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Korea: National Hero or Terrorist

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘terrorists’? The word is at the center of a controversy over a lecture given on Korean modern history by a foreign professor. Marmot’s Hole, an American in Korea, writes about the issue.

Foreign Professor Calls Kim Gu, Yun Bong-gil ‘Terrorists’: Report

A foreign professor teaching modern Korean history for a summer program at Korea University has sparked controversy by calling Kim Ku, Yun Bong-gil and Lee Bong-chang “terrorists.”

According to the Joongang Ilbo, the professor — whose name I won’t print at this point even though it’s in the JoongAng piece — apparently made the offending remarks 20 minutes into a 1 hour, 30 minute lecture. In materials distributed by Internet prior to the lecture, he reportedly included a picture of Kim Gu under the title of “Terrorist Groups.”

Some of the students protested the description. One Boston College student attending the program said he protested that while the 9.11 terrorists killed innocent civilians, Kim Gu fought for independence, but the professor refused to take back his description.

An official with the program told the offended students that the professor was a man with much interest in Korea (in fact, I believe he’s a Korean Studies lecturer at SOAS) and fully qualified to lecture on Korean history.

The JoongAng Ilbo said the problem was that the students attending the lecture were Koreans studying overseas and gyopo who did not sufficiently understand modern Korean history. One Canadian gyopo student who attended the lecture even said there wasn’t a problem with the lecture, and wondered whether prohibiting the lecturer from calling the afore mentioned independence fighters “terrorists” wasn’t extreme nationalism.

About the controversy, a modern Korean history professor at Ehwa University, Jeong Byeong-jun, said calling Kim Gu, Yun Bong-gil and other independence fighters “terrorists” was nothing more than the view of Westerners, and that one must clearly differentiate terrorism, which targets innocent people, and the Korean independence movement.

Meanwhile, the foreign professor said he used the term “terrorist” because there was no appropriate term to express the armed independence movement. He said he recognized that he used a term that could provoke emotions and would be careful in the future.

While some of them are mad at the foreign professor’s definition of the national hero, others try to approach the definition of terror and terrorists. Not a few bloggers question why the professor chose the word and compare similar activities in other countries. Here is one example.

백과사전적 의미에서 테러,테러리즘의 범주에 들어가는 프랑스의 레지스탕스활동과 그 조직원들을 구미역사학자들이 왜 아무도 테러리즘,테러리스트라고 표현하지 않는지 한번 살펴보시기를 권해드립니다.

김구테러리스트 주장을 펴시는 분들은 의식적이든 무의식적이든 근본적으로 일본의 한일합방이 ‘합법적'이며 ‘정당했다'는 전제를 갖고 출발합니다.몇년전 비밀해제된 문서들이 공개되어 ‘국제학적'으로 불법이었다는 사실이 밝혀졌기때문에 이미 출발부터 잘못된 전제임에도 그런 주장을 굽히지 않는 이유는 (한일합방이 불법이었다는)역사학적으로도 입증된 사실에 대해서 아직 모른다고 생각할 수밖에 없을것 같네요.

한일합방이 무력에 의한 불법침략이었기에 ‘역사학적'으로나 ‘국제관계학적’ 관점으로도 당연히 임시정부와 광복군의 정당성을 인정할 수 있는 논리가 성립되며 그들의 저항은 레지스탕스 활동이 되는 것입니다.

I recommend you to check whether western historians have described the French Resistance and its members as terrorism and terrorists. In terms of the meaning in the encyclopedia, they are included in terror and terrorism.

People here who insist Kim Gu was a terrorist consciously or unconsciously think that the Japanese annexation of Korea was fundamentally ‘legal’ and ‘justifiable.’ Several years ago, declassified historical documents proved that the annexation was ‘internationally’ illegal. Regardless of it, the reason why they still insist on the point could be because they even have not been aware that the truth has been historically proven.

According to this truth, with ‘historical’ and ‘international’ perspectives, the activities of the Korean Provisional Government and Liberation Army are justifiable and their resistance could be regarded as equal to the French Resistance.

Other bloggers compare differences between Kim Gu’s activities and 9.11 activities.

