Korean War; Literature Having Many Perspectives
Picture yourself in a city in North Korea in the early 1950’s. You are at your home relaxing and then you hear a very loud “BOOM!” You then walk outside and see dark smoke surrounding your area. When you take a closer look, you see houses falling apart, cracked and broken walls, and people running out of their homes and screaming. Aircrafts are in the sky are buzzing away and you wonder what just happened. Well, that was one of the many bombings that happened during the Korean War in North Korea that you were involved with.
From my perspective of the Korean War to my analysis of Korean War literature, one can comprehend about North Korea and how the Korean War affected the country from many perspectives of different people with different views. I will use my knowledge and what I have newly learned about the Korean War to layout important aspects about it. From reading books about North Korea, I understood the Korean War clearly and I am able to explain in detail about it.
During the Korean War, North Korea was bombed numerous times and was heavily damaged physically and economically. This can be understood through many books and other sources. The sources carry a lot of information about the Korean War like how much damage it has caused. In short, the Korean War was detrimental as it killed many civilians. Many people have different beliefs on it. This was also a war that would not end even after the last shot was fired more sixty years ago. North and South Korea are technically still at war today.
Historical Context - Korean War
A crucial event that happened during the time period of the Korean War was the division of Korea. According to The Cold War--1945-1991, “...in July 1945, Japanese troops in Korea south of the 38th parallel were to surrender to the Americans. Japanese troops to the north were to surrender to the Soviets.” This meant that the north side of the 38th parallel was to be controlled by the Soviet Union and the south of the 38th parallel are to be controlled by the United States. The Korean War took place during the Cold War, where the United States was fighting against the Soviet Union. With Korea being divided and controlled by opposing nations, it portends a possible war in the future. To conclude, a major and important event of the Korean War time period was the division of Korea.
As well, a lot of North Korean cities were destroyed during the war, which was caused by the United States. According to North Korea: Another Country, Bruce Cummings mentioned that Conrad Crane wrote that “The American Air Force had wreaked terrible destruction all across North Korea. Twenty-two major [North Korean] cities had been at least half obliterated” (30). From the excerpt of the book, we can see that North Korea had a lot of damages dealt on to them in the Korean War. The United States “have-obliterated” twenty-two cities in North Korea using their Air Force. This shows the seriousness of the Korean War that hurted North Korea.
In addition, North Korea had financial problems after the Korean War. Given from an article in The Washington Post, “U.S. bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams in the later stages of the war, flooding farmland and destroying crops.” The article accentuated that bombings done by the United States caused North Korea to go into deeper economic issues. The hydroelectric and irrigation dams in North Korea were bombed and destroyed. This caused floods on North Korean farmland and it also killed their crops, making farming in North Korea more difficult. With those damages, North Korea had a lot to repair, costing a lot of money. With all considered, the Korean War was not only a devastating war, but also a costly war as well.
To add, China has been a part of the Korean War since they helped their communist ally, North Korea. According to the History.com, “...thousands of communist Chinese troops launch massive counterattacks against U.S. and Republic of Korea (ROK) troops, driving the Allied forces before them and putting an end to any thoughts for a quick or conclusive U.S. victory. When the counterattacks had been stemmed, U.S. and ROK forces had been driven from North Korea...” During that time, American and South Korean forces were already in North Korea and were about to win the Korean War. However, when Chinese troops got into North Korea, they helped North Korea with ending any chance of a “quick or conclusive U.S. victory.” American and South Korean forces were “driven” out of North Korea because of the Chinese army aiding North Korea. The Chinese intervention during the Korean War showed how friendship in wars are very important. As shown in the Korean War, the Chinese helped to change the situation of the war. In brief, China was just as involved in the Korean War as the main belligerents.
The Korean War from a Biographical Perspective
A Corpse in the Koryo is a book about a North Korean detective that is written by James Church who had a lot of experiences in North Korea. In A Corpse in the Koryo, Inspector O was the main character who helped North Korea as a detective. The context of the book is based on Church’s experience during his many visits to North Korea. Even though many of the major events in the story did not happen to the author, there were still many similarities between the main character of the book, Inspector O and the author who wrote it. In A Corpse in the Koryo, Inspector O had a similar job as a detective as Church. The details on Inspector O’s job as a detective in the story are relevant to Church’s experiences while he was in North Korea during the time he was a foreign policy worker and was allowed to go into North Korea with a legal visa.
To begin with, authors who write fictional stories tend to write their stories based on what they have seen or experienced. James Church had meant to write about North Korea in A Corpse in the Koryo based on what he saw during the times he was in North Korea. As Church told The Independent interviewers in Beijing, China, “The character had to fit into the real North Korea. It is very important to humanise the situation, and crystallise my experience of real people dealing with real problems in North Korea.” As stated by Church, he saw the troubles the real people in North Korea are dealing with. From that, he wrote A Corpse in the Koryo to help readers understand what is going on in North Korea. This is important to consider because readers can trust Church’s findings and experiences in North Korea when they read the book. Ultimately, James Church believed that it is important to “humanize” what he discovered in while he was in North Korea to settle the information into A Corpse in the Koryo.
