Attached to this post is Monica Felton's text "What I Saw in Korea", a pamphlet that recounts her trip with the Women's International Democratic Federation to North Korea in 1951. It was her goal at the time to visit South Korea also, but this wasn't allowed. As well, as Alan's pamphlet there is much to be gained from this text when considering the relentless bombing campaign waged by the US Air force in Pyongyang and elsewhere.
There is also much on war crimes in the North in places like Anak and Sincheon, the last of which is the site of a controversial museum in modern day North Korea.
One thing that has always struck me about this valley in Daejeon is the way the story always finds itself either expressed in, or involved with, poetry in both its private and public manifestations. As someone who has spent the last twenty years thinking of poetry as one way to foster an engagement -or different attention - to the world surrounding us I find this encouraging. It is something that I recognize perhaps, among so many experiences that I can only fail to come to terms with otherwise.
There is much to be written - and there will be shortly on this site - about the poet Jeon Sukja for whom poetry is a form of catharsis, or an extremely private and confessional way of dealing with what happened to her Father. Her story reveals one of these "untranslatable" experiences, and to see it written down and performed (always saturated with the pain of these memories) provides us with a unique and moving record of what continued to happen at this place long after fighting in the Korean War came to an end.
But there are also many public expressions of poetry here initiated by the Daejeon Writers Group who I was extremely privileged to accompany to a conference on the Jeju 4.3 incident a couple of years ago. At this time of year the whole valley is usually covered in poetry banners in different colours, expressing what this history means to these writers and how it connects to other more recent historical events in South Korea.
At Saturday's memorial I met the poet Park Soyoung for the second time who gave me a reading of her poem. I took my picture with her and talked about future collaborations with poets in the UK because of the Winnington connection. I hope that something meaningful can be arranged in the future.
Read the background to these posts here
In this post I want to deal simply with the facts of the Daejeon massacre, and Winnington’s report nearly seventy years ago. As much as these statistics are upsetting, I believe this post to be necessary as there is such limited information out there. There is an old CBS article on this by Charles Hanley and Jae Soon Chang, which can be viewed here. For background, there is much research by Gavan McCormack and Bruce Cumings also. But in this post I want to explain more about Winnington’s specific role in all this, which is often reduced to just a footnote.
In the course of “I Saw the Truth in Korea” Winnington put the figure of those killed in Daejeon at 7,000. This is the highest figure available, and stands in contrast to a figure of 1,800 that relies solely on leaked American sources. Winnington’s figure is much higher because he claims that throughout the month of July (war broke out on 25th June) a single valley in Daejeon was used as a mass grave for political prisoners. This wasn’t a spontaneous event. It was a calculated slaughter planned with full access to governmental bureaucracy, and practiced with the utmost military efficiency. After the Northern advance Daejeon was made a temporary administrative centre, so that is perhaps why this location was chosen. In this post I want to consider Alan’s report in the context of the time, and then write a little bit about the site today. This will also involve a reminder of a few sources Winnington discovered during the initial stages of the war rarely discussed in the present.
To consider Alan’s reporting it might be best to step back for a minute and put ourselves in his shoes at the precise time of writing. There is actually a journal available that details Alan’s journey from Seoul to Daejeon (hereafter “Taichun” as he phonetically transposes it) where there is unpublished information about what he witnessed. This is a full itinerary, including attempts to amass as much information as possible. For instance, in the file of notes are a series of (unanswered) questions to Kim Il Sung including one on “atrocities”. Winnington’s brief was to examine places like the West Gate Prison in Seoul for evidence of torture, but also assess reports of war crimes carried out under American supervision. There were plenty of these, and his notebooks contain references to what he witnessed. But the notebooks are also interesting because they start with the aim of documenting not just “atrocities” but “heroes” on the North Korean side. It is clear at the end of this documenting however that no “heroes” are to be found. In fact, not a single “hero” is even isolated for the purposes of praise, except for Korean civilians going about their daily lives in the midst of the fighting. The journal is most interesting not for its jingoism, then, but the account it gives of ordinary people's suffering. These observations are incredibly important and remain some of the only ones in English extant from the war.
It is possible to see from the image below the amount of massacres of non-military personnel that took place at this time:
This is basically an entire territory of internecine murder and reprisals. If there is a single "truth” of what happened when Winnington first set foot in South Korea then this is as close as it gets. Some were massacres of those deemed to be pro-Japanese or “collaborators” by those on the left, but they genuinely pale in comparison to the state-sanctioned slaughter initiated from the top levels of command by Rhee Synghman. These "state sanctioned" massacres are most evident in Daejeon, which is why the Peace Park is to be built here in the future. Of these massacres initiated by the South Korean state (and this is a figure that will always have to contain an element of guesswork) Alan came close to the "unfinished" work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in his own estimations:
“This was only one of the massacres carried out at American instructions. Every town, even every village has its murdered democrats to mourn. The lowest estimate puts the number of dead political prisoners at 200,000 since June 25th, but the figure may be as high as 400,000”
Kim Dong Choon - one of the commissioners for the original Truth And Reconciliation Commission - put the figure at 100,000 - 200,000 people, whilst admitting there are others who believe it to be in the range of 300,000 or more. This is quite incredible accuracy on Winnington's part, and shows the consistency of his journalism. One place Alan often came unstuck was when he had to consider the complicated issue of American Involvement, something I will cover in much more detail later on. Alan makes the assumption above that the massacres were completed under “American instruction”. Given what is known today 'supervision’ or “observation” might be more appropriate terms. But documents Winnington recovered from Seoul after the Americans left in haste made it possible for him to put two and two together. This was a brutality the United States Army (specifically, their fledgling Korean Military Advisory Group or KMAG) allowed to take place. Whatever bespoke terminology is used it is clear nothing was done to curtail this slaughter whatsoever.
The details are completely shocking, and even if the numbers are impossible to confirm, they serve to give a true awareness of the climate of fear permeating the early days of the war. People in Korea would have heard these figures by word of mouth, and I cannot even imagine the sense of injustice and fear they must have created at the time. At Incheon Alan writes of 1,000 prisoners simply having their hands and feet bound and being thrown into the sea. At Suwon he writes of a cave about 3km away where 260 people had been shot and buried. He actually includes a vivid description of this scene I will intentionally leave out. These are just endless tallies of the dead essentially, and the state in which Winnington and the KPA found them. It must be remembered that nobody in Korea was able to talk about what happened for 50 years or more, even if the killings existed as some kind of “folk knowledge” in the interim.