더군다나 2차대전당시 민간인들의 안전을 고려하지 않은 무자비한 공격으로 레지스탕스 활동은 악명높았다.하지만 아무도 그들을 테러리스트라고 부르지 않는다.분명한 1차적 목표는 독일군이었으며 궁극적으로 무력강점당한 조국이 해방이라는 정당한 목적이 있었기에.

오직 민간인들을 대상으로 세계무역센터를 폭파하여 국적도 다양한 5000명을 살해한 폭력과 임시정부의 광복군이 한국과 중국침략의 선봉에 섰던 일본군과 그 수뇌부를 공격한 것을 같다고 주장하는 사람들은 대체 어떤 정신세계를 가지고 있는건가?…

김구는 한국에 있었던 일본인들의 거류지조차 함부로 들어가지 못하게 지시했던 사람이다.침략국의 국민들이지만 민간인들에게 해를 입히면 안되며 임시정부의 광복군은 일본군대를 상대로만 싸워야 한다고 지시했던 임정수반이 반세기가 훨씬지난 지금,한국인들의 입에서조차 테러리스트 소리를 들을때면 정말 가슴이 아프다.

미국교수의 망언은 한국역사에 대한 무지와 이해부족에서 나온 것이다.분명 그는 드골이나 워싱턴을 프랑스와 미국의 독립영웅이라고 교육받았을 것이며 본인도 그들을 테러리스트라고 말하진 않을 것이다.

임시정부의 수반과 광복군이라는 정확한 명칭은 아니더라도 레지스탕스라는 단어조차 모를리는 없었을텐데 마땅한 단어가 없어 테러리스트라고 설명했다는 주장은 변명으로밖에는 들리지 않는다.

만약 한국인이 프랑스에서 대학교수직을 얻어 프랑스학생들에게 드골은 테러리스트라고 강의한다면 과연 그가 교수직에 계속 머물 수 있었을까?그런 사람을 비판하면 프랑스국민들은 세계화를 모르는 뼜속까지 국수주의자가 되는 것인가?

The French Resistance was notorious for its merciless attacks disregarding civilians’ safety during World War II, but nobody called them terrorists. Their goal was to get back at German soldiers and they had a justifiable goal, liberating their nation and people.

How can people think the Liberation Army of the Korean Provisional Government that tried to attack the Japanese Army invading Korea and China is equal to the violence that murdered 5,000 civilians from all over the world in the Twin Towers?

Kim Gu strictly ordered other activists not to randomly break into Japanese residential areas. Even though they were from the aggressor nation, he suggested that we should fight against the Japanese Army, not harming civilians. But now he is called a terrorist even from his own people.

The American professor’s absurd remark was from his ignorance and the lack of understanding about Korea history. I am sure that he was raised to learn that De Gaulle and Washington are independent heroes of France and America. He wouldn’t call them terrorists.

What he said sounded like an excuse because he couldn’t find an appropriate word, so he chose the word, terrorist. He might not have known the terms, head of the Korean Provisional Government and Liberation Army, but I don’t think that he’s unfamiliar with the word “Resistance.”

If a Korean professor gives a lecture that De Gaulle was a terrorist to French students, could he keep his job? If French citizens criticize that person, is it also regarded as ultra-nationalism and ignorant people who don’t know about globalization?

Not a few bloggers try to find the more fundamental problem behind this issue arisen.

김구선생을 테러리스트로 만드는건 한국인들입니다.

다들 테러리스트란 단어 자체가 풍기는 부정적인 뉘앙스에만 천착하고 계시는 듯 합니다. 테러리스트의 정의 자체가 시대별로 국가별로 다르다는 말씀은 몇 분이 이미 지적하시니 이에 대한 내용은 생략하겠습니다.

이 문제를 좀 다른 시각에서 볼 필요도 있다고 생각합니다

어쨌거나 동아시아의 역사를 공부한 학자 중에서 주전공이 한국 역사를 공부하는 경우는 상대적으로 중국이나 일본의 경우보다 드뭅니다. 일본이나 중국이 우리보다 강대국이고 역사적으로 중요해서 그런 면도 있지만… 무엇보다 한국에 대한 역사적 사료가 드물기 때문입니다.

한국의 역사를 공부하기 위해서는 한국어를 우선 공부해야 되는데 한국어 자체도 까다롭고, 게다가 전공하는 사람도 많지 않기 때문에 당연히 자국네 말로된 책에 의존하게 됩니다. 즉 영어로 된 책을 보게 되는 겁니다.