To add, both Inspector O and Church were both related to one another with what their jobs were. In the story, Inspector O was used by the North Korean Government to inspect crimes that occurred in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital city. On the other hand, from the website, The Independent, Church was referred as “a former CIA intelligence officer who worked in East Asia for decades and has visited North Korea more than 30 times.” Given that, Church was also a detective, but for the United States, as a CIA agent. Just like Inspector O, Church has been to North Korea before. The government of North Korea was also mentioned in the story, which is based on Church’s experience when he was in North Korea. In short, Inspector O from the story and Church were related to one another as they were both inspectors.
Thirdly, not all people who serve their country is satisfied with their assignments. Inspector O and Church both were those people as they were both unsatisfied while working. While working, Inspector O had to face a lot of problems and roadblocks. He had to deal with the orders from the oppressive North Korean government and he was tired of it. However, according to The Washington Post, Church stated in his interview that “he was frustrated by the limitations of his intelligence reports. He was often required to frame any information through the moral lens of Western society, which regards North Korea as one of the most repressive regimes in the world.” This states that as Church was working with the CIA, he was not all satisfied with the rules and the “limitations of his intelligence reports.” he did not have the freedom of gathering whatever he knew was the truth. Instead he was forced to only gather what would despise North Korea. Despite the different ways Inspector O and Church were discontented with what they had to do, they were similar since they were unsatisfied with the government.
The vision of James Church in North Korea has influenced him to put the information into his fictional story. The main character of the story, Inspector O has seen and experienced what Church had before. Inspector O and Church were both detectives who had to gather information for their nations. While doing so, they both had their troubles in which they have dealt with. The similarities between Inspector O and Church can help readers of A Corpse in the Koryo understand the situation in North Korea since the book was based on actually seeings of real events in North Korea.
Historical Criticism - Korean War
Jia written by Hyejin Kim is a story that portrays the life of a North Korean girl, named Jia who comes from a poor family and is trying to start over. She went from her village to the capital city, Pyongyang and she seeks dancing jobs in order to get some money a place to stay. Jia is not from an elite class family as her family had political conflicts with the government. Jia depicts a girl’s life and A Corpse in the Koryo depicts a person who is a government detective and how his job was. Also, Jia has more references of North Korea’s history and its past. In the end, Jia gives a more gripping account on North Korean history and society mostly in the 90’s compared to A Corpse in the Koryo. Because of this, readers are able to not only read about a fictional character in the story, but also learn a lot about North Korea.
To begin, Jia discusses the situation of the 1990’s famine in North Korea and how it affected many North Korean citizens. The famine was also called the Arduous March and it killed many people. In Jia, Kim emphasized that Gun, who is Jia’s friend, “Had heard that in China and in other countries people could eat as much as they wanted. The government told us the floods had hit the entire world and that people in other countries were suffering more than we were” (97). From this, Kim underlines the famine in North Korea that affected the characters in the book. However, the North Korean famine was a real event in which affected many people. As said by Cindy Yoon from Asia Society, “The famine in DPRK [North Korea] is the result of the cumulative effects of a fractured economic infrastructure and inadequate food production. It is estimated by the DPRK government that over 40 per cent of children under five are malnourished.” This shows that in reality, the famine has brought down the food production and economy of the nation. During this period, North Koreans suffered and were malnourished. Jia referenced to this tragedy so that readers can understand this event which happened about two decades ago and how much North Koreans had to endure.
In addition, Hyejin Kim, the author of Jia has heard from a lot of refugees in China coming from North Korea mainly because of the famine in the 90’s. Working with the defectors had inspired her to write her book. As stated on the on the introduction pages of the book, Kim points out that “The characters in this novel, Jia included are an amalgam of what I saw for myself in China, what I heard from North Korean border crossers and those assisting them, and what I encountered in many research documenting asylum seekers and North Korean society” (6). On this introduction page, Kim stated that she has written Jia from her hearing of what North Korean defectors had to go through in North Korea and in China. This shows that the author has spoken to a lot of defectors and has done a lot of research about North Korea. The message informs readers that the references to North Korea in the book are not opinions, but are facts from what the author has heard from those who experienced the same ordeals.
Likewise, Jia outlines what North Korean refugees who cross the border into China have to deal with in China. As mentioned in paragraph three, there are many North Koreans defectors living in China wishing to seek asylum. In Jia, while Jia and her friend, Sangwon were at the border with China, they saw prisoners and border patrols going into a building. Sangwon said “Those people were held in a detention center in China. The Chinese policemen are sending them under guard to this side [North Korea]” (156). This explains that refugees in China are sent back to North Korea if they are caught by Chinese policemen. Given that there are a lot of North Korean refugees running away from their country, China is cracking down on them. This part of Jia informs readers that North Korean defectors have a hard time running away and once they do, they have to live in constant fear of being sent back while they are in China.