This is why Alan’s account of Daejeon is so important. It is the only complete picture of what happened here that remains after a cover up and the failure of the English or American authorities to investigate the truth. But his words must not be removed from the context in which they originally emerged, neither should they be treated with the automatic contempt and dismissal of those seeking a rerun of the Cold War. This is something I can sense in the toxicity of international relations as I write these words, and makes the need to objectively engage with this history of paramount importance. So, instead, merely picture the scene……
Alan arrives in “Taichun” at 2am, the city is utterly demolished with American B52s pounding the ruins. The remnants of South Korean troops have taken to the safety of the mountains, reduced to “bandits” as Alan calls them. This will have included General Dean, the highest ranking soldier in Daejeon at that time. Things are genuinely bleak. Daejeon is a city in name only, just piles of rubble where houses should be. “They tell us nothing can move on the road to Seoul during the day time now” Alan writes in his journal on arrival. Then in the morning – after sheltering in one of the only remaining houses left standing at the edge of the city – he is taken to the massacre site in Daejeon. What happens next is covered in great detail in the pamphlet itself. But what isn’t explained is how local people reacted to his visit. In the journal there is a smaller piece of paper that contains all the notes. Spilt into three sections these give us most of the information that eventually went into the pamphlet. It seems that Alan was getting most of his news from local partisans and people in the village of Rangwul by the site itself. The main details are explained to him by the partisans, but then Alan also investigated the scene – “pacing the pits” as he calls it – and speaking to local villagers via his interpreter. It seems that the final section of notes where he spoke to the villagers was a bit overwhelming. His handwriting becomes rushed at this point, like he has nowhere to rest his pen and paper. Most likely there are facts and figures flying at him from every direction. “Families were rounded up and killed”, Alan writes in shorthand of one villagers reflections, “Some tried escape. One succeeded. Others shot”. He puts an asterisk next to the line reading “US officers supervising”. But overall it is far too much information for anyone to process. It might be worth mentioning that as well as the trauma inherent from simply being in Daejeon at that time, Winnington suffered in later life as a result of these experiences. The search for heroes was to be quest that ended in failure almost as soon as he put pen to paper.
Alan’s account may be controversial given its proximity to North Korean narratives at the time, but it remains the only attempt to cover what happened. Quite honestly I think that the opposing side knew he wouldn’t be believed, so they simply ignored his assertions and chose to deal with them via a series of omissions and exaggerations that created an entirely separate narrative. But before we deal with this it would be wise to look at Winnington’s account of events. I have decided to reproduce these in table form, so that what was originally reported on can be seen as clearly as possible. After his visit to the site in Daejeon Winnington published the following account of what happened in that valley in July 1950. It must be noted that the final three days were left out of the information in the pamphlet, because there wasn't much substantial information to impart other than it was "heard.... single truckloads of prisoners were being taken in':
These bleak statistics are mostly gained from witnesses at Rangwul village who lived by the massacre site and were forced to dig the pits and stamp dirt down on the bodies afterwards. I have much more to say about Alan’s journalism, but for now it is best to let this table stand as starkly as possible. To this day Alan’s account is the only testimony to this tragedy, other than that gained from leaked documents I will cover in the next post. It is a sound bit of journalism rather than being the “atrocity fabrication” it was claimed to be by politicians in London and Washington at the time. As can be seen the figure stands at 6,700 without even taking into account the final days of July when prisoners were still being driven to the valley to be killed. As war approached the vicinity of Daejeon we can see that less information becomes available. It seems that the chaos of the approaching KPA made observations more difficult.
The following picture (again, from the Newstapa documentary) is the clearest image I have with me of how the site looks today.
At the moment there have been only 52 bodies recovered in Daejeon even after two separate excavations in 2007 and 2015 respectively. This is for many complicated reasons. But for now it is enough to say that there will be many more attempts to recover the bodies of those missing. This is being done purely through witness testimony - much like Alan's own - and a combination of ultrasound tests above ground which will hopefully be followed by excavations in September. The last I heard it costs over 100,000 KRW (currently around 83 US Dollars) to retrieve even one set of remains. Also, in some places in the valley these excavations are impossible due to changes in topography and development. This is the first time this has been attempted whole scale, and it is no small task. But it must be done before the Peace Museum is completed and is in the very capable hands of Park Sun Joo, the anthropologist who has dedicated much of his free time to finding out the truth of the Korean War. I hope to include an interview with Mr Park on this website sometime in September, where we can finally get a more accurate sense of what is happening. Sometimes it seems hard to explain that this isn't an historical problem we can resign to the past, as much as a phenomenon very much rooted in the present. It was my good friend Yoonyoung who used the word "fatigue" to describe her feelings about this place back in 2018. This term sticks for me because it conjures up the sense of an endless battle for recognition, manifest in a decades long appeal for justice still underway. It is hoped that by sensitively dealing with sites like this in the future another English word - "healing" - might take its place.
But for this to be achieved there is much to be clarified about Winnington's original report. In the picture it is possible to see three separate massacre sites that would correspond to the information given by Winnington in his pamphlet. The figures on the right are those worked out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2010, before its activities were halted by the Lee Myung Bak administration. They are slightly different to Alan's in terms of the figures, but also in how they state the massacres began at the end of June. Regardless they give a very accurate account of what could be found there. The prolonged wait of ten years to continue the investigations has complicated things further, but it is worth stating that their extremely professional assessment of the valley is close to Winnington’s own. Actually, in Im Jae Guen’s Korean language book on this history from 2015 he identifies eight separate massacre sites in the valley. These consist of the three main ones covered by Winnington and others that were most likely identified from witness accounts given at the time of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Actually, the 2007 excavation was one of these identified by Im Jae Guen, and it is horrifying to think that there are at least four more of these at various points in the valley. But this is the scale of what needs to be dealt with here before something like the “truth” of what happened can officially be made public. There is a new sign at the massacre site as from June this year that gives the figure of those killed as somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 people. As much as this wrangling over statistics seems ultimately futile it has to be attempted for the historical record. One thing I have recently learned is that - as can be seen depicted on the sign below - massacres are known to have continued at this place until 1951. This reflects what happened in the Korean War when territory changed hands a number of times, and is indicative of a continuing pattern of reprisals throughout the conflict. As will be seen later on, this timeline can now be stretched even further back (thanks to information in the Winnington archive) to 1949 before the beginning of war proper. This is a developing situation, and I expect more information to come out shortly.
