Korea: Threatening Books and Their Popularity

Several days ago, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) in Korea categorized 23 books as threatening books and decided to forbid those books in libraries in the army units because they could ruin soldiers’ minds. Since the announcement, it led to an interesting reaction – sales of those books have been increasing fast among common people. For example, one of the books that was sold 9-10 copies per day is selling 50 times more per day at present. What the MND did seems to lead more attention to those books from ordinary people as well as from soldiers and to encourage more people to read them. A smart online bookshop uses this chance on behalf of its marketing. Netizens’ reactions are below.

A netizen emphasizes what this consequence proves.

국방부는 불온서적으로 규정하는데, 알라딘에서는 잘 팔린다는 말이 들립니다. 경영 경제서만 읽었더니, 도무지 아래에 있는 책은 단 한권도 읽지 않았군요. 금서라는 개념이 아직도 존재한다는 것 자체가 아직은 우리의 체제가 불완전하다는 것에 대한 반증이 되어 버리는 역설을 국방부 담당자가 알고 계시는지 모르겠습니다. 물론, 군대는 국가를 지키는 최후의 보루인만큼 사회와 동일하게 모든 권리가 인정되기는 어려울 것입니다. 명령과 지휘 계통이 엄격하게 서야만 유사시에 군대가 일사불란하게 움직이고 통제되겠지요. 하지만, 우리 젊은이들의 생각에 대한 이해를 배격하고, 무조건적인 명령과 복종을 요구하는 것은 요즘 젊은 세대의 감수성과는 잘 맞지 않을 것 같습니다. 여하간, 덕분에 오히려 책이 많이 팔려 버리는 역효과를 거두었으니, 아이러니합니다.촛불시위도 지나고 보면, 경찰의 강력한 진압 이후엔 항상 더 많은 참여자가 발생하는 것처럼 억누르면 눌러지는 시대가 아니라, 합리적인 설득이 중요한 시대인 것 같습니다.

While the Ministry of National Defense stipulated them as threatening books, the books sell well in the online book shop, Aladdin. I have only read books about economics and business. So I didn’t read any of those books. Forbidden books still exist now. I don’t know whether the Ministry of National Defense knows this action rather shows that our system is still insecure. Of course, the army is the last stronghold in order to protect a country and therefore it is difficult to acknowledge that all rights in the army can exist the same as those in society. The army can be activated in perfect order and be controlled at any time as long as orders and directions are strictly obeyed. However, rejecting to try understanding our young people, and demanding unconditional orders and obedience don’t match with the sensibility of the young generation. Anyway, it rather led to the opposite effect from what the MND expected. It’s ironic. Looking back at candlelight vigils, after the forceful suppression from the police, more people participated. It is not the time of the suppression, but the time of logical persuasion.

Many netizens appreciate the MND and make jokes.

고맙다 국방부. 침체되어 있는 도서시장에 활력을 불어 넣은 국방부.[…]하지만 이번 불온서적 리스트에 들어가지 못한 <88만원 세대>의 저자 우석훈 박사는 “국방부의 금서 목록에 내 책이 들어가지 않은 것을 보고 이 시대착오의 세상에 너무 말랑말랑하게 쓴 것이 아닌가, 정말 마음 속 깊이 반성한다.”는 참회록을 보였다.

또한 진중권교수는 국방장관의 해명을 촉구하는 사태에 이르렀다. “제 책들이 국방부 선정 리스트에서 제외된 것은 도저히 납득할 수가 없네요. 국방부는 23권 선정 과정에서 출판사측과 검은 거래가 있었던 것은 아닌지, 도서 선정의 기준과 과정을 투명하게 공개해야 할 것입니다. 이참에 국방 장관께 묻겠습니다. ‘빨간 바이러스'라는 내책이 병영에 들어가 병사들의 정신세계를 감염시켜도 무방하다는 말입니까?” 라고

이에 온라인서점 알라딘에서는 아예 “2008 국방부 선정 불온서적 23선” (작명 센스 죽음) 이벤트까지 한다니, 촛불시위로 지친 국민들의 정신세계까지 채워주기 위해 고군분투하고 있는 고맙다, 국방부!

