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

Charles K. Armstrong cra10 at columbia.edu
Sat Sep 17 10:30:22 EDT 2016

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.


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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