Turn Off “The News”.2: Rania Khalek goes where the New York Times won’t

Korea has been on my mind recently as I was working on a song based on The Blowback Trilogy by Chalmers Johnson, who I have written about before on this blog. As I reread the trilogy looking for bits to use, I decided to try and use a teachable moment Johnson wrote about. He recounted how Bill Clinton once raised ire and eyebrows by playing golf on top of the site of mass graves of some of the many victims of the US-backed state suppression of the Jeju uprising of 1948.

I did a web search of “Cheju” (the spelling used in the book) and “Golf” and came up with a New York Times article called “Memories of Were Long Suppressed Here. Tourists Now Retrace the Atrocities.” The 2019 article conformed to the pattern that many mainstream news pieces follow of erasing key links in chains of historical cause and effect – such as reporting on exceptionally destructive storms without talking about climate change. Here, the Times held up efforts to educate the public about what happened under the Korean dictatorship – but said nothing about the role that the US played in helping that regime come to power as a way to suppress popular movements in Korea that leaned to the left and opposed the division of Korea that remains today. I don’t know if the Korean educational initiatives described in the NYT piece mention the US, but if they do, that was not mentioned.

Several people pointed this out in the comments section on the times article:

“The US military was completely involved in these massacres and others throughout Korea. The Korean puppet military was under direct US command. The US military ferried and supplied all South Korean forces to Jeju Island for the massacres with US weapons and leadership. A US general was in charge of the island during the massacres. Go back up when the US invaded Korea there was no “South Korean” government. The US put together a dictatorship made up of traitorous collaborators with the Japanese occupation. The ‘South Korean’ military was made up of Korean turncoats who had served in the Japanese Imperial army, the Kampetai, or were colonial police, such as the later dictators, Chun-Do Hwan, and Park Jung He. They were justly hated by the Korean people and the US could only impose the regime by sheer terror, massacring hundreds of thousands of Koreans, putting hundreds of thousands in concentration camps, and destroying all opposition. That is the context for the Jeju uprising, and the Korean War itself. I suggest reading Bruce Cummings,(sic) “The Korean War,” if you want to begin to know the horrible truth of US crimes in Korea.”

The Cumings book is great. But if you are more into the video streaming scene, I recommend checking out an interview that Rania Khalek just did on Breakthrough News about North Korea, and the history of modern Korea in general. It’s a dialogue with Ju-Hyun Park, “a member of Nodutdol for Korean Community Development, an anti-imperialist organization of Koreans in the U.S. struggling for Korean reunification and national liberation. They are also engagement editor at The Real News.” I listen to Rania’s show Dispatches weekly, as well as the show The Freedom Side that she does with Eugene Puryear, another one of my favorite journalists going right now.

It’s not that the Times piece is inaccurate or uninteresting or badly written – it’s that it gives the impression of upholding values of confronting hidden historical truths while intentionally hiding the major role its own country played in the massacre in question.

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