My Gwangju FOIA Documents Get a Home – In Gwangju

mayor yoonThis week I agreed to donate my entire collection of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents on U.S. policy in South Korea from 1979 to 1980 to the city of Kwangju. Mayor Yoon and I worked out the agreement on May 18 after I held extensive discussions with his human rights staff. The process will take a while, but eventually the city’s archive – which just opened last year – will get all 4,000 pages of declassified documents from the State Department, the Pentagon, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council and the CIA. They will be open to researchers and eventually copied in PDF format so anyone can search them. I’m very proud that they will find a home in the great city of Kwangju, the scene of a massive uprising against military rule that lasted from May 18 to May 27, 1980. This was a great accomplishment for me, and I thank Mayor Yoon and his wonderful staff for their assistance. I was invited to Kwangju this week for the commemorations along with three reporters who were there at the time of the uprising: Norman Thorpe of the Asian Wall Street Journal, Bradley Martin of The Baltimore Sun, and Donald Kirk of the London Observer. To get a take on what they observed, read Martin’s extraordinary story about his last interview with Yoon Sang-won, the leader of the uprising who died on the night of May 27, 1980, when U.S.-sanctioned South Korean forces sent from the DMZ retook the city and ended the 10-day rebellion.




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Reflections on The Intercept’s Snowden Archive

At long last, The Intercept has decided to “broaden” access to the massive trove of NSA documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. Here’s my initial thoughts on this momentous decision, written hastily from South Korea. Thanks to Lauren Walker of The Daily Dot for calling my attention to this story. 

The Intercept’s decision to unlock access to these NSA documents is long overdue. Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers to every paper that would take them in 1971, and the Snowden documents should have been exposed to the same light.

This archive has badly needed the scrutiny of people who understand the NSA in a historical and economic context. That’s particularly true, from my perspective, of the few journalists who have reported on NSA’s relationships to its operational contractors such as Booz Allen Hamilton, which employed Edward Snowden when he leaked his trove.

But I have mixed feelings about this announcement. Even in the small trickle of documents printed in The Intercept, I’ve seen their in-house experts miss important revelations, particularly about the contractors involved in NSA intelligence gathering. By refusing and delaying access to experts in critical areas of intelligence and acting like each successive release from their reporters was a major scoop and a reflection on their own greatness, The Intercept did a disservice to journalism and the public.

Still, I can only applaud the fact that Glenn Greenwald has listened to critics such as myself and the people at Cryptome, and I look forward to going through these newly released documents. This is an important moment in the history of national security journalism.

Tim Shorrock

Gwangju, South Korea

May 17, 2016


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Back to Korea

Gwangju National Cemetery, May 2015

Gwangju National Cemetery, May 2015

I’m heading back to Korea on Friday. I’ve been invited to Gwangju by the city government with the small group of Korean and foreign reporters who were there during the citizens’ uprising of May 18, 1980. The city is sponsoring several days of events, including a press conference and a major commemoration at the national cemetery where the hundreds of people who died fighting for democracy are buried. In my mind, Gwangju is the most overlooked anti-fascist uprising in history, and deserves great respect as one of the few times during the Cold War that a people directly took up arms against a U.S.-backed military dictatorship. Last year, Gwangju made me an honorary citizen for uncovering the American role in those events, the greatest honor I’ve ever received for my journalism.

After Gwangju, I’ll be stopping for a few days on the island of Jeju, which was itself the scene of a bloody uprising against fascist rule in 1948 that was put down, at great cost in human life, by a South Korean army led by U.S. counterinsurgency specialists. There, amidst the splendor of one of Asia’s top tourist spots, locals have been fighting for years to stop the South Korean government (and its construction ally, Samsung) from building a naval base that will also be used by the U.S. Navy (it’s part of the human cost of the Obama-Clinton “Asia Pivot” you’ve heard so much about). I’ll then stop in Seoul before flying home via L.A. Along the way, I’ll be posting stories and pics here of what I’ve seen and experienced.

I come to South Korea at a time when repression against left and progressive forces is on the upswing under the increasingly authoritarian government of Park Geun-hye, daughter of the late dictator Park Chung Hee, who ruled with an iron fist from 1961 to 1979. I experienced a bit of that repression last year, when I was subject to intense and unusual criticism from the Park government for an article I wrote for The Nation. Here’s a piece I wrote on that incident that was published in OhMyNewsone of the most widely-read websites on the Internet. It gives a flavor of what ordinary South Koreans deal with every day. 



