Tuesday, October 27, 2009

NYT archive: Ito assassinated!

On the centennial of the assassination of Japan's Prince Itō Hirobumi [伊藤 博文] by An Chunggŭn [안중근/安重根; aka Ahn Junggeun], who is now revered as a hero by many in Korea, the New York Times reprinted its contemporary article on the event in today's TimesTraveler section:
A news bulletin reports that Prince Ito, one of the most powerful leaders of Japan, was assassinated today by a Korean in Harbin, Manchuria. “Prince Ito was 72 years old, and for years was one of the most conspicuous of Japan’s statesmen. Several months ago he was relieved of his work as Governor-General of Korea, in which post he had done much to pacify the country. By his arbitrary suppression of the insurrection he incurred the enmity of many Koreans who were opposed to Japanese rule…. The achievement above all others with which Prince Ito’s name has been associated in the minds of Occidentals was the framing of the imperial constitution by virtue of which Japan took her place for the first time in the rank of modern civilized states…. In some quarters it was believed that the tour of Prince Ito in Manchuria was to have been of a political nature and that it had as a basis an attempt to forestall the protests of the Powers against Russia’s domination of the Manchurian Railroad zone, under her agreement with the Chinese, by effecting a complete understanding between Japan and China.”
I may write up some of my own thoughts on this later, but for now, a few points. First off, I find it quite interesting that this contemporary account of Prince Itō mentioned the "harsh rule" of Korea and "arbitrary suppression." These are not self-serving descriptions of the man made up half a century later to engineer hate against Korea's former enemy.

While Itō himself may have thought he was doing good for the Korean people, especially as he tried to push back the militarist and expansionist forces in Japan to which he was opposed, he nevertheless ended up being at least partially culpable for Imperial Japan militarily hobbling and then politically swallowing Chosŏn and the Taehan Empire (i.e., Korea).

In that sense this revered Japanese statesman was a bit analogous to Secretary and former General Colin Powell taking the Bush administration's case for war to the United Nations — even though he may have been personally opposed to it and tried to stop it. I don't know if he deserved to be killed for that, especially when he was no longer in a position to do damage to Koreans or Korea directly and a person living at that time would have recognized that retaliation for such an act would be harsh.

At the very least, I find it distasteful that someone like An Chunggŭn — whose importance goes little beyond having killed someone else — has become revered as a hero. Rest assured, however, many people born and raised in Korea also question this, particularly Catholics. I also find myself returning to the same conclusion that Korean kids are taught all about An and Itō because it was the highest level assassination by a Korean freedom fighter, and thus the importance and justness of the assassination is trumped up to make the act worthy of reverence.

If An had to kill someone, the likes of Katsura Tarō [桂 太郎], Yamagata Aritomo [山縣 有朋], or one of the other people who were really behind the ruthless drive to take over Korea would have been far more appropriate. But almost no one in Korea has even heard of Katsura or Yamagata because they weren't the one who was assassinated by a patriot.

Note: Popular Gusts has some excellent posts here and here. ("killer handprints" is a brilliant title). A good Korea Times piece making the case for the assassination is found here.

UPDATE: Comments are now closed for this post. Discussion of similar material will be possible at this post later in the day.


  1. Kushibo,

    As often is the case, we see eye-to-eye here. But this snippet will get you in trouble if the rabid Korean-American nationalists hear get a wind of it! :)

    "At the very least, I find it distasteful that someone like An Chunggŭn — whose importance goes little beyond having killed someone else — has become revered as a hero."

  2. Just have my back when the barrage comes.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I did not know how to fix my comment so I deleted and repost it.

    Korea was too weak in the gust of colonialism. You are right Katsura had a vital role in annexation of Korea by Katsura-Taft agreement with US. America shares the guiltiness of Korean annexation too. Maybe that's why some American bloggers call him a terrorist or killer like Osama Bin Laden.

    I do not think Ahn's assassination was the best possible way to resist colonialism, but I understand him and respect his patriotism. At least he encouraged the suffering Koreans with the spirit of independence. The colonialism was not a justifiable contribution to human history. It is a shameful past that resulted in the spreading of communism in the world. Many third world countries fell into the hands of communism as a desperate way to resist colonialism.