But it might be wise to say a few more things about progress at the three main sites Winnington uncovered. The first (labelled number 1 on the Newstapa image) is where the journalist most likely stood with his camera in August 1950, whereas the other two (labelled 2 and 3) represent the massacres that occurred later in July. At site number one there is a church built over the end of one of the pits, and it is likely that some of the remains were found during the period of construction, but had to remain unreported thanks to the suppression of information. Likewise at site two (the longest of the trenches) there was a road built at some point in the Sixties that could well of obscured the remains under asphalt, or the dictatorship of the time could have disposed of them during construction. This could possibly be confirmed by further excavations, because when a test pit was attempted in the past no bones were found but there was much "material" (ie buttons, glasses, personal items and clothing). In the same sense trench number three has been actively ploughed and farmed land since after the war. There are also multiple other issues to do with land ownership and local politics that make complexity a byword for the entire project. The picture below – showing the memorial stone erected in 2010 – gives a sense of some of the animosity and resistance with which this project has been subjected to by local residents in the past:
As is perfectly visible, the stone carries a series of chips on the surface that are said to result from protesting landowners five or six years ago. This animosity may have evaporated now because of compulsory land purchases by the central government, but it stands as testament to how fractious and bitter this history remains. Apart from a few moments in history – of which the current moment is hopefully one – this has generally been something not to speak about in anything other than a whisper. I hope to do justice to some of these experiences in a later post on the poet Jeon Suk Ja, who has published much on the Daejeon Massacre and how it affected her directly.
But this is not to say that Alan’s journalism starts and ends with just this one report. There are also bits and pieces missing from this story that have largely been forgotten as the cold war progressed for the next forty years or more. One of these concerns a memorandum seized from Seoul by the People’s Army after the American retreat, that shows that the CIC (Counter Intelligence Corps) were supervising these killings as far back as 1949. Alan actually sent a telegram to his Peking office about this communication, and said he was trying to “get a Photostat”. This may have happened, because I found a copy of this memorandum at the Marx Memorial Library when I visited in 2018. For some reason it seems to have been omitted from the narrative in the west, or simply forgotten about. It is even alluded to in the pamphlet itself. These are very important documents, contributing to a narrative on the Korean War that is incredibly damning for the US and its allies. Actually, in Winnington’s notes from the time, it was stated to him by “Han Chung Suk” (a leader of the local militia) that people had been killed in this Daejeon valley (to use Winnington’s words “on the same spot”) since 1949. These are thought to be prisoners from the Yeosu and Suncheon resistance that year, and may have included other prisoners from the Jeju Uprising (more delicated phrased as the 4.3 incident) in process since 1948. It is this kind of information that will be incredibly important in the search for truth at Daejeon in the future. This is a process started with Winnington’s bold assertion in his pamphlet nearly seventy years ago, and will only end with the investigations these blog posts are an intrinsic part of.
There is excellent background to all of this in Bruce Cumings text The Korean War (2010), but also in Gavan MacCormack’s book Target North Korea (2004). MacCormack’s attempt to piece together what happened via accounts from servicemen at the time is particularly interesting, whereas Cuming’s section on the Daejeon Massacre provides more focus.
 I will talk about these documents briefly at the end of this blog post. But specifically I am referring to a telegram sent by Winnington to Peking before he arrived in Daejeon, and some recovered Counter Intelligence Corps documents about executions committed under American supervision.
 Actually we now know that this was a popular method of execution used by the police at this time. You can see in the following video a memorial ceremony taking place on a boat this year for people who know that their relatives were dumped in the sea at Changwon:
The bodies in these instances were never found. This happened especially in the far south of the peninsula in townships surrounding Busan.
Over the next couple of years I will be working for the local government in Daejeon in order to research the Daejeon Massacre before the building of a Peace Park here in 2024. Given the current state of the global pandemic this is proving more difficult than expected, but the goal is to have an International Conference in Daejeon at the end of this year, as well as a variety of other events that I aim to remind people of sporadically. Please get in touch if you would like to contact me about Winnington or the site in Daejeon where new information is emerging on an almost daily basis.
But what is desperately needed before any of this can happen is a clear sense of what actually happened here in the Korean War. We have very little information, and some of the sources that we do have are a little bit wanting. This is why Shim Kyu Sang and myself have dedicated the next few years to subjecting this matter to as much public scrutiny as possible. Mr Shim with the documents that exist in South Korea, and myself with neglected accounts like Winnington's that have recently come to light. Last month the Korean government passed a bill that called for the investigation of historical crimes on this peninsula, which should hopefully make our work a little easier.
The previous post was meant to be the first step towards a reappraisal and contextualization of Alan Winnington's 70 year old text "I Saw the Truth in Korea". It will hopefully be one of many. In this post i have included the pamphlet itself. Further posts will give information on the history of its production, as well as how things will be progressing on site in the future. Given that most people in England and America seem completely unaware of these events, I hope that they can be a primer for those who have yet to appreciate how significant this history - and its exclusion from most people's thinking - still remains.
The provisional title for these posts is "What is News", because this was the title of Alan's lectures on journalism in Maoist China. Actually, it was these lectures that saw him fall foul of the Chinese authorities, and led to his eventual move to East Berlin. This is part of a much-needed context I am aiming to build around Winnington's journalism, and will be the focus of later study.