By Tim Shorrock

OhMyNews, December 8, 2015

When I heard last week that the South Korean Consulate in New York had contacted my editors at The Nation about my article on President Park Guen-hye’s crackdown on the labor movement, I was surprised and a little shocked. I’ve been writing about South Korea for over 30 years for the Nation and other US publications. But until this call, I’d never heard a direct complaint about my article from the Korean government. So I wondered: why did this article catch their attention?

From what I’ve been able to piece together, the person at the Consulate contacted my editors on direction from his boss in Seoul. But he wasn’t contacted until after my article had been translated into Korean and posted on the Internet, drawing thousands of readers and comments. My article, which was quite critical of the Park government and included many details about her dictator father, Park Chung Hee, apparently deeply offended someone inside Park’s foreign ministry, which then instructed the Consulate to complain to the Nation.

Aside from the fact that I refered to “a dictator’s daughter,” however, there was little in my article that was new or unusual. I believe that it caught the government’s attention because it was so unlike most reports about South Korea in the U.S. press. For the most part, American reporters in Korea see the country only in Cold War terms, with the “bad” North Koreans always the villains and the “good” South Koreans always the victim of those villains. And of course they consistently see the United States as the ultimate champion of “good” South Korea.

Unfortunately, this framework obscures the complexities of South Korea, its political and economic system, and its ties to the United States. As a result, few Americans know that South Korea was ruled by many years by tough dictators who were supported by the United States despite their suppression of democratic rights. Fewer still are aware of the deep divisions within South Korea over this legacy and that the fact that many Koreans are opposed to the conservative policies of Park Guen-Hye and her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak. Why would Americans think any differently when President Obama, America’s most liberal president, praises Park and Lee as champions of democracy and important military partners?

Therefore, my primary thought after the Consulate contacted the Nation was that the Korean government was upset that an American journalist was putting their country in an unfavorable light. Calling my editors and complaining about my article seemed to be a form of intimidation to pressure the Nation and myself to report more favorably about President Park. It angered me, and so I posted what they’d said on my Facebook page – not knowing of course that it would be picked up as a major story by the Korean media.

So I disagree with the government’s attempt to “correct” my reporting. At the same time, I found myself agreeing with something the Consulate told the Nation. He said that we should understand that South Korea has undergone tremendous change over the past 30 years. That is true, and I can’t disagree.

I lived in South Korea during the era of Syngman Rhee and witnessed his overthrow. And later, during the 1980s, I spend many months in South Korea writing about the citizens’ movement for democracy and meeting with labor organizers, religious activists and political organizers about their experiences and hopes for the future. On my last trip, in 1985, conditions were very difficult, and sometimes I would meet someone one day and learn they had been arrested the next. I also visited Kwangju, and learned much about what happened in that city during the uprising and afterwards.

After that visit, I didn’t return to South Korea for many years. But in reporting from Washington in the 19990s and in my visits in 2001, 2013 and 2015, I understood how much South Korea has changed since the dark days of dictatorship. I know that conditions are still bad for many people, particularly ordinary workers, farmers and the urban poor. But I also know that South Korea today is nothing like the authoritarian days of the 1970s and 1980s. My worry, along with many Koreans, is that under Park South Korea may be slipping back into the old ways. Instead of reacting angrily, the Korean government should welcome that critique and show the world that it is unafraid of criticism.

To the opposition party, Hankyoreh and other publications that have criticized the Park government for criticizing the Nation – thank you for your solidarity! You are showing that democracy is still vital and that you have no intention of allowing South Korea to slip back into dictatorship.

Lastly, I want OhMyNews readers to know that I have tremendous respect for what South Koreans have accomplished in building that democracy over the past 50 years. You should also know that I am extremely critical of my own government and the Obama administration for its undemocratic policies, particularly the widepread surveillance of U.S. citizens by the National Security Agency and its attacks on whistleblowers who try to expose these wrongdoings.

Last May I was made an honorary citizen of the City of Kwangju. So I feel like I’m a citizen of both Korea and the United States – and as a citizen and a journaliist, it’s my duty to shed light on what’s wrong with both of our countries and seek ways to make us better. No government should be afraid of the truth.







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Hiroshima: Yes, an apology is long overdue.

New Years, Tokyo, 1948. By the end of the war, the Japanese people were literally starving in the streets.

New Years, Tokyo, 1948. By the end of the war, the Japanese people were literally starving in the streets. The atomic bombs were unnecessary. Credit: Hallam C. Shorrock, Jr.

President Obama will visit Hiroshima on May 27, accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Should he apologize, pundits ask? Absolutely. My thoughts, just posted at The Nation.

