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Achievement in Korea-U.S. collaboration to correct N.K. history

Achievement in Korea-U.S. collaboration to correct N.K. history

Posted August. 26, 2013 05:25,   


One of important techniques required for scholars studying North Korea is to read between the lines of official publications from the North. One should not blindly trust contents as they are in compilations of North Korean leaders’ speeches such as “Kim Il Sung Memoir,” or “Kim Jong Il’s Selection,” or reports announced in journals including the Rodong Sinmun. The reason for this is that North Korean authority often does not hesitate to distort, exaggerate and conceal facts when necessary to glorify the “Kim Dynasty.”

Hence, there are many elements that the outside world should verify and correct in the records on the North’s modern history starting from the history of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung’s independence fight during Japanese colonial rule of Korea, and since the foundation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” in 1948. This work might have to continue even after the North as a country disappears. The "Modern Korean History Portal" opened last Thursday by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a think tank dedicated to history of the U.S. Cold War era, can be considered an important step in this mission.

The portal is a result of compilation of the achievements from the “North Korea International Documentation Project” that the center has been conducting since 2006. The portal provides a collection of “diplomatic reports” that foreign diplomats from dozens of North Korea’s Stalinist allies in Eastern Europe and China, who were stationed in Pyongyang, sent to their countries based on what they witnessed, heard and confirmed in the North. At this portal, a visitor can directly view and download diplomatic documents sourced from more than 40 archives worldwide, which are categorized by theme, including “North Korea Nuclear History,” “Conversations with Kim Il Sung,” and “USS Pueblo Crisis.”

James Person (Ph.D. in history), the center`s project coordinator in charge of this project, told a press conference on Thursday that “The portal is a project of South Korea, not the U.S.,” in trying to give credit for the achievement to its South Korean partners. In fact, a number of professors from University of North Korean Studies in Seoul were dispatched to the U.S. and participated in the effort to discover documents. The Korea Foundation under South Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry provided financial assistance necessary to discover documents and construct the portal, namely a South Korea-U.S. collaboration aimed at “correcting North Korea’s history.”

Marking the 60th anniversary of the signing of the South Korea-U.S. Alliance this year, the governments of South Korea and the U.S. have been busy celebrating the bilateral ties through glaring commemorative events and various projects, and trying to establish vision for the next 60 years. The Modern Korean History Portal can be considered a meaningful achievement that has been created through collective efforts by private think tanks and academia of the two allies, and “semi-public, semi-private” public diplomacy. It is even more meaningful, given that to establish an accurate North Korean history will lay cultural foundation for reunification of the two Koreas.

The center will continue to collect and translate diplomatic documents regarding North Korea, and publicize them through the portal on a weekly basis. The portal will likely be a hotspot for scholars who have been exerting efforts to correct the North’s history despite lack of materials. Pressuring on the North Korean authority to write its history in a way that is less distorted through a warning that “Truth will be revealed some day” will be one of the positive functions of this portal as well.