Read the background to these posts here
In September 1950 Alan Winnington published his pamphlet “I Saw The Truth in Korea”. This brief text was meant to give more context and detail to a newspaper report in the Daily Worker called “US Belsen in Korea” from August that same year. This article stood out at the time because it made connections between atrocities committed by the newly formed South Korean government and those of the Nazis in the Second World War. With WW2 still raw in the minds of most people, the controversial nature of this pamphlet cannot be overstated. This was clear at the time of publication, but has now been muffled in the general malaise of claim and counter claim still offensively termed “The Forgotten War”. The initial newspaper article had caused much controversy in the United Kingdom where thousands of people took to the streets in protest. Plenty of evidence can be seen of this in old copies of the Daily Worker. That is why the tone was so unforgiving. It was an attempt to cement these horrors even more in the minds of a public primed a month previously. Moreover, it was a chance to publish a series of pictures taken at the site of the Daejeon Massacre that had been missing from the original telegraphed report. These words, and photos, would become increasingly important to the narrative of what happened in Daejeon as time progressed.
But the pamphlet was also written at something of a turning point in the Korean War itself. In the same month as the publication of Alan’s pamphlet MacArthur would launch his successful attempt to turn the tide of the North Korean advance at Incheon. Before this the People’s Army – whose columns Alan crept in at nightfall protected from dive-bombing Mustangs – had been on the ascendency. This would eventually have consequences for the site of the Daejeon Massacre, as I will explain in more detail later on. But it also marked a turning point for press freedom during the Korean War as a whole. According to Hwang Sukyoung in her text Korea’s Grievous War there was a censorship throughout the war that became more established as it progressed. This began with “unofficial censorship” and morphed into “official” attempts at censorship in January 1951. As the only relatively independent journalist in South Korea at this time, the territory would be back in American hands before long. There is much that Alan observed in this interregnum that is yet to become public knowledge. But it is safe to say that “I Saw The Truth in Korea” was the final attempt to report truthfully on what was happening in the South. It must be remembered that when Monica Felton’s team observed the aftermath of war crimes in North Korea, they were never allowed to even set foot anywhere below the 38th parallel. Apart from drips of information and rumour, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest that Alan’s pamphlet was one of the last reports to emerge from that arena without the redaction's dictated by Army Command.
The site of the Daejeon Massacre is something uniquely disturbing mainly because of the raw accumulation of evidence Winnington was able to carry out. It is the only place during the war where that kind of meticulous journalism on war crimes was possible before the shutters came down, or a universal narrative of “anti communism” began to be set in place. Alan writes with a documentary clarity sometimes, as if he is aware of what a small window this is. It is as if he hopes that his descriptions of scene, and topography, will allow us to pinpoint the location at a later date:
Try to imagine the Rangwul valley, about five miles southeast of Taejeon on the Yongdong road. Hills rise sharply from a level floor about 100 yards across and a quarter of a mile long. In the middle you can walk safely, though your shoes may roll on American cartridge cases, but at the sides you must be careful for the rest of the valley is a thin crust of earth covering corpses of more than 7,000 men and women. One of the party with me stepped through nearly to his hip in rotting human tissue. Every few feet there is a fissure in the topsoil through which you can see into a gradually sinking mass of flesh and bone. The smell is something tangible that seeps into your throat. For days after I could taste the smell. All along the great death pits, waxy dead hands and feet, knees, elbows twisted faces and heads burst open by bullets, stick through the soil.
For the same reason the pamphlet also carried with it a series of pictures that are still awful to come to terms with seventy years later. Apart from damning images released by the US military in 1999 that revealed the Daejeon Massacre in process (something I will cover shortly), they remain the only visual evidence of the scene after the event itself. There are four pictures in all. The three on page seven are grisly evidence of what happens to bodies in the punishing heat of a Korean Summer and can be easily found at the following link where I have uploaded Alan’s pamphlet in full. But it is the first – on page five – that remain the most useful. As can be seen in video taken at the site for a Newstapa documentary in 2015, the contours of the place in which Alan observed this scene can be delineated in the much later image where the location of the pits is being pointed to by a witness who had dug them in 1950.
Read post two on Alan Winnington and the Daejeon Massacre here
The following posts are my first attempt to explain the work I have become involved in in South Korea. This is a project I have been part of for over three years now, but it is only at this point that I feel confident enough to speak of it as someone who knows “the facts”. As the constantly-reoccurring Tory government in the UK makes the possibility of an eventual home-coming increasingly unlikely it is about time I threw my full energy and commitment towards exploring and uncovering the reality of what happened here.
Over the last few years my hometown has been Daejeon, South Korea. Whilst living here I have become heavily involved in truth-seeking work at a place where it is said 7,000 people were murdered by their own government with American supervision at the beginning of the Korean War in 1950. I will explain more about this in my next post, but for now it should be understood that this is an absolutely devastating event in Korean history that it is almost impossible to explain the gravity of to those on the outside. There are few historical parallels that can be adequately talked about in the west outside of World War Two anyway. The historian Bruce Cumings has rightly pointed to how little is known about this massacre when compared to something like Screbrinica in Bosnia. But as someone living in the vicinity it has been my goal over the past three years to find out everything I can. This is because I am adamant that it concerns not just Korea but the entire world. These tragedies result from the same mendacity by politicians, from the same warmongering and apathy, wherever they take place. That is why the more that is found out here - and we still know very little - the more I am drawn into the difficult process of discovering the truth.
Let’s start with what facts there are. These are curious for me because they are at once local and global in affect. What happened here was witnessed by the English journalist Alan Winnington in his pamphlet “I Saw The Truth in Korea”. The shock waves accompanying this history extend way beyond what is immediately visible at this one place.In our recent film on this subject at Ahim Media this is clearly visible. It is a story with no closure, an attempt at truth telling shrouded in propaganda from both sides. This is because Alan’s account was dismissed as an untrustworthy source. He was exiled from the UK for fourteen years and accused of “treason”. His sincere attempt at journalism struck from the record he lived the rest of his life in East Berlin. But his pamphlet has remained for the last seventy years successfully interred in antique left wing bookshops. It’s value not in the words on the page, but a kind of ‘Communist kitsch” torn from context and unaware of the pain still existing half way across the world.