The idea that the atomic bombings brought an end to war has always seemed ridiculous to me. By the summer of 1945, Tokyo and dozens of other cities had been obliterated. People throughout the country were, literally, starving amid the ruins, and any national pride and hopes for the future were long gone. My stepmother, Yasuko, survived the war in Kokubunji, a western suburb of Tokyo, where her preacher father had a church. She and her teenage brother were so weakened by hunger by the war’s end that they used to grab onto telephone poles to steady themselves while they were walking.

As the historian John Dower has written so eloquently, the “unthinkable” surrender of Japan was accepted with little question by the stricken population. Others have documented that the Emperor and his military advisers were ready for the final terms of surrender weeks before the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those events will undoubtedly be the source of much debate as Obama’s visit approaches, with many voices demanding that he forgo any expression of regret. I respectfully disagree. I believe an apology for unleashing the first nuclear holocaust in human history—and targeting civilians in those attacks—is in order, and long overdue.

There’s a precedent. President Eisenhower, who understood war better than any American leader, didn’t apologize, but he did express remorse. “I was against [use of the atomic bomb] on two counts,” he said in a postwar interview. “First, the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Second, I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon.” And in The Fog of War, Errol Morris’s film about Robert McNamara, the former Secretary of Defense (who helped plan the destruction of Japanese cities) suggested that the US firebombing in the final months of the war should have been considered a war crime—but only if the United States had lost the war.

Click here to read the full article.

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A Plea for Peace in Korea

Koreans demonstrate in Seoul against US-South Korean war games.

Koreans demonstrate in Seoul against US-South Korean war games. The signs read “Stop War Preparation Drill.”

The wars drums are beating in Pyongyang and Washington, and the official media in both North Korea and the United States are eating it up. Time for a little sanity: a guest post by my colleague Simone Chun.

“Heart speaks to heart.”

By Simone Chun

The latest sanctions on North Korea are having immediate effects, including jingoistic reports from the foreign media on Korea and the halting of humanitarian aid to the North from international NGOs. Now is the time to bolster efforts to promote humanitarian and people-to-people exchange with North Korea: it’s the only channel left under the current political climate. Here’s the latest:

The bellicose and jingoistic U.S. media’s spin on recent events on the Korean peninsula: Mark Thompson in Time: “Is It Time to Attack North Korea?”

Taking out North Korea’s two major nuclear sites with air strikes would be dangerous but probably not too difficult, U.S. officials say. The possibility of North Korean retaliation against Seoul, South Korea’s capital of 10 million and only 35 miles from North Korea, would be a complicating factor, they concede.

The latest humanitarian crisis for North Korea: The Washington Post on North Korean tuberculosis patients at risk as sanctions hamper medicine shipments:

The lives of more than 1,500 North Korean tuberculosis patients are at risk, an American-run humanitarian foundation said Wednesday, because tough new sanctions are stopping medicine from getting to sick people.”…“Unless something is done quickly, our patients will fail treatment and die,” said Stephen W. Linton, chairman of the foundation. “Short of all-out war, I cannot imagine a greater tragedy for the Korean people.”…“These people need additional medication to finish the program, and if they don’t get it, they run the risk of developing additional resistance and dying,” Linton said. “Should they return home to die, everyone who comes into contact with them will be at risk of contracting this particularly dangerous type of ‘super-TB’?” he said.

Screenshot 2016-03-11 09.49.12


“Heart speaks to Heart” – From the Catholic HeraldFather Gerard Hammond, American Maryknoll missionary, visits North Korea as a silent ‘apostle of peace’

Maryknoll Father Gerard Hammond, 81, who has lived in South Korea since 1960, first crossed over into the North in 1995 and since then has made 51 trips. During Pope Francis’s visit to South Korea this month the Pope met Fr Hammond and personally thanked him for his work in the North…. “You’re present to a people whom you cannot speak to and they can’t speak to you, but it’s the old adage: ‘heart speaks to heart,’” he said. “They see compassion. Well, they’re in a country where they’re told that [the late dictator] Kim Jong Il gives them everything. But then they see, well, in this case he isn’t. So you’re also creating a thought pattern in their own life: ‘What do these people help bring us? What are they doing here?’

Pay attention: the real story is not being told by the U.S. media. Don’t let pro-war reporters lead us into another conflagration. Over 3 million Koreans died in the Korean War. Here’s some thoughts from the Korea Peace Network, an initiative of the American Friends Service Committee and other peace organizations.

Screenshot 2016-03-11 10.15.06

Screenshot 2016-03-11 10.15.30


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