    Ahn was a Catholic and I think Mahatma Gandhi should be his best role model. Even in the Catholic, there was controversy over his killing of Ito. Then bishop Mutel contemned his action as a homicide. However, Catholic Church in Korea now tries to commemorate him as a patriot and a sincere Catholic by explaining his violence with Thomas Aquinas' "Just war" theory.

    By the way, there was an American, named D.W. Stevens who was shot by two Koreans in March 23, 1909. Quite contrary to Homer Bezaleel Hulbert, He actively promoted Japanese colonization of Korea. He faithfully assisted Ito Hirobumi in international propaganda of justifying colonization of Korea.

  6. D.W. Stevens was indeed a traitor to Korea, a despicable person who betrayed Koreans and foreigners alike in Korea, acting as a mouthpiece and sugarcoating the suppression that was going on in Korea at the hands of Imperial Japanese authorities.

    But I don't know about the Ito Hirobumi connection with Stevens, and I have doubts right out of the box that assassination was appropriate for him either.

    At any rate, Korea was in a messed-up situation, largely due to two Japan's own bad acts within the country, so it wasn't exactly a hard sell to the international community that Korea needed to no longer be under China's influence and instead be put under Japan's guidance.

    Of course, for people who were in Korea and knew it better, Korea had clearly begun making its own way out of the abyss it was in, in no small part by following Japan's example. Korea could have done just fine with a strategic alliance and no occupation. I dare say, it would have done much better.

    But this is about An. I think An gave Katsura and the militarists/expansionists the excuse they needed to finally take over Korea without international protest. Katsura's role, by the way, was more than just sitting down with Taft and making the Katura-Taft agreement. He was part of a political faction that aimed no matter what to solve "the Korea question" because they felt that Korea's dependence on China or even its own non-aligned independence was a threat to Japan.

    Go to Yasukuni Shrine's museum and you see what I'm talking about:

    Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War and subsequent annexation of Korea resolved questions about national security, which had been festering for years.

    Itō, to my understanding, stood in opposition to the pro-annexation camp.

  7. Ahn might have killed the person that will result in less impact on Japan or even in speeding of the colonization of Korea. But I think Ito was already an old man (72) whose position would be weakened no later than ten years.

    And the annexation of Korea would eventually occur as assured in the secret agreement of Katsura-Taft. I consider the annexation of Korea was not a matter of possibility but a matter of time.

    In addition, Ito already disabled Korea’s rights to foreign affairs, military, and major national decisions. So, it was legally impossible for Korean government to make agreements with other foreign countries without getting through the hands of Ito.

    The situation of Korea got already worse enough that annexation would result as soon as Japanese decide to push that way. I do not believe Ito’s longevity could have made Korea’s situation a lot better.

  8. Do you think a nation without rights to foreign affairs, military, and major national decisions, an independent country? Korea was already no less than annexed country under Ito.

  9. Interesting string of posts. Things I wanted to say have been said. Do you guys google these things before posting? You people make me feel insecure about my own knowledge of Korean history. ;)
    But I also just want to add (and agree with WJC and Kushibo) that in most cases, assassination is never a good option to resort to, but I feel that in this example, it was more of a symbol of the Korean resistance, regardless of who the target was (in this case, Ito). Also, hey, what were the two deleted comments, Kushibo? Let us hear (see) them! Were they that inappropriate?

  10. Peter, I don't disagree with you that Japan's wars on or around the Korean peninsula with China and Russia in the 1890s and 1900s, and the political intrigue that Tokyo had aggressively engaged in inside Seoul's palaces and government offices, had enervated Korea and made it little more than a pawn. The protectorate treaty effectively made Korea a part of Japan, with no say whatsoever on the international stage.

    But I think that things go too far in putting that all (or mostly) on Itō, when in fact it was the designs of forces in Japan that were largely opposed to Itō.

    In this sense, I think the Colin Powell analogy is quite apt.