But this is no longer the case. Alan has has now been front page news in South Korea thanks to the joint efforts of our organization Ahim and the journalist Im Hyoin. What is important to understand is that Alan’s report is merely the tip of the iceberg. Monica Felton - councillor for West Pancras in London and a tireless campaigner for feminism and peace during the war - was another person on the left who tried to report on massacres at Sincheon in the North. This is the place that inspired Picasso to paint an extremely powerful picture around the same time (maybe he'd been reading Alan and Monica’s reports)! But she was also investigated by the UK authorities, expelled from the Labour Party and fired from the council, with phony charges of “treason” applied to her reporting much as it was with Winnington. Her pamphlet and book “Why I Went” is similar to Alan’s. Available in the same bookshops, divorced from the reality that has always existed on the ground in Korea.
For various reasons this censorship was particularly noticeable in the UK and much of it is covered in great detail within Ian McLaine's text "A Korean Conflict: The Tensions Between Britain and America" (2016). What is clear is that Winnington’s pamphlet was something that worried the state so much even mildly critical accounts of what was happening began to be censored in its wake. Apart from Monica Felton's later pamphlet, one of these instances concerns the famous UK journalist James Cameron, who wrote articles on the outbreak of war in Korea for the Picture Post. In a special edition Cameron and a photographer called Bert Hardy attempted to publish an article called “An Appeal to the UN” with images and text carefully arranged to favour neither side in the conflict. There were pictures of prisoners in Busan being treated terribly, but there were also pictures like this one of American troops in the North made to parade around dressed like Hitler with Stars and Stripes trailing behind them.
In his autobiography Cameron talks about the care with which he had written and edited this article before it was published, as well as the ways in which he tried to strip it of all emotion and just present the ‘facts’:
“Finally we agreed on a layout which in the circumstances was the most tactful and unsensational possible. We used only those pictures of the prisoners which would establish their dire condition without unnecessary shock; my article was written and re-written over and over again until it became almost bleak in its austerity”
The Times and The Telegraph newspaper in England had already written similar articles on the Korean War at this time. Even the conservative papers in the UK were critical of the brutality with which prisoners were being treated. ‘My article amounted to a vigorous plea that if our ally Dr Synghman Rhee saw fit to use methods of totalitarian oppression and cruelty’, Cameron explains in his autobiography, ‘it should not be done under a UN flag”. This issue of the Picture Post was never printed. The press was turned off before it could reach the public. It’s editor – Tom Hopkinson – had to leave the magazine after its Conservative owner Sir Edward Hulton feared he would be breaking the law. These pictures and opinion pieces were never actually published at all. Even though they are often used in discussions of the Korean War they are torn from any context and people seem largely unaware of their origin. The only reason they even exist today is once again because of the Daily Worker who leaked some of the pictures and published them under the headline “KOREA EXPOSURE SUPPRESSED – PICTURE POST EDITOR SACKED”.
The Picture Post was eventually taken out of circulation in England completely. It became a shadow of its former self, desperate to avoid any hint if opprobrium from the state. These images on the road to Gongju were also included in the suppressed version:
The picture above was one of a series quickly snapped by an Australian photographer as he passed by the scene at the beginning of the war. It's power rests in how it captures a moment that otherwise would be lost in time. Photographs like these speak a truth that needs no accompanying words and it is easy to see why the decision was made never to print them. In 2008 The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Korea used the photo above and witness accounts to find the exact place in which these people were so cruelly slaughtered. In South Korea there are likely many places like this that have since disappeared under apartment blocks, or simply have no living witnesses able to reconstruct the story of what went on. This doesn't even take into account the terror with which any surviving family members were subjected to under successive dictatorships. For a bold and compassionate look at this see Hwang Sukyoung's text "Korea's Grevious War" (2016).
It is important to know that these events did not exist in isolation and were deliberately suppressed. They were part of a series of state sanctioned killings - often referred to as the Bodo League Massacres - that took place all over Korea at the beginning of the war. These massacres peaked thanks to the brutality of the first South Korean President Synghman Rhee, but continued in a wave of revenge killings and cycles of violence until the end of the war. The Korean War may have ended in a stalemate, but the civilian toll suggests the complete opposite of a draw. From the killing of suspected communist prisoners at the beginning of the war, to the awful treatment of North Koreans after the Incheon Landings, the eventual death toll of civilians is 2,730,000 even when relying on the most conservative estimates. This includes deliberate strafing of refugee columns by aircraft, the endless bombing of cities, as well as the senseless massacres already covered above.
That is why I was so glad to find an archive of Alan Winnington’s notes and journals at Sheffield University earlier this year with the help of his eldest son Joe. Thanks to the mayor of Daejeon - Hwang In Ho’s - letter, we were able to visit and find some incredible primary sources about what happened at this time. The archive is still uncatalogued, so it was incredibly generous of the person in charge (Chris Loftus) to allow us access. The Winnington archive - from my own experience - will be able to provide much needed information that either refutes or backs up both first hand accounts and official versions of the narrative around these civilian deaths. Further to this on the seventieth anniversary of the Korean War critically evaluating these sources has the potential to genuinely contribute to research that will inform the curation of information and exhibitions in a peace park that will be built on the site that Winnington visited in 2023. This is why the search for truth is so necessary, even when on the ground in Daejeon it seems long overdue. The word repeated by those in charge of the museum project is an English one: "healing". All information can only add to this important goal.
I will be visiting Sheffield regularly in the future and hope even more of interest can be discovered. Read these three articles by the journalist Im Hyoin (In Korean) if you want to get a sense of our trip, including an excursion to Cable Street and Marx’s Grave at Highgate (both places associated with the beginning and end of the political journey of Winnington himself):
In 2019 our production company Ahim Media (with the help of the donations from Daejeon citizens) invited the widow of Alan Winnington (Esther Samson) to South Korea. In all of the posts that follow I think nothing speaks with more wisdom, conviction and clarity than the words of Esther herself who gave a short speech at the memorial where she held aloft Alan’s pamphlet (the subject of my next post) in a gesture of defiance that moved me greatly. It is to the Bereaved Families Association of Daejeon, Esther, her son Joe, and Alan's grandsons Thomas and Jonathon to whom I dedicate these series of posts on Korea. As time passes I am confident we will find out much more together.
A MEMORY OF ALAN WINNINGTON
I first met Alan in Beijing in 1949 when he was a foreign correspondent covering the civil war in China for his English Newspaper. I was his interpreter and assistant.