그럼 영어로 된 책은 누가 발간하게 될까요?
한국에서 오래산 미국인이 책을 펴게 될까요? 물론 그런 책도 있습니다. 하지만 대부분의 책은 일본에서 나오고 있습니다.

즉 일본의 역사학자들이 자국의 역사관으로 한국이란 나라를 미국이나 유럽에 소개하고 있다는 얘기가 되죠. 당장 외국 도서관에 가실 수 있는 분은 가셔서 한국 역사에 관한 책이 얼마나 되는지, 그리고 일본 중국의 사서에 비해 그 양과 질에서 얼마나 압도당하고 있는지를 알게 되면 이런 일이 왜 발생하게 되는지 알게 됩니다. 일본의 역사가가 자신의 제국주의 역사를 과연 악평을 하게 될까요? 아니죠. 당연히 일본과 반대축에 서는 쪽을 악으로 몰고 자신들의 역사를 합리화하게 됩니다.

고대에 온 영국인 교수도 일본이나 중국이 펴낸 역사서를 가지고 한국을 이해하게 되는거죠. 일본에게 김구는 분명히 자국의 요인들을 암살하는 테러리스트이며 그러기에 당연하게 Kim Goo is a terrorist라고 일본인 역사가는 기술했을테고 영국인 교수는 그렇게 이해하게 되는 겁니다.

문제는 김구선생의 독립운동 활동내역이 소개된 책자 아니 팜플렛이라도 영어 또는 다른 언어로 찍어낸 적이 있을까요? 외국인의 입장에서 김구선생이 어떻게 활동을 했는지 알기가 힘듭니다…일본의 민간인들에 대해선 손가락 하나 안 건드신 김구선생의 숭고한 정신 같은걸 대체 어디서 찾아보라는 말입니까?

그 외국인 교수만 탓할게 못됩니다. 그런 외국 학자는 널리고 널렸습니다. 이를 방관한 우리에게도 어느 정도 책임이 있는겁니다.

We Koreans made Kim Gu a terrorist.

…All of you just stick to the negative nuance that the word terrorist has. On the other hand, many people pointed out that the definition of terrorist is different depending on the period and by the countries.

I think that we should look at this issue from another perspective…

Scholars majoring in East Asia rarely focus on Korea history, compared to China and Japan. Of course they’re stronger nations and historically important… but most of all, historical materials about Korea are rare.

In order to study Korean history, they should learn the Korean language first, but the language is not so easy to learn and most of them don’t major in the language. Therefore, they lean on books in their own languages. English.

Then who publishes those books in English? Foreigners who have lived in Korea for a long time? Of course some of them are like that. But most books are from Japan.

Japanese historians with their own historical perspectives, they introduce Korea to Europe and America. Check foreign libraries for how many history books about Korea they have! You will understand compared to books of China and Japan, the quantity and quality of books about Korea are nothing. Do you think that Japanese historians would criticize their imperialism history? Of course, they will justify the history in their own perspectives and interpret other sides bad.

The professor could understand Korea through history books that Japan and China published. To Japan, Kim Gu is a terrorist who killed their people and therefore it is understandable why the professor thinks ‘Kim Gu is a terrorist…’

The problem is have we tried to make books or brochures about what Kim Gu did for the independence of Korea in English? It is impossible for foreigners to understand his activities… How could they know Kim Gu’s motto was not to touch even the fingers of Japanese civilians?

…We shouldn’t criticize the foreign professor. He wouldn’t be the only one. It’s our fault to have looked on with this issue…

2 comments

  • […] Korea: Definitions of Terrorism Published August 15th, 2007 Korea , Politics , Blogosphere When a foreign professor teaching in Seoul referred to two famous Korean patriots as “terrorists” last month, he sparked an angry outcry from students and a heated discussion on the blogosphere – via Global Voices Online. […]

  • I think it’s a difference of the perspective in
    the “Definition of Terrorism”
    You can take a look at this page.
    http://www.hani.co.kr/section-021109000/2007/04/021109000200704120655080.html
    Even a left-political person who studied Korea has a
    simple question about the action of Kim Gu.
    “Why didn’t they aplogize about their faults
    while they worked for a liberation of Korea?”

    I expect your response.
    (As you know, my English skill is not that strong)

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