    If one is being not too charitable to both Itō and Park Chunghee, one could describe both as having Korea's future interests in mind, and imposing those interests with an iron fist. Itō may be partly culpable for the vanquishing of Korea's Righteous Armies, but he is demonized far more than he should be, while those Japanese who really set out to control and oppress Korea are all but nameless to most South Koreans.

    An is exalted to hero status and Itō is demonized as the The Second Coming of Hideyoshi™ primarily because Itō — and not those other actual evildoers in Japan at the time — was the one we got.

  11. LastNameKim wrote:
    Interesting string of posts. Things I wanted to say have been said. Do you guys google these things before posting? You people make me feel insecure about my own knowledge of Korean history. ;)

    I'm glad you're enjoying it. I don't Google much of this stuff, but bear in mind that I do have a master's degree in Korean Studies from Yonsei, something I opted to get after working in Seoul and (and avoiding med school) long enough that I thought, "Gee, I should go do that since my work already has me going over a lot of this stuff anyway."

    I probably know a considerable amount of stuff that the average college-educated South Korean citizen does not, although, since I was raised in California and not Korea, there are some things I might be less likely to know. That just goes with the territory.

    Having a master's degree in Korean Studies from Yonsei (a good program, by the way, which includes mostly kyopo, English-speaking foreigners including Japanese, Chinese, etc., but a relatively small number of native South Koreans even though South Korean natives make up a bit more than half the population at the international studies grad school) means I know things the average South Korea-raised college grad doesn't know for two primary reasons.

    First, in grad school you just go in more detail. I've taken extensive history classes on Korea's pre-modern history, modern history, and history of its relations with the US, considerably more detail than the average South Korean would go through.

    Second, in English in these grad schools, the native Korean-speaking professors will talk about things that they might feel less comfortable about going into in a Korean-language environment with all Koreans. Things that paint Korea-Japan relations as less black and white (largely by discussing the positive role of some Japanese), for example. It's too bad, I feel, that some of our professors think (and this is them saying this, not my speculation) there are things they can't say in their Korean-language classes for fear of reprisal by a handful of students. The vocal fringe (?) strikes again.

  12. LastNameKim wrote:
    But I also just want to add (and agree with WJC and Kushibo) that in most cases, assassination is never a good option to resort to, but I feel that in this example, it was more of a symbol of the Korean resistance, regardless of who the target was (in this case, Ito).

    Symbols are fine, but what about consequences? This was an example, like so many things we see in history, where a group (a country or an organization) acts as if their action will be the end. That is, it won't be met with a reaction by the opposing force. An should have expected retaliation at the very least, and even the enemy using his "violent act" as justification for cracking down harder.

    As for symbols, do people deserve to die so that someone can have these symbols? I value human life more than that. And frankly, though I doubt you sympathize with terrorists, that is little different from the thinking of those who decide they are going to strike a blow for Islam, freedom, anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, anti-British, pro-British, anti-Catholic, or what have you, by destroying a symbol of that group and killing dozens or hundreds in the process. That's one of the two main aspects of terrorism: the first being to strike fear into a perceived enemy so they will back down or leave (or do something else you want them to do) and to destroy symbols in order to embolden supporters and would-be supporters on your side.

    Also, hey, what were the two deleted comments, Kushibo? Let us hear (see) them! Were they that inappropriate?

    Please note that those were "removed by the author," not "removed by an administrator" (which would be me). Peter Kim tweaked some of his comments and then deleted the earlier ones. I only left them there because he made reference to them later on.

    I rarely delete comments, with "Emily" being a glaring exception. And when I do, I try to remove them completely (something an administrator can do with their own blog) so that there is no trace of them.

  13. Thank you very much for your response. I was really impressed by your knowledge on Korea. I did not major in history. But I like reading about it, especially colonial era of Korea, because my great grandfather was an educator and an independent movement leader during that time. And he was imprisoned and family suffered because of that. He passed away before the liberation of Korea.

    However, I have respect to Japanese in their professionalism and delicacy. Japanese I personally have met were really nice people. They were very smart people Koreans could learn a lot from. I hope Korea and Japan can have better relationship. And I want to be free from this kind of tacky history talk in the future.