*********** 국방부가 선정한 올해의 도서 권장 목록 *******************

▲북한찬양 서적으로 < 지상에 숟가락 하나> 외에도 < 북한의 미사일 전략> < 북한의 우리식 문화> < 역사는 한번도 나를 비껴가지 않았다> < 왜 80이 20에게 지배당하는가?> < 북한의 경제발전 전략> < 통일 우리 민족의 마지막 블루오션> < 벗> < 미국이 진정으로 원하는 것은> < 대학시절> < 핵과 한반도> 등이 포함됐다.

▲반정부.반미 서적으로는 < 미군 범죄와 SOFA> < 소금 꽃나무> < 꽃 속에 피가 흐른다> <507년, 정복은 계속된다> < 우리 역사 이야기> < 나쁜 사마리아인들> < 김남주 평전> <21세기 철학이야기> < 대한민국 사> < 우리들의 하느님> 등이 들어있고,

▲반자본주의 서적엔 < 세계화의 덫> < 삼성왕국의 게릴라들>이 포함, 불온서적 ‘딱지’가 붙었다.

Thanks, MND. You vitalized book markets that have been depressed.[…] However, author, Dr. Woo Suk Hoon, who wrote <88 Manwon Generation> but whose book was not included in the list, expressed, “my book was not included in the list of the forbidden books of the Ministry of National Defense. I reflect on myself that I wrote my book mildly with anachronism.

In addition, professor, Jin Joong Kwon asked for an explanation from the Minister of National Defense. “I don’t understand why my books were excluded from the list. I would like to know whether there were some bribes between the MND and publishers in the process of selecting 23 books. I demand them to clearly publicize the criteria and process how those books were chosen. I would like to ask the Minister of National Defense, “So you don’t care that my book, ‘Red Virus’ might ruin soldiers’ mentalities.”

What is more, an online bookshop, Aladdin made a special event, “23 threatening books that the Ministry of National Defense recommends, 2008” Thanks to the MND to even be concerned about what peoples should read!

***********Books that the MND recommended for this year (Editor: Some books exist in Korean and therefore English titles here are translated literally)***********

▲As books to praise North Korea: [North Korea’s Missile Strategy] [Our Culture, North Korea] [History never evaded me] [Why is 80% controlled by 20%?] [Economic Development Strategy of North Korea] [Reunification, the Last Blue Ocean of Our Peoples] [Friends] [What Uncle Sam Really Wants] [In College Period] [Nuclear and Korean Peninsula]

▲As books to be against the USA and the Government: [American Solders’ Crimes and SOFA] [Salt Flower Tree] [There is blood inside flowers] [Year 501, The Conquest Continues] [History of the Republic of Korea] [Our history] [Bad Samaritans] [Our God] [Kim Nam Joo Biography] [Philosophy in the 21st Century]

▲As books to be against Capitalism: [The Global Trap] [Guerillas of the Samsung Kingdom]

A netizen compares the strategy of the MND with that of the online bookshop.

패배의 국방부, 승리의 알라딘

며칠 전에, 대한민국 국방부는 병사들이 읽으면 대략 곤란하겠다 싶은 책 23권을 불온도서로 지정했다. 불온의 코드는 대충 1. 반정부•반미, 2. 반자본주의, 3. 북한 찬양. 문제는 그 불온서적이라는 것들에 대한 기준에 대한 국방부의 상식과 네티즌들의 상식이 일부 책들에 한해 크게 다르다는 것이었다!! 넷심에 힘입어 이너넷 서점 알라딘은 무려 ‘2008 국방부 선정 불온서적 23선 공개’ 이벤트를 벌였고, 이후 ‘불온서적'들의 매출은 잘 나가는 책의 경우 무려 10배까지 치솟았다. 국방부는 대변인을 통해, “군 당국이 지정한 23권의 서적에 대해 불온서적이라기 보다는 장병 정신 교육에 부적합한 서적이라고 불리는 게 맞다”, “일부 도서에 대해선 다른 시각이 있을 수 있다는 점을 인정하고, 만약 과도한 부분이 있다면 재검토 할 것”…이라고 해명에 나섰지만, 불온서적 개념 자체를 접을 뜻은 없음을 밝혔다.[…] 진짜 불온이라고 찍힐만한 것들도 있고, (내가 몰라서) 제목만 봐서는 아리까리한 것도 있고 그렇다.[…]

