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An Anti-American Warrior Can’t Become the Yankees’ Hired Gun [I Was a Follower of Juche – #5]

July 24, 2013

Read in Korean

The lengths to which members of the pro-North faction tried to avoid service in the South Korean military is the subject of the fifth installment of the series, “Understanding the Pro-North Faction – I was a Follower of Juche” (종북주의 해부하기 – 나는 주사파였다). As with many of the founders of NKnet, Lee Kwang Baek — now the head of Radio Free Chosun — previously had supported North Korea and its Juche ideology. This column originally appeared on pages 52-53 of the January 2012 issue of NK Vision magazine. Translation courtesy of Graham Hand.

Anti-American student protesters hold a banner that reads, "Drive Out the Murderous Yank Bastards"
The university students who supported Kim Jong Il were the sons of a divided country. Sooner or later a draft notice arrived telling them it was their turn to protect the nation. They thought that South Korea was an American colony – that the U.S. forces in Korea were an occupying army and the Korean forces were fighting for Uncle Sam. An anti-American warrior couldn’t become the invaders’ hired gun. Some of the most dedicated student activists went to prison rather than enter the army. Some ignored their draft notices and went on the run. And some went so far as to intentionally injure themselves, repeatedly, to push back their enlistment. Young men bringing down steel pipes on their own arms for the sake of their beliefs – the image is shocking and sad.

What Draft Notices Meant to Activists

Cree-e-eak. The iron door of the Student Union Building opened slowly. Gyeongho, who was in charge of activism, poked his head in through the gap between the door and the wall. The eyes of all the students gathered in the meeting room fell on him. Gyeongho hung his head sullenly and avoided their gaze. He stepped over the tangled banners and heaps of posters scattered on the floor and went slowly to his seat. His eyes were nervous and his shoulders stooped with worry. As he entered, the golden, late-afternoon sunlight streaming in through the window faded away. The atmosphere was dark and heavy. Junhyeok, the president of the Student Union, flung a question at him.

“What is it this time?” His voice was half annoyed and half worried.

“….” Gyeongho leaned stiffly against the back of his chair and sat silently. Grr-r-rrk. The back of the old chair groaned. The sun sinking behind the cloud-shrouded mountains again peeked in through the meeting room window. The sunlight was somehow colder than before Gyeongho had entered. Gyeongho leaned forward again in his chair and looked at his friend.

“Junhyeok.”

“Well, what?”

“I…”

“What is it? … Did you break up with Sukyeong?”

“My draft notice came.”

“….”

“I called my father yesterday. He said that my draft notice came and he told me to come home.”

“When did it come? When is your enlistment date?”

“It came three weeks ago. My enlistment is next week….”

“….”

The room was silent. The news of Gyeongho’s draft notice sucked the heat out of the late autumn air.

“Meet me tomorrow at 6:00 at the Saeddugi (새뚝이) practice room.” (Saeddugi was a school club.) “Minsu, you come too.”

Junhyeok raised his voice at the end of his sentences – he sounded like he was trying to make them promise. His voice was dry and cracked. After telling the two classmates about when and where to meet, Junhyeok headed for the room where the head of the organization lived. They had to decide whether to send Gyeongho, one of the primary leaders of the organization, to the army.

The Instant He Saw the Cruel, Heavy Pipe…

The autumn drizzle was white as it fell into the orange circle of brightness around the streetlight. Gyeongho’s hair was damp and mussed from the autumn rain as he headed for the Saeddugi practice room in the basement of the Student Union Building. The rain’s chill soaked into his heart. He felt uneasy and anxious and cold.

Saeddugi had been started 15 years earlier. It was the oldest traditional percussion club at the university. The Saeddugi practice room was more than 200 square meters – it had enough space for five or six respectable school clubs all to itself. It had separate areas for practicing, eating and sleeping and holding meetings. Gyeongho weakly pushed open the door to the boarding room. Junhyeok and Minsu were already there. Gyeongho saw worry and fear on Minsu’s face, and he could see that Junhyeok was struggling to stay calm. A steel pipe lay next to where he was sitting. Gyeongho’s heart thumped in his chest. He could guess why they were meeting there… An anti-American warrior couldn’t become the invaders’ hired gun. He had spent his days chanting, “We have to stand firm,” and “We have to be determined,” over and over. The instant he saw Minsu’s fearful eyes, the instant he saw the cruel, heavy pipe, Gyeongho knew. The familiar slogans he had repeated day in and day out melted into nothingness. Gyeongho’s distress and fear, guns and pipes, soldiers and comrades, his mother and his girlfriend Sukyeong’s face – all of these thoughts spun and whipped dizzily through his mind. He took off his shoes and sat on the floor in front of Junhyeok and Minsu.

“To begin with, we have to push back your enlistment date a few months. We have to finish working on the Student Union campaign that’s coming up, and next year you might have to serve as the head of the Student Union and the head of the organization, Gyeongho.”

Junhyeok was struggling to stay calm, but he couldn’t stop the uneasy sigh which escaped at the end of his words.

“….”

Gyeongho and Minsu just nodded their heads, slowly and silently.

“Under the wisteria tree behind the humanities building there’s a quiet spot. Twist your arm so the thin bone is on top when you do it. That way it hurts less, and it will break easier. Minsu, don’t be nervous…. Finish it with one hit.”

You Have To Finish It With One Hit, So It Hurts Less

Under the wisteria behind the humanities building, Minsu’s hand holding the steel pipe didn’t have an ounce of strength. As he was walking from the Student Union to the humanities building he had felt the strength flowing out of his arm and running down into the earth, draining out of him. The laughter and playfulness were missing from Minsu’s face. When he returned his tray after lunch, his rice had been untouched.

Minsu and Gyeongho looked at each other silently. A moment later, Gyeongho turned away from Minsu. He knelt down, stretched out and twisted his arm, and rested his wrist on a concrete bench. You had to keep your arm propped up when the pipe hit it. Then he closed his eyes. Minsu’s face and armpits, and his hand holding the steel pipe, were sweaty.

It was the first time Minsu had broken a comrade’s arm. As he raised it up the pipe felt as heavy as a telephone pole. His arm was shaking. He kept repeating to himself, “You have to finish it with one hit…That way it will hurt less.” The pipe had felt as heavy as a telephone pole, but once he lifted it up it felt like it was made of styrofoam. It felt too light to break Gyeongho’s arm. Minsu grunted and held his breath. The pipe struck Gyeongho’s arm with a thunk. Minsu felt like he’d been too nervous and struck too clumsily. He was worried that the Gyeongho’s arm might not be broken, so he took a deep breath and brought the pipe down one more time. A scream escaped from Gyeongho’s mouth.

Minsu asked hurriedly, “Did it break? Is it broken?”

“Ahh, I don’t know. Ah, ah, it feels broken, but…”

Minsu half-carried the sobbing Gyeongho to the rear gate of the university, where they hailed a taxi. While they were on their way to the university hospital the two of them prayed fervently. “Please, let it be broken….” Desperately, with all their hearts, they prayed that it was broken.

Read previous columns in this series:
1 – Learning about Gwangju at Freshmen Orientation
2 – Renouncing Capitalism for a Class-Based Worldview
3 – “Overthrow the U.S. Imperialists and Liberate our Colonized Nation!”
4 – The Tuition Struggle: College Takeover

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