    And here is the same comment I wrote at the Gusts Of Popular Feeling, but I repost it here because my point is not different from the one I posted at Matt’s blog.

    I think Ito’s opposition to annexation was a very situational one. Ito was the man who supported Sino-Japanese war to strengthen the influence of Japan in Korean peninsula.

    He also proposed Russia that Japan would occupy Korea and Russia would take Manchuria. Russo-Japanese war broke out, only because Russia rejected the suggestion. If Russia had accepted it, Japan would have taken over Korea without hesitation.

    He was less aggressive than Katsura in his approach, but he still remained as a man who had intended to occupy Korea as a colony. And he did usurp the essential rights of Korea as an independent nation.

    Actually, Japan already was taking huge profits out of Korea from the victory of Sino-Japanese war. That’s why three Western countries (Russia, Germany, and France) got involved to take some profits out of it. If it had not been not for these three countries, Japan would have accelerated colonization of Korea.

    The fact that Ito preferred more diplomatic approach in occupation of Korea does not make him a friendly man full of mercy and good will toward Koreans. And he did use violence in ruling over Koreans.

    He was also the man who pushed through Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty of 1907, which resulted in “the internal government of Korea fully under the control of Japan. The unpublished section of the treaty also placed the Korean army under Japanese leadership, and handed over judicial and policing powers.”(wiki) It was not the relationship Ito often claimed Japan and Korea “co-operate together like brothers”. It was just a cheap diplomatic shots to justify Japanese occupation.

  14. In my analogy, Ito was a man who preferred to take more time in raping a woman and embellish his dirty acts with diplomacic words, while Katsura was a hot-tempered man who tried to be hurried to rape her by force. Both of them were the rapist actors in the same set of play with different colors of roles. Actually, one might feel more humiliated by the former.

    And I would make distinction between Ahn and Cho. Ahn’s action was for the benefit of Koreans at least to encourage the spirit of independence, while that of Cho was nothing but ruthless random killing out of mental illness.

    Ahn’s assassination was, as he asserted after his arrest, an action as a Korean military officer to defend Korea. I think it was a legitimate use of violence to defend one’s nation from the invaders. Ahn claimed he killed Ito as a war enemy.

    This might have resulted in the acceleration of more complete annexation of Korea, but it was already scheduled as assured in the secret agreement of Katsura-Taft, as Donald Gregg, the former Ambassador to Korea recognized US’s responsibility in the annexation of Korea.

    Ahn’s action might be comparable to that of Joan of Arc who defended France from English invasion or Dietrich Bonhoeffer who attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler:

    "If I see a madman driving a car into a group of innocent bystanders, then I can't, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe and then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

    And I think Ito already had damaged enough Korea under his rule. And his longevity could not make the situation of Korea a lot better. Ahn’s action was a legitimate self-defense against intruders to one’s home country, as Americans are allowed to use arms against rapists who came into one’s house. His action was at least a fulfilment of justice about what Ito had done to Koreans.

    In retrospect, the consequence might got worse, but it was significant enough for Koreans at that time and in the future. Ahn might expected another Ahn’s might do the same thing to Katsura or any ruthless intruders to Korea in the future. I assume that was what Japanese were afraid of and that was why they hid Ahn’s dead body and gravesite.

  15. "Ahn’s action might be comparable to that of Joan of Arc who defended France from English invasion[.]"


    Seriously, I thought I had seen enough preposterous analogies at Ask the Korean to last me the year.

  16. As an aside, I know that some Koreans have a tendency to blame the Americans for everything, including the fall of Koguryo and Hideyoshi's invasion, but there isn't enough noise in one area where there may be a legitimate beef: Park Chung-hee's assassination.

    While I do not agree with some lunatic Korean conspiracy-mongers who thought the CIA explicitly urged Kim Jae-kyu to kill Park, a mentally troubled individual like Kim may have gotten such a subliminal message from Carter's indefatigable--and often ungrounded--criticism of Park. This scenario becomes even more plausible, when you consider that Asian political rhetoric is far more indirect than its American counterpart, and hence someone like Kim may have over-interpreted Carter's comments. (For instance, many Western officials have written about the problems caused by this rhetorical gap: I'd suggest Kissinger's memoirs and his rather lengthy discussions about how the Chinese form of political communication caused incessant misunderstandings.)