Loser, the MND and Winner, Aladdin!!!

Several days ago, the MND selected 23 books as threatening ones that could cause some distracting thoughts to soldiers in military service. They are categorized as 1. The anti-government and anti-USA 2. Anti-Capitalism 3. Praising North Korea. The problem is that the criteria of the MND and netizens about what books are threatening are very different!! Believing netizens’ power, an internet bookshop, Aladdin, started an event and the sale of those books has increased to more than 10 times at usual times. The spokesperson in the MND said, “About those 23 books that the MND appointed, rather than being called threatening books, they should be called inappropriate books for giving soldiers mental training,” and “We understand that there could be different perspectives about some books. Therefore, we will reconsider some of them.”[…] There are some books that could be named threatening books, but other books that made me confused.[…]

Advertisement of Aladdin, “23 Threatening Books that the MND selected in 2008″

Not a few netizens are excited in spending their summer vacation and weekends with these books.

국방부에서 참 좋은 책들을 추천해주셨다고 여기저기 칭찬이 자자하더랍니다. 알라딘서점에서는 마침 좋은 행사도 열었더군요. 전 부끄럽게도 위의 목록 중 4권밖에 읽어보지 못했답니다.노암 촘스키의 책은 저도 참 좋아하는데, 국방부에서도 그분을 좋아하나봐요. 그분의 책을 두 권이나 추천해주셨잖아요. 다른 책들도 분발해서 읽어보아야겠어요.[…] 책읽는 사회를 가꾸어나가려는 국방부 여러분들께 다시한번 감사드립니다.다음번에도 좋은 책들 많이많이 추천해주세요.

There are so many appraisals that the MND recommended really good books this time. Aladdin even opened a nice event as well. Shame on me, I just read four books of 23. I love Noam Chomsky’s books. It seems that the MND loves his books as well. He had the honor of having two of his books recommended. I should start reading other books too[…] Making this society read books, you the MND, I appreciate again. Next time, please recommend many many nicer books.

“I love threatening books” netizen, nooe’s drawing on his blog.


  • Hey, all praise to the Koreans… but if they want everyone to love america so much, they should understand that the united states was put together based on a few principles, like FREEDOM OF SPEECH. I also am very disappointed that american novelists are not included, because all four of my books deserve a place. In fact, I am going to boycott all toothpicks from South Korea until I am informed that I, too, have been placed on that damn list!!! Hey, I write about military intelligence based on a degree and extensive interviews with veterens and spies… and THOUGH I LOVE MY COUNTRY and all that, everyone can grow from criticism. I had the same editor once for fifteen years, and since we were sleeping together I couldn’t throw a fit when she said I was wrong about something. I had to think about it, discuss it like an adult, and take the best course, whether it was the one I originally thought was right or not.

    When countries begin to distrust their soldiers like this, something else is lost… You have to wonder if they are just worried that it will mess with the brain washing that frequently destroys armies and individualism as well; the norm of the military is to make everything black and white, but this is a new world with the net, and even soldiers are waking up to the fact that they have a fundamental right to thinki for themselves.

  • Wow, that is great! I think governments will never learn that banning art just makes it more popular!

  • […] Hye-jin of Globalvoicesonline.org has an interesting report on an attempt at censoring books that seems to have backfired: the Ministry of National Defense […]

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