Another way where Jia gives better insight on North Korean life is that Jia points to some of the restrictions of North Korean citizens more than the A Corpse in the Koryo. For instance, As shown by Hyejin Kim in Jia, “[Jia’s father] dismissed the political science classes, which taught the ideology of Kim Il-Sung. His worst offense was the possession of foreign science books from prohibited countries. People say that he would be sent to one of the strictest concentration camps” (13). This excerpt provides insight about Jia’s father who had conflicts with the government in the past. With this, readers can gain knowledge on Jia’s family background. However, the main lesson it gives is how important it is for North Koreans to politically respect their country and failing to do so will result in being sent into a strict concentration camp. A Corpse in the Koryo does not give any information about the notorious concentration camps in North Korea unlike Jia. Given this information, readers can realize that the concentration camps are for political offenders.
Furthermore, Jia presents a girl from a lower class family whereas A Corpse in the Koryo focuses on a person of elite background as a government detective. In Jia, Kim describes the area in which Jia lives in where “Mountains stretched in all directions, and what few people there were fit into either of two categories: "extremely bad" and "commonly bad." The extremely bad were locked inside barbed-wire fences, and the commonly bad lived outside the fence. We were fortunate to be in the second group” (4). Jia belongs to the “commonly bad” class category which means that her family is a low status family, but there are families that are worse. The “extremely bad” are the people in concentration camps since they were locked in with a fence. Jia is not the most fortunate of all North Koreans as she lives in the mountains instead of the cities. However, in A Corpse in the Koryo, Inspector O was a government detective and he had a lot of privileges as he got to live in the capital city. With Jia introducing a girl who is from a low-class status and showing readers what she goes through, it describes to readers how life in North Korea is when you are not from the elite.
The Korean War was a conflict of interest. Because of that, there are many different perspectives and views on just one topic. From reading and understanding literature aimed towards North Korea and the Korean War, one can understand them not just from one perspective, but from many others as well. How much the Korean War has damaged North Korea will depend on the point of view of the author of the books. From the books I have talked about, we can view the Korean War in many different ways. For example, in A Corpse in the Koryo, one can see the North Korea and the Korean War through the lens of an American CIA agent since the author had described himself as that.
If we were to see the Korean War in one perspective or point of view, we will not be able to hear the other sides of the same story. Also, we cannot see what the other side experienced or felt at that time. With the topic spanning many point of views, we should analyze them and combine them to give us a better understanding on the Korean War.
The topic of the Korean War interests me since it was a major war within the Cold War that carried on to the twenty-first century. The Korean War is the longest ongoing war that I am aware of. Today, it has been about sixty-three years since the Korean War ceasefire was called. The two Koreas are still technically at war that has only been silenced. The Korean War was an overall engrossing major war that has not yet ended.
Visualizing the Korean War before reading and learning about it, I had a lot of curiosities. I was very intrigued to learn about the damages done during the Korean War to North Korea. As I read in the news, I hear about North Korea being notoriously poor and undeveloped. Before reading literature about the Korean War and North Korea, I was wondering how neither sides have won. I was mostly wondering about how damaged North Korea was after the war. My research has allowed me to answer those questions and curiosities.
When I recieved this research assignment, I knew I was going to pick the Korean War topic to work on given that I had already read some books about North Korea that gave me a broad understanding of the topic. I had read nonfiction books such as A Thousand Miles to Freedom: My Escape from North Korea by Eunsun Kim which was a memoir of a young girl running away from North Korea. The book enlightened me on North Korea and how life is there. I had started writing my historical context, in which I had got information from reputable sources and a book by Bruce Cummings called North Korea: Another Country. My historical context evolved around the Korean War and the damage it has left behind. Doing this had given me a substantial amount of information that I needed so progress to the later sections of my research.
After writing my historical context, I read a fiction book based on North Korea by James Church named A Corpse in the Koryo so I can initiate on my next section, the biographical criticism. The fiction book took place in North Korea and it mixed the history of North Korea in with a fictional mystery story. In my biographical criticism section, I compared the author with the main character of the story, Inspector O. From an interview, Church said that he has been to North Korea numerous times which left me to believe that the story was situated in with the Church’s experience while he was in North Korea. Church and Inspector O were both similar people and had a similar job.
My final section was the historical criticism. For this section, I read Jia by Hyejin Kim which was a fiction book that talked about a North Korean girl named Jia who was from a low family background who lived in a rural area and she works her way up to a higher class to live in the cities. In my historical criticism section, I compared A Corpse in the Koryo with Jia as they were both fiction books that gave information about North Korea. I explained how Jia a more gripping account on North Korea than A Corpse in the Koryo since the book had more historical references on North Korea like the 1990’s famine.
Altogether, the research project on the Korean War and North Korea has given me a wide understanding of topic since I had read a lot of literature pertaining to it. This was a great learning and writing experience for me.