    So maybe you guys want to re-direct your ire at Taft or TR toward the naive peanut farmer, eh?

  17. Joan of Arch and Ahn were both Catholic. And Catholic Church teaches that in certain cases use of violence is justified.

    Soldiers kill enemies in the war does not make him criminal. Ahn killed Ito as an officer of Korean Eubyong during war-like situation when Korea was declining by the invasion of Japan.

    Also, Ito and Komura Jutarō, the minister of foreign affairs already had an agreement on annexation of Korea in April, 1909. And Ito made a speech that implies annexation of Korea, so there were no one in the Japanese cabinet who oppose to the annexation.

    "1909년 4월 이토와 고무라 외무대신은 이미 한일합방에 대한 의견의 일치를 보았고, 이토는 동경에서 한일합방에 대한 의도를 드러낸 연설을 한 바 있어, 일본정부 내에서 한일합방을 반대하는 세력은 없었다."(안중근, 위키피디아).

  18. 최원준: Rest assured I do not buy any of the conspiracy thoeries you suggested.

  19. Mr. Kim,

    There are many flaws with your analogy, but I would rather not elaborate them all here for at least two reasons. First, I have spent too much time the last week on Blog commentary, and I generally tend to avoid doing so, because matters are seldom resolved in this medium. Second, Ahn and the issue of Korean nationalism are extremely sensitive topics that even someone as bold as I am tend to tread carefully--esp. online or in print.

    Having said that, however, I would point out what I take to be the one fundamental flaw with your analogy--which Kushibo has partly addressed as well.

    To be succinct, I think a responsible political observer must judge a political act on the basis not only of intent but consequences as well. After all, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, as the saying goes. And in this context, Ahn's actions and Saint Joan's could not be more different. Ahn, by assassinating a moderating, pro-Korean (relatively speaking) force within the Japanese leadership, almost certainly provoked Japan to move faster with annexation of Korea--as well as making that annexation and its aftermaths far more brutal. In short, his act, however well-intentioned, likely caused his country greater harm. Saint Joan, in contrast, saved her country from a military defeat and likely dismemberment.

    I am by no means a pure or thorough-going Machiavellian who only judge on the basis of success; but success matters too, no?

  20. Also, I apologize for my sarcastic, and even dismissive, initial posts.

    But I am truly sick & tired of Koreans whine about the Katsura-Taft agreement when that agreement merely legitimized a fait accompli that the U.S. could not possibly overturn.

  21. I should add that consequences matter especially if they are "foreseeable" by a "reasonable person."

    P.S. I apologize to the site administrator for constant deletions. I am just trying to clean-up my FoB grammar!

  22. 최원준: I did not start this discussion. I just expressed my opinion after reading Kushibo's writing. And I did not invite you to this discussion.

    Also, you seem not to have read the additional paragraph. I am sorry I found this later and posted it late.

    "Ito and Komura Jutarō, the minister of foreign affairs already had an agreement on annexation of Korea in April, 1909. And Ito made a speech that implies annexation of Korea, so there were no one in the Japanese cabinet who oppose to the annexation."

    "1909년 4월 이토와 고무라 외무대신은 이미 한일합방에 대한 의견의 일치를 보았고, 이토는 동경에서 한일합방에 대한 의도를 드러낸 연설을 한 바 있어, 일본정부 내에서 한일합방을 반대하는 세력은 없었다."(안중근, 위키피디아).

    This is a description that might not be able to be found in English source of Korea-Japan history. According to the above statement, Japan was already planning annexation and at least Ito agreed with it before his death. So the argument that Ito's death accelerated Korean annexation lose its stance.

    I am a US citizen and America is my adopted country. When US territory or independence is violated, I would fight against it. I understand Ahn's and other Koreans' mind in that context.

    The war between Korea and Japan already began when Japan illegally stationed Japanese troops in sovereign Korean territory since Sino-Japanese war.

