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Korea on My Mind

Posted July. 09, 2005 03:06,   


Kenneth Quinones- Former State Department official for North Korean Affairs

“I was forced in the military…”-

Kenneth Quinones, the former U.S. State Department expert on North Korea, was the first U.S. diplomat to visit North Korea in 1992. His “Korea research” began when he was serving in the military. Joining in the army after finishing a year of study in the University of Arizona, Quinones was assigned to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey. He wanted to work on French when he was assigned to an unusual task of “studying foreign languages.” Instead, the assignment he received was Korean, an unknown difficult language.

Finishing one year of his “Korean battle,” he was sent to an intelligence unit and was engaged in the decoding of confidential Korean documents in the Korean presidential election in 1962. He said in an interview on July 6, “I saw vividly how the election was corrupt right after the May 16 incident.”

He regretted learning Korean immediately after he visited Seoul in 1963 when the city was nothing but ashes and ruins. But he met Koreans who keep their smiles and hopes for a brighter future despite poverty and suppression.

In 1968, when he entered Harvard University, his professor advised against his decision to study Korean history, saying, “You may well starve if you major in Korean history. Study Chinese or Japanese, instead.” But he rejected. For sure, there was some influence from his Korean wife.

Dan Sneider-Columnist-San Jose Mercury News

Learning Korean While Reporting-

The “Nelson Report” released late last month said, “The only Korean experts working for influential U.S. news media are Don Oberdorfer, a former journalist of the Washington Post, and Dan Sneider, columnist of the San Jose Mercury News.”

Dan Sneider is the son of Richard Sneider, the former U.S. ambassador to Korea under the Jimmy Carter administration in the late 1970s. But it was not via his father that Dan got to know Korea. As an adult when his father was serving as U.S. ambassador to Korea, Dan did not move together with his father to Seoul.

He learned about Korea as a journalist shuttling between Japan and Korea from 1985 to 1990 when he was working as the head of the Tokyo branch office of The Christian Science Monitor. In particular, he spent almost all his time at the scenes of demonstrations in 1987 and 1988, when pro-democracy protests were at their height.

He said in a telephone interview on July 5, “I cannot forget the scene of Christians who had just finished their mass in a large church in Seoul pouring onto the street, chanting pro-democracy slogans still in their choir uniforms.”

Peter Beck- North East Asia Project Director of ICG

A Backpack Trip That Became a Turning Point in Life-

Peter Beck, the director of the Northeast Asia Project for the International Crisis Group (ICG), decided his lifetime vocation when he took a backpacking trip to Korea without any specific intention after finishing his second year at the University of California, Berkeley. He said the demonstrations of May 1987 which he witnessed for the first time in his life were a shock.

Upon returning to the U.S., he changed his major from political science to Oriental studies. He attended the lecture, “The 100-year history of Koreans’ struggle against foreign forces,” by former professor of Hanyang University Lee Young-hee, who was visiting the university at that time. Lee wrote in his memoir, Dialogue, “Korean newspapers recently run opinions of U.S. experts on the conflict between the U.S. and North Korea. Articles from my former U.S. student often appear. After attending my class, he studied in Korea after graduating from university in the U.S., and then earned his degree back in the U.S. His name is Peter Beck. It is fair to say that I nurtured a good student of Korean studies.”

Peter Beck, who was born in 1967, describes himself as a “386 generation who entered university in ’85.” In March, he was invited as an official in charge of unification policy assessment for the Ministry of Unification. He thought of himself as a quasi-Korean. But he makes jokes, “My family name is Beck, not ‘Baek’.”

Seung-Ryun Kim srkim@donga.com