A Nation of Amnesiacs & A Man with No Face (was RES: a trip to North Korea)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Sun Apr 23 03:13:24 PDT 2000

Carrol wrote:

>(It is outrageous that u.s. leftists haven't made a more
>consistent racket for reprations to Vietnam. We could never win
>them -- but some obeisance has to be paid to simple honesty and

It's what Bruce Cumings calls "a nation of amnesiacs" -- "leftists" are no exceptions here -- that the Vietnamese, North Koreans, and other victims are up against:

***** The problem for me is...when I meet North Koreans and sooner or later find out how many of their loved ones they lost in the bombing holocaust.

I feel two sensations: the first, a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach because I am one of the few Americans in a position to know that they are right, they suffered one of the most appalling, unrestrained, genocidal bombing campaigns in our genocidal twentieth century....More daunting is that The Great Satan doesn't know or care a thing about what was done in its name (actually in the name of the United Nations) back in the early 1950s. The Koreans are shouting themselves hoarse at a nation of amnesiacs, who aren't listening.

Let me give you two examples of this latter point. The first is John Glenn, astronaut with the 'right stuff,' Senator from Ohio, one-time Presidential candidate, and ace fighter pilot in the Korean War. We interviewed him on the snowiest day in Washington in recent years, in February 1987. We hung around while the Senator dealt politely with a constituent, and ruminated about whether he'd be able to pilot his own plane back to Ohio, what with the weather.

Glenn was eager for the interview. In the course of it, among other things, he said the pilots took a lot of ack-ack fire from 'Ping Pong' (otherwise known as P'yongyang), so 'we'd detour around Ping Pong going up to Indian Country' along the Yalu. Ping Pong had been pretty well destroyed, he related; elsewhere, 'we did a lot of napalm work....You came in on what we called a nape scrape which is where you came in so low you were almost flying into the target that you er were going to put napalm on and er....'

When I later screened the full documentary for some (South) Korean friends, one of them told me he found Glenn the most abominable person in the whole six hours, because he had no conception of self-consciousness about what he had done.

The second example materialized in the P'yongyang Koryo Hotel, as the lead actor in an Italian spaghetti spy story being filmed when we were there. We first got a sniff of this new fruit of the DPRK's joint-venture law one day when we witnessed a four-door black Cadillac of mid-1970s vintage roaring through the streets, snow tires fixed to the front of this rear-drive vehicle, its top chopped off and inside a full Korean camera crew, filming in the streets and driven by a wild-eyed Korean who laughed, I imagine, the way it was said the guy did who crashed a truck loaded with explosives into the Marine camp in Beirut.

This surreal vision was topped by meeting the crew itself, one evening when they filmed a chase scene at our hotel. The Italian company had come to P'yongyang because the yen had gone so high that Tokyo was prohibitive; they were going to say the film was done in Japan, anyway. The director was a seedy Englishman, and the female lead was a sultry brunette of indeterminate ethnicity; until I heard her speak Italian I thought she might be Portuguese-Chinese from Macao. She hung around the vast lobby of the hotel, usually leaning up against a pillar with a pouting, comely look on her face.

The male lead is our example, however, a well-muscled blond stallion from Hollywood whose career there, whatever it might have been, was unavailing, so he took his slightly overripe but still passably pretty face to Italy, and wound up in the twin-tower Koryo Hotel. He greeted me incongruously one day as if I were a long-lost friend, after someone told him I was a fellow American. The vapors leaving his lips rendered the larger miasma in the space between his ears; I realized that John Locke's postulation of a _tabula rasa_ at birth was only half the story, it could last into one's late twenties. Within seconds he was railing on about how awful Koreans were:

These people, okay, they really hate us, like, they say imperialist-this and atrocity-that, and ya know, they don't let even one newspaper into the country that you can read, like they just blab on in Korean on TV, Kim whassisname's face is everywhere, and they really hate us, I mean, they'd just like us to go take a flying leap, all of us, okay, the whole country, a big flying leap.

'Yeah,' I said, 'it's a bitch,' and changed the subject to what he might be doing in P'yongyang. The amnesiac had spoken, the _tabula rasa_ had something written on it after all.

A couple of days after we arrived back in P'yongyang, I ate an enjoyable lunch, bantered with the friendly staff, and headed up to my room for a nap. I stood by myself as the elevator opened, and inside was a lone shriveled man with no face. He had been burned to a crisp at some point, and I thought I knew the point: a 'nape scrape.' If I never knew the full meaning of the verb 'to blanch,' I learned it as I stood there paralyzed, until the door began to close and I moved not forward but back, at a lurch. I went up to my room and vomited, appalled at the sight and even more at myself for adding one more gratuitous insult to this man's unfortunate life.

(_War and Television_ 215-7) *****

Still and all, Americans are happy to tell North Koreans: all of your problems have been caused by the "Great Leader" and his Stalinist ways, look at your South Korean brothers & sisters, what freedom, what prosperity they enjoy! You can't beat capitalism, so why not join it? We'll sell you our subsidized crops & meat, don't worry, it's not worth protecting your farmers. Work on your comparative advantages. (Just take care not to export too many cars, too much steel, too many garments....)

Reparations? Dream on!


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