When the Korean war broke out in June 1950 he was sent by his paper to cover a war that he thought would be over in weeks. He stayed until in the end of the war in 1953 and on one of his rare visits back to recuperate from the dreadful conditions in Korea, we married.
He witnessed unspeakable horrors - indiscriminate bombing of innocent civilians, and the use of napalm dropped on the population. Alan described a five year old boy, his face and body horribly burnt, with no eyelids and his weeping mother saying “who will marry him”? not realizing her son would not survive. It affected Alan for the rest of his life and he could never get over the pain and misery he saw because of the war.
But the most horrifying description was when he visited the mass grave in Rangwul near Daejeon of thousands of intellectuals slaughtered by the authorities with bodies barely covered with soil. He wrote a pamphlet likening it to the Nazi slaughter in the concentration camps. His report of what he witnessed was suppressed by the warring parties and Alan was branded a traitor by the British Government, his passport confiscated and if he returned to Britain he would of faced charges of treason. Not a single British or American journalist paid a visit to Rangwul to investigate and Alan was exiled from his country for twenty years for exposing the truth.
He died in 1983 too late to realize his sacrifices for exposing the crimes against humanity had not been in vain and acknowledged by those thousands of intellectuals massacred by the warmongers.
In the first half of 2018 I was privileged to be involved in The Longest Tomb, the first documentary on genocide in Daejeon aided and abetted by the US military in 1950. We took the film to SOAS with Mr Lee and Ms Jeon at the end of May this year. Ms Jeon read two poems, which I then explained to the audience. There was also a lively discussion at the end of the event. I truly hope I can find a copy of Ms Jeon's reading to put on this site. I will add a link to this post if one emerges. In the meantime please watch the above film, another version of which we hope to premiere in the US (Washington DC) in 2019.
There is one review of the event on Tongil news in Korea (In Korean, obviously). Click the following link:
There is also a similar review of the Korean premiere here:
‘Redemption in Resistance’: Reassembling Knowledge in Scott Thurston’s Figure Detached, Figure Impermanent (2014)
‘Since therefore I also am how do I entreat thee to come into me, who could not be, unless thou were first in me” - St Augustine Confessions Book 1
In recent years two words have been foregrounded in Scott Thurston’s work: ‘knowledge’ and ‘reassembly’. ‘Reassembly’ was an intrinsic part of Reverses Heart’s Reassembly (2011), whereas ‘knowledge’ has always been pitched as something reliant on ‘an encounter’ with the other person (29). This isn’t ‘Knowledge as power’ (like in the ubiquitous proverb) then. As Steve Boyland notes in the blurb for Figure Detached, Figure Impermanent (2014) this volume works loosely in the kind of quest that engaged St Augustine and Dante. If I was to generate my own blurb for this pamphlet perhaps ‘a quest for knowledge with a difference’ would be appropriate. Whereas in St Augustine and Dante the ego was inextricably linked to this quest, in Thurstons pamphlet it is viewed with suspicion. ‘In the gap between me and I’, wrote Thurston in Reverses Hearts Reassembly, ‘you draw nearer’. The trope drawn upon in Thurston’s last major text was dance (initially Gabriel Roth’s Five Rhythms), seen as a metonymic process for how a transaction like this operates. Writing of this aspect of his work Frances Presley has explained how poetry and dance coalesce. This doesn’t mean drawing parallels between each activity, or aiming for sweeping generalizations of ‘sameness’, but measuring some facets of each that make creative aesthetic practice possible. ‘Both dance and poetry are not so much about learning a discipline’, wrote Presley in 2011, ‘but about finding the discipline of form which corresponds to your desires and needs’. Poetry and dance are not classical forms to be blindly repeated and perfected, but meaning-making strategies that stand out in their capacity to privilege protean states of interaction with the world. These strategies are, firstly, improvisatory, but also socially-orientated in their recognition that both writing and dance allow those engaged in these activities to approach a new framework of thinking. ‘The tension between intention to move and moving’, as Thurston writes in Reverses Heart’s Reassembly, ‘between dancing by yourself and with others’ (33). This is an interaction I will explore in some detail using Thurston’s text Figure Detached, Figure Impermanent (2014) describing what I think are his own ‘desires and needs’. This is a language-based excursion that will leave ‘theory’ by the wayside. The writing will speak, as it were, for and beyond itself.
Rather than being a text ensconced in some theory or other, this is a pamphlet that pays dividends for those who read it. Figure Detached, Figure Impermanent calls for our engagement with the other person, something that is surely part of the ‘message’. This means it does not lend itself to impositions, but a dialogic approach instead. This is because it starts from where the other texts left off. This is not a text to be picked up and read from cover to cover, but one to fall into at any point on a journey of self-discovery (where ‘self’ has been dutifully elided from the equation). Interestingly, the unnumbered pages of text point us in that direction. Nothing will be gained from what lies within if we expect the consistency of tone and voice associated with more traditional narratives. ‘Draw your efforts towards the spectacle of the line’ writes Thurston early on, ‘noting the lessons of the fowl on the land, on the water, and in the air’. Making the most of work like this involves a variety of strategies involving careful listening and attention. Edification comes not in a revelatory ‘knowledge stream’, but a consistent engagement with a language buzzing with signs of life. ‘The fowl’, after all, ‘uses different parts of its body on its own journey through space and time. The reader must be prepared to encounter the text in a similar way. Whatever we ‘know’ becomes immediately insignificant next to what another person can teach us. ‘Redemption in resistance’, writes Thurston, ‘to knowing what’? The problem always comes back to our vainglorious refusal to pay attention. All forms of knowledge, in this sense, are seen as exclusionary narratives that of necessity elide different modes of attention that should be in dialogue with each other. Rather than looking for a ‘correct path’ through the text the goal is to recognize knowledge itself as something permanently in flux. An ever-shifting nucleus of ideas, that even when they encounter resistance, must remain in constant dialogue with exteriority.