    There might be some strategical errors, but I believe they should not be humiliated by being compared with criminal Woo or Cho seunghui.

  23. Peter, I understand what you are saying about Itō agreeing with the annexation: he agreed with it, he was promoting it, so how could he have been a moderating force for Japan against annexation?

    Again, I appeal to you to consider the Colin Powell analogy over Joan of Arc. Colin Powell was, as I understand it, opposed to the way Cheney and Bush were pushing to go to war in Iraq before the UN's work was done, and he spiritedly made that case as Secretary of State within the Bush White House. When he failed to convince Bush, especially in the face of Cheney, he did his duty to serve his president and he made the US's case (i.e., Bush's case) to the UN.

    Now, I may be getting some things wrong on the Colin Powell story, but the analogy I'm making is based on this interpretation of Colin Powell. I hope it's close to right, because I think it applies very well to Itō's case.

    Itō may have made a speech supporting annexation (I would say "acquiescing to annexation"), but that doesn't make him the architect of annexation. Nor does it make him the anti-Korean villain of modern Korean history that An worshippers make him out to be.

    I think there's evidence to suggest that he thought Japan-guided modernization — even by arm-twisting — was better for Korea in the long run. I'm sure he also believed that cleaving Korea away from China was also in Korea's best interest.

    And no doubt he certainly believed the latter, and probably the former, were in Japan's best interest. And what he thought was in Japan's best interest may very well have clouded his judgement about what was in Korea's best interest. Whatever the case, I have difficulty accepting Itō as anti-Korean, even if he thought Korea's interests were subordinate to Japan's (which I think he probably did believe).

    The oppression and suppression of Korea came into full force after Itō's death, so how can all that be attributed to Itō? Did the mere act of protectorateship and then annexation make suppression and oppression automatically follow? This was not the case with co-colony Taiwan — at least not in degree. So maybe the things we put on Itō's head and at his feet are actually the fault of others, at least partially.

    So who are those people and why are they virtually unknown in Korea? The answer lies, I believe, in the historical narrative written about An, which has done mainly because he's a symbol, and he makes a symbol because he is the only one who killed such a high-ranking symbol of Japan.

    Imagine if the Emperor of Japan had been assassinated (there were those plotting to do so). If that had happened, An Chunggŭn would be a mere footnote, and the statue not far from my apartment would be of someone else. Maybe An Chunggŭn would enjoy at least the status of Yun Ponggil, who is respected and has his own museum but who is not nearly as exalted as An.

    Do you see my point? Itō vilification must accompany An exaltation. But this provides a very distorted picture of Japanese-Korean relations, if for no other reason than it misses the point of who the true villains were in Korean history. Starting with Katsura and Yamagata.

  24. You do make a valid point when you ask how Itō could have been a moderating force if he'd already agreed to support (and again, I would say acquiesced or resigned to supporting) annexation.

    But again, the annexation was not the end point. There was a thirty-five year occupation that followed (and it could have been much longer, a la Okinawa). There was oppression and brutality — with a partial remission during the decade of rule by Governor-General Saitō Makoto, the soul Naval Admiral to hold the post.

    Imagine if an octogenarian Itō, who as a septuagenarian had pushed for continued protectorate status instead of annexation, had been around in 1919 to say to the leaders in Tokyo, "See, I told you so." Maybe instead of sending a naval admiral instead of another army general they would have thought about dismantling military rule in Korea or maybe even working on an politically independent but economically integrated Korea. Many in the Japanese public were shocked that Koreans were unhappy being Japanese, but An had killed the one Japanese statesman who was the most likely to run with that sentiment.

    Of course, it's also a possibility that an aged Itō would have been too old to effectively argue that, or ten years of Korean annexation would have convinced him that it was indeed the best way. I don't really know. But what I'm saying is that An's mistake was that he did kill one of the people best positioned against the people who were set to do the worst against Korea. And that was probably to Korea's detriment.

  25. The attempt to glorify Ito is based on the premise that colonialism was justifiable human history or even beneficial to the colonized nations. And I do not agree with the assumption. Colonialism itself was a shameful past full of evilness that should not be repeated.

