Korean History

The Continuum: U.S. Army film from South Korea, 1945-1948

It’s interesting to look back at history from the perspective of what we did not yet know:

The Japanese Army surrenders:

Like all propaganda, these films withhold unpleasant truths.  The sight of these South Korean kkotjaebi in Seoul is just heartbreaking.

North or South, videos like this are just hard to watch.  What bothers me almost as much as seeing this kids crying alone is seeing so many people walk without even stopping to help.

I often marvel at how much South Korea from long ago resembles North Korea today.


  1. Our old friend Andrei Lankov has some observations about that period in Korean history. For example:

    “Indeed, for an impartial observer in 1946-7, North Korea would probably have appeared far more attractive than its southern counterpart. Both countries were authoritarian regimes, with the North being the stricter, but North Korea also had far greater social equality and provided its population with opportunities for upward social mobility. Its political class was a seemingly simple group of idealists, skilled technocrats, and patriotic former guerrilla fighters. This contrasted highly favourably with the political class in South Korea, which was characterized by landlords and former pro-colonial collaborators, or, at best, patriotic intellectuals who had never picked up a gun.”

    His comment, “A False Dichotomy,” is at Sino NK. There are some interesting pics, including a young Kim Il-Sung with three senior Sovietsky officers, a civilian who looks Japanese to me and a guy seen from behind.


  2. I would quibble with the points about equality and opportunity, and could quibble about Kim Il Sung’s martial bona fides, but I don’t think most of Lankov says should shock careful observers of history. North Korea has long been the more skillful player of the nationalism card, and nationalism is the single strongest political force in Korea, North or South. Nationalism and discrimination probably do much to explain strongly pro-North sentiment among Koreans in Japan at one time. In agricultural places like Cheolla and Cheju, I suppose people grew pretty tired of working as feudal peasants. No wonder the Communists were strong there. I’m sure Communism has tremendous appeal to the victims of feudalism. No wonder it has such strength in Korea when it was still just a shining theory, and before the old feudal lords were replaced by the new ones.


  3. The older boys seen shooing away flies while napping were probably orphans, but the crying toddler was too young to survive on his own. Was he abandoned at that spot or was he left there temporarily? In the middle of a plaza seems an odd place to leave a young child, so perhaps he was abandoned in a place where he would be noticed and possibly saved. Passersby may have feared a false accusation of child abduction if they stopped to help, much like the Chinese who walked past the toddler struck by two different vehicles and killed in a shopping mall car park because they feared being accused of the crime owing to a bad legal precedent set by a judge who ordered a Good Samaritan to pay the medical bills of an old woman injured in a traffic accident. If the toddler was abandoned, then I would guess that the police would at some point have taken the child when it was evident that the parents weren’t coming back for him.



Comments are closed.