Knowledge is not generated in Thurston’s text by the heroism of an individual choosing the ‘right path’ but by a more fluid attention to complexity. ‘Is a flung headlong youth’s assertion of thundering drums what breaks the bowl’, is the question posed at the very beginning of the poem, which is immediately followed by the phrase ‘let it go’ as well as more references to being ‘reassembled’. This is a ‘quest’ that must be repeated ‘over and over’. We are not involved in reading so that we can ascend to position of dominance, but as part of a continual process of knowledge acquisition instead. In that sense I am in interested in two words that appear in the initial stages of the poem. The first of these is ‘flow’. This draws my attention because it suggests the flux and change implicit in images of water, but also a sense of ‘creative flow’ or that psychological state in which creative work is said to happen. As the second isolated portion of text states:
A series of trials set up like an island in a river – noticing where a current is viable even in concealment. A perfect will turns like a needle as a thread of disgust stitched through every day starts to come undone. You slip into the stream.
Trials in Figure Detached are once again described using images of fluidity as ‘islands in a river’. The perceiving subject sees them as somehow separate from the water itself, even though in reality they are part of the ebb and flow. If these islands are to ‘stand for’ anything (although I’m not sure if this is Thurston’s intention) it could be a linear series of possibilities predetermined from the start. When the water shifts unpredictably around them, we follow ‘viable currents’ even though they are not visible to the naked eye. But this ‘perfect will’ we cling to is actually a ‘thread of disgust’ that can easily be ‘reassembled’ into something else. Which brings us to the final isolated line of the text: ‘you slip into the stream’. Rather than a sense of preordained ‘islands in the river’ the sense is of an accidental ‘slip’ into a ‘stream’ that overwhelms us. But as always this language creates a conflictual sense of multiple meanings. This ‘slip’ could be ‘slipping’ on a pair of socks, or ‘slippers’, something more comforting. Just like ‘slipping’ into a warm bath, this adds to the conflictual nature of the message. Either way instead of a predefined route we have an openness to experience, spontaneity or accident. But there is also another allusion here. Thurston has effectively taken apart (or ‘reassembled’) the word ‘slipstream’ to give it another meaning entirely. This slipstream, remember, is what moves us forward in time. It is propulsion, or ‘flow’, that provides the velocity for that aforementioned ‘fowl’. For the writer it is ‘creativity’ – ‘the midnight oil’ – all of the romantic clichés that saturate (and burden) accounts of how scribbling egos operate. This sense of certainty is completely disrupted to give an alternate - almost clownish – sense of stupefaction in the face of what presents itself as ‘truth’. Suddenly we flounder, fishlike, where once there was precision. It isn’t as if what we know is being mocked nihilistically in lines like these, but rather that its status is being called into question by the function of language itself.
This is one of the most compelling features of Figure Detached, Figure Impermanent (2014). ‘Consenting out of fear you grasp each word as a thing’, writes Thurston, ‘trying to create your own knowledge’. The impetus is always on the other person to ‘prove.. you reflect the thoughts I think’, as Thurston puts it. This brings us to a second oft-repeated image in the text, that of ‘bowl’. From the beginning of the text the ‘bowl’ is what is broken by the ‘youth’s assertion of thundering drums’. ‘The Bowl’ at this point seems a rather random occurrence in the poem. A clue, however, comes on page ‘eight’ (unmarked) when Thurston writes:
The greater the measure of virtue, the more the fungus attaches to the base of the bowl in the mind. Two fish weigh the task of care – clear and unctuous – beneath the wintering flowering plum, beneath the crazed glaze. The heart overflows the gilded rim.
‘Bowl’ is clearly associated here with the bowl of the mind, or the cup of the skull, the locus at which most ‘thinking’ happens. Moreover, it is the base of the brain that makes speech possible as the neurological stimulus for communication itself. Without it individual thought processes would be echo chambers, reflecting nothing but a monologic certainty. But ‘virtuous’ thinking is associated in Thurston’s conceptualization with the ever greater accumulation of fungus. The bowl of the mind can be a place of stagnation as much as it claims to be a righteous discourse. In a startling juxtaposition the reader immediately encounters more water-based imagery this time of two fish ‘weighing the task of care’. These fish are interesting precisely because there are two of them. ‘Clear and unctuous’ they are wonderfully juxtaposed to the fungus inflamed ‘bowl in the mind’. Their major function – in juxtaposition – is one of ‘care’. Their ‘unctuousness’ in itself opens up a whole series of possibilities. Firstly, there is the a linguistic association with ‘sheen’ or ‘oily shine’ that sets them apart from the fungus growing in the mind. But, secondly, there are connotations of ‘servility’, in as far as that word has come to stand for a sycophancy the polar opposite of the ‘virtuous’ knowledge in the fungi infested ‘bowl’. But the presence of the fish again gives a conflicting sense of a ‘goldfish bowl’, an idiom associated with being trapped or introverted. In Figure Detached this seems to be where the major aesthetic efforts lie. Language is presented as a vastly conflictual entity constantly ‘reassembling’ itself in contact with the other person.
This brings us back to that curious phrase ‘redemption in resistance’. Redemption only comes in the resistance, or conflict, between ‘virtuous’ knowledge and its contact with the other person. This is enacted in the text by an attention to the connotative realm of signification, which is clearly meant to surprise in its constant twists and turns. As Thurston makes clear below:
A man stands by his neighbour; opens him up to see how he works; viscera sliding out like abandoned fears. Discovering the thigh muscles he becomes fascinated – eternity’s too short. Still thinking about time, he finds it more difficult to create than destroy, as he starts to extend into the space beyond his skin.
When taking apart an interlocutor Thurston finds not some gleaming mechanics, but a disappointing organic mess. This is the true essence of the human, the not so surprising fact that there is nothing that makes us unique. The ‘viscera sliding out’, interestingly, doesn’t communicate a sense of horror, but something more like ‘relief’. The abandoned fears might be that the mortality of this person is nothing to envy, or there is a seeming equality that was previously absent. The onus now must be to ‘create’ rather than ‘destroy’. The knowledge of a shared mortality should be something liberating above and beyond our most selfish instincts for domination. The key to this passage is notable the ‘thigh muscle’, which is described as ‘fascinating’. This is because the thigh muscle provides a way out of the ‘create’ or ‘destroy’ paradox. Escaping our most base intentions the thigh muscle is the part of the body that enables movement, and therefore makes another kind of consciousness possible. Next to the hip, attached to the femur by connective tissues, there would be no walking without the kinetic energy generated by it. This is the only route to what Thurston called in Reverse’s Hearts Reassembly ‘the transition world entangled in the interhuman’ (13). As readers we enact this process ourselves. Twirling back and forth through Thurston’s text, looking for linguistic clues, we become part of the dance in our explorations and engagements. This is a difficult, but liberating process. But it is one nevertheless fundamental to all attempts at ‘knowing’ and mimics the action of reading itself.