    And any Japanese, including Ito did not have rights to decide how Korea should be modernized. Ito’s modernization plan of Korea itself was already violation of Korea’s sovereignty and independence. Koreans, including Emperor Gojong, did not ask Japanese to modernize Korea. And Japanese killed Queen Min when Korea tried to keep away from Japanese influence.

    Colonial Japanese were like surgeons who forced to do surgery on a person against her will. Korea had the rights to decide which countries could be partners of modernization of Korea. Colonization process of Korea itself was already violence and evil. The theory of lesser evil does not justify Ito. He was just the one of the criminals who usurped Korea’s sovereignty. The argument should be about choosing the better, not about choosing the lesser evil.

  26. Mr. Kim,

    I hope this will be my last response to you on this thread, because you are clearly not looking to engage in a reasoned dialogue but instead only interested in incessantly regurgitating your reflexive Korean nationalist line. To wit: You completely ignore what Kushibo or I say that are of utmost pertinence to the issue; you invoke bogus or at least questionable authority to buttress your case; and when all fails, you change the topic and rail against a straw man argument that no one made.

    So for the one last time:

    1. You keep reiterating that Ito had made public speeches in support of the annexation of Korea. This is true, and I am well-aware of this fact, as is anyone who is familiar with the events surrounding the 1910 annexation.

    But you continue to ignore the fact—which Kushibo has painstakingly elaborated—that politicians often publicly support policies they do not private support, precisely because they must present a united front in public.

    Is this really so difficult to understand? It's a matter of common sense, and Kushibo has presented Colin Powell's UN speech in favor of the invasion of Iraq as a recent example par excellence. And Ito's sustained opposition to the annexation of Korea is too well-documented for anyone with even a modicum of knowledge regarding the Japanese politics of the era.

    2. For your credibility's sake, I hope you refrain from citing Wikipedia to support your arguments in the future (and much less the Korean language version!). Wikipedia is notoriously unreliable for anything other than names and dates, because it can be edited by any nut with an agenda. Try to support your case with citations to primary sources, or respected scholarship. And in this vein, I recommend you to begin with Peter Duus' The Sword and the Abacus.


  27. 3. You wrote:

    "The attempt to glorify Ito is based on the premise that colonialism was justifiable human history or even beneficial to the colonized nations. And I do not agree with the assumption. Colonialism itself was a shameful past full of evilness that should not be repeated."

    What a bizarre, rambling, straw man tangent.

    First, no one "[glorified]" Ito here.

    Second, no one attempted "to glorify Ito" "on the premise that colonialism was justifiable," because Ito was not for such a policy.

    Third, try to refrain from absolutist, abstract, universalistic, rule-like assertions. They really irritate me, because there are very few things in human life that are true in all circumstances. Among other things, colonialism is not same everywhere, in all places. For instance, most people would argue that the British rule in Hong Kong and Singapore were "beneficial" compared to its alternatives. In fact, Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of Singapore—and a man whose patriotism cannot be questioned (and who was involved in the Singaporean resistance)—has conceded as much.

    4. That you imply Queen Min was a sort of a nationalist heroine attempting to valiantly stave off the Japanese influence says volumes about your knowledge of the era. Contrary to being an altruistic, nationalist statesman, there was only one thing Queen Min cared about: Herself. She was the bane of true nationalists and modernizers who may have been able to forestall the tragedy of 1910, for instance the men who master-minded the Kap-sin coup.

    Did you get your info on Queen Min from Wikipedia here too? Or perhaps the scandalously revisionist KBS drama “명성황후” (the very same drama that even feminists in Korea objected to for lionizing the wrong heroine?)? Had you done some research into the matter, however, you'd realize that the beatification of Queen Min is a rather recent trend, even among Korean nationalist sources!

    Yet, if reading is too difficult, you could’ve done a bit better with an earlier KBS drama, "찬란한 여명," which paints a tad bit straighter picture of Queen Min.
    5. You pontificate: "The argument should be about choosing the better, not about choosing the lesser evil."

