font-family:Calibri;}#yiv3966179029 I would like to add my voice to those calling for greater collegiality. When mistakes have been found in a work, and the author has agreed to correct those mistakes and, furthermore, the mistakes do not undermine the central argument of the work, then there is no need to keep attacking the mistakes made by that author in a public forum. 
Recently, I noticed a major mistake in a widely-read work about a very important event in the history of the ROK. I emailed the author privately to point out that mistake. Even though I did not receive a reply, since that book overall is a fine piece of scholarship, I see no need to attack that author for one mistake on one page of a book that is around 500 pages long. That's because I believe we need to show a little more respect for each other. Only if a mistake appears to be an intentional distortion of the facts and is also central to a argument that therefore becomes completely misleading (like the argument that DPRK agents instigated the 1980 protests against Chun Doo-hwan's military coup) is it necessary to initiate a public discussion of the matter. 
Don Baker ProfessorDepartment of Asian Studies University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada V6T 1Z2 don.baker at ubc.ca

> To: hoffmann at koreanstudies.com; koreanstudies at koreanstudies.com
> From: marion.eggert at rub.de
> Date: Tue, 20 Sep 2016 07:32:48 +0200
> Subject: Re: [KS] Re-revised posting "Revoking a Recommendation"
> Dear Frank and all:
> Am 20.09.2016 um 05:01 schrieb Frank Hoffmann:
> > I understand
> > you did not invent that style, you saw and copied that on Facebook and
> > Twitter, but still ...
> The difference being that Facebook and Twitter are not moderated. But 
> this list is supposed to be.
> This is not to counter your point, Frank, which is well taken - just 
> another aspect to consider when we discuss how we want to discuss on 
> this list.
> Regards,
> Marion

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