 I am referring here to the ‘knowledge’ section of Reverses Hearts Reassembly from p. 25 onwards.
From 27 - 29th of April I attended a conference on Jeju Island focussed on Literary Resistance and Solidarity in East Asia. With poets from Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan and Korea the theme was the place of literature in the context of heightened state power and repression. The location - Jeju - was no accident. It was here that in 1948 30,000 people were slaughtered by South Korean forces (aided and abetted in every possible way by the "soft power" of the American military). Labelled a 'red island' by the American authorities, every islander was punished for a few partisans in their midst. I will publish more writing on this conference very soon. For now, I will briefly describe a moment of inspiration.
On the final day of the conference after planting a tree from Halla mountain at the 4.3 Peace Museum - which each writer's group covered with soil and water from every part of Korea, and hung a personal message on (see picture above) - we visited the last hideout of Lee Deok Gu, a communist partisan who left this location in 1949, before he was discovered by the South Korean police and assassinated. The site was strewn not only with the remains of his hideout, but the cooking pots and rice dishes in which the partisans had presumably eaten their final meal.
We performed the traditional Chesa ceremony for Doek Gu at this point, with hungry crows circling overhead (you can hear them quite clearly towards the end of the following clip).
It was also here that some excellent musicians performed the song of the partisans (which reminds me of the Italian "Bella Ciao") "The Revolutionary Spirit is Alive". The fantastic singer - amid some tears in the crowd - sang about the ideals of resistance outliving the death of individuals. Incidentally, this was a song played at the funeral of Kim Il Sung, also a famous rebel fighter, who was to become the first leader of North Korea. Given that the previous day we had talked in detail about the word "빨갱이" (a derogatory term literally meaning "red") as a "mechanism" for keeping power in the hands of conservative forces, and further repressing "the truth" of what happened in the war, it seemed a perfect - and deliberately beautiful - moment. This song doesn't actually respect any kind of linguistic division. It reaches beyond state borders and spoke to us there in the forest as a song of resistance above all else. The singers mournful wail called for an engagement with the reality of what it means to fight against the state whether located in the North or in the South. This wail was both protest and remembrance. It may have been on Jeju Island for this event, but it could of been anywhere else. Where "the wounds are untended and the voices are confused", as George Oppen wrote so well in 1968, "there is the head of the moving column". That wail can be heard at the fences of the open air prison that is Gaza today. It can be heard anywhere people are suffering from a surfeit of power that wishes to silence them. Equally, it can never be explained away by recourse to crude terminology instituted by a state that seeks to dehumanize and then ultimately erase those speaking out.
In South Korea history is something always returning to haunt the populace. The location of Jeju island means this place is always looked at in terms of the possibilities for projecting state power rather than being somewhere people actually live. This was evident for me watching local news at my hotel, where resistance continues to an American military base forced on the people of Gangjeong Village. This base was originally proposed by the first South Korean president, and in typical pattern has only now achieved physical form. Like an apparition from a torturous past, promising more of the same, it is simply more military hardware to encircle (an already encircled) China. Please see the following link to the movie Ghosts of Jeju, bearing in mind that even though the base is now built resistance is ongoing.
Below is an initial translation of Jeon Suk Ja's poem "A Red Belt"one of many that will be performed for the first time in the UK after the showing of the film "The Longest Tomb" at SOAS on 29th May. Please also see the press release underneath for more details......
A Red Belt
Koreans from Busan
To Pyongyang should listen
To klaxons from Dorosan station
Announcing new routes spanning
North and South and also to
Europe as in times past
But someone placed a red belt here.
Why apply so much pressure
With no thought to release?
It’s been fifty years since families were separated
Fifty years since those events
Now there is only death on the horizon
I try to surmount these difficulties
But my Father’s passing
O where is the release from
This red belt?
There is a small village in the North
That seems closer than ever
Mountain ranges hold their hands together
Hundreds of peaks, even Yeonmi Mountain
Look like family to me
But the route is blocked
Only the clouds are free to pass
The red belt.
Jeon Suk Ja
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
THE LONGEST TOMB, UK Premiere of a Korean Language Documentary on the Daejeon Massacre (1950)
Knowledge is Power and The Education Centre for Peace and Reunification present The Longest Tomb, the first ever documentary on the controversial subject of mass killings in Daejeon, South Korea during the Korean War. This subtitled English language premiere of the film will take place at SOAS’ Alumni Lecture Theatre, Senate House in London at 7pm on 29th May 2018. Starting with a chance to meet the production team, followed by a screening of the film itself, the night will end with survivor testimonies from Ms. Jeon and Mr. Lee who will travel from Daejeon to promote it. There will also be readings from Ms. Jeon’s recent book of poetry on the same subject and time for Q&A.
The Daejeon Massacre is a little known tragedy from the Korean War, the truth of which has been buried for political reasons by almost 40 years of dictatorship and another 30 years of public silence. Now entering a period of openness following the South Korean President’s appearance at the 4.3 Memorial Day on Jeju Island, the hope of the film is to finally come to a public consensus over the truth of these events. This includes addressing questions over casualties (a figure ranging from 1,800 to 7,000) but also the real human cost and political ramifications for the Korean peninsula as a whole.
Knowledge is Power is an internet podcast show that covers local politics in the Daejeon area. Set up by Mr. Chinho Jung in 2017, it is a non-profit organization that aims to provide a space for the empowerment of Daejeon citizens.
The Education Center for Peace and Unification is a cultural center in Daejeon promoting peace and reunification. They offer education on topics such as ‘division and unification’ and ‘inter-Korean relations’. Mr. Jaegeun Im, an instructor, is the film’s narrator.
To learn more please contact Dr. David Miller on firstname.lastname@example.org