    But sometimes the perfect solution is not possible and the "better" alternative is precisely "the lesser evil."

    We do not live in a utopia where we can have it all. As a Catholic yourself, I am surprised that this reminder is necessary.

  28. 최재원: Ahn might be an idealist, who believed his action would result in the cessation of Japanese occupation of Korea. He wanted complete independence of Korea. What he and most Koreans hoped for was neither Ito nor Katsura’s rule. For Koreans, partial or complete annexation did not make much difference, since Korean sovereignty was already usurped and humiliated. And Ahn made the world know that Koreans did not want any intervention of Japanese, and Japan’s ruling over Korea was not out of “brotherhood” but a covetous intention of colonialism.

    I am not a fan of Korean leaders of at the time. They were corrupt and incapable. But at least I am against Japanese intervention into internal matters of Korea at that time. I do not buy your presumption that Japanese rule might have brought Korea “benefits” as in the case of Hong Kong or Singapore. Why it should be Japan? Who did decide it? Korea had the right to choose or reject it and Ahn clearly expressed what most Koreans have in minds.

    If evil doctors tries to do surgery on a person against her will, it is righteous and even mandatory for her to resist. And it is justifiable even to kill the evil surgeons. Ahn’s action was a desperate scream calling for help to other influential countries. Your description of the situation represents the evil doctors’ side, defending the lesser evil doctor and, on the contrary, blaming the victims. Evil is evil. Rape by torture or rape by sedatives does not make much difference between them. And some comments I have read in other blog even compared the victim’s action with that of Woo or Cho Seunhui. What a nonsense!

    You might have a slimy mind that considers a woman’s virginity and chastity as a relative value. For some Koreans, not a Korean like you, sovereignty of Korea was like a woman’s virginity. It was an absolute value that could be neither negotiable nor violated. Ahn’s killing of Ito was right one that had attracted the attention of the world. And retrospectively, the blame should go to the rapist country and other passersby, not Ahn or Koreans.

    The difference between you and I, I think, is that you believe in the rules of power game and I believe in the universal value of human conscience and morality in the development of human history.

  29. Mr. Kim,

    Please stop bashing straw man arguments no one made. You seem to have a serious problem with reading comprehension. Again, you trot out more nonsense:

    "I do not buy your presumption that Japanese rule might have brought Korea "benefits" as in the case of Hong Kong or Singapore."

    I did not imply such a thing. Obviously, there is a world of difference between the British rule over Hong Kong and the Japanese rule over Korea. Rather, I was objecting to your tendency to make blanket moralistic generalizations.

    Here's another one:

    "The difference between you and I, I think, is that you believe in the rules of power game and I believe in the universal value of human conscience and morality in the development of human history."

    But then, why am I responding to someone who can't even get my name right?

    "최재원," eh? Be my guest and continue to rant against "Choe Jae-won," whoever he may be!

  30. [Correction] The above comment of mine should go to this man: 최원준.

  31. Peter, Mr Choe has answered your emails as well as I ever could. He and I are frequently of a like mind on many issues in the K-blogosphere, and had we seen such a thing in a forum either of us frequent, either of us would likely have smacked down a comparison of An Chunggŭn to Cho Seunghui.

    The only other thing I wish to say is that in your flawed analogy of evil doctors forcing a patient to have surgery, the person who was killed was not the evil doctors, who were out of the room, but the head nurse on the surgical ward, who had urged the evil doctors of the imprudence of what they were doing, but agreed to assist so that the patient would at least have a better outcome in the long run.

    Yes, I'm adding a goofy premise onto your goofy analogy. Frankly, on these pages that's the last I ever hope to see that analogy again. Argue in response to what's in front of you. You've made too many strawmen, as Mr Choe has noted.

  32. I am now doing something I rarely ever do: I am closing comments for this post.

    I think what needs to be said was said in the spirit of debate and, in general, respect for opposing views. I think I am picking a good spot at which to break, when everyone has had a chance to air their views and respond to opposing arguments if they wish.

    I realize the inherent unfairness in giving myself the last word, but if anyone feels that they need to speak further on this issue, there will be a chance to do so in this post to appear later today.