29 April 2007

Photos of a beautiful Chicago day

Some mornings I wake up and feel an urgent need to go somewhere, to break up my routine - but in a pinch, the traveling urge can be satisfied simply by eating in a different local restaurant, sitting at a different window in a favorite coffeeshop, and exploring different streets downtown. I woke up at 8:15 this morning, took the #6 bus downtown, walked to Lou Mitchell's (the best breakfast restaurant in America), and then spent the day exploring the West Loop, reading at Border's, and buying some summer clothes. It was 80 degrees and sunny.

Poems from the Far East

My recent fascination with Korean poetry continues, and tonight I spent an hour or two reading Japanese poetry as well. Here's a small sample of what I found:


Sad creature, neck stretched out;
Dignified always, you say nothing at all.
With your crown so fragrant,
Yours was too noble a clan.

As you stare into the depths
And think of lost legends,
In overwhelming sadness, you turn your neck
And look toward mountains far away.

No Ch’onmyong

Silent, but…

I may be silent, but
I’m thinking.
I may not talk, but
Don’t mistake me for a wall.

Tsuboi Shigeji

Through the train window,
Far away to the north,
The hills above my home
Come slowly into sight,
And I straighten my collar.

Ishikawa Takuboku

Today, my friends
All seemed to be
More a success than I.
So I brought flowers
And took them to
My wife, to make her happy.

Ishikawa Takuboku


How far far away
one star looks, when I’m lying on my back.

At the same time how near, as if linked
by a golden thread to the corner of my squinting eye,

and in the night, when I gently wake,
how tightly I press against the window-pane, peeping out.

Abruptly, as if sprouting,
as if waiting to be called, as if welcoming,

suddenly, a lonely flame flares within my soul
in regrets that gust like the wind.

I rise in my white night-clothes
and clasp my hands to my heart.

Chong Chi-yong

Sorrow of Parting

In the ear of an anchor, a gull croaks.
Suddenly, without a word, the anchor glides down.
Startled, the seagull takes off.
In a moment, the anchor turns pale in the water, sinking.
And what the seagull feels becomes a wild, sad scream
Lost in the wind.

Maruyama Kaoru

Night song of a traveler

Cold rain swirls savagely,
The lantern in my head hardly
Pierces the gloom at my feet,
Walking through endless night.

Why should I be walking?
I have put them aside – engulfing
Bed, warm talk, light. But
Why should I be walking?

When dawn comes, before I sleep,
Where should I get to? And, once there,
What should I do?

Wet through to the skin –
But, wet, I recall
Only good memories.

Shall I go home?
Or shall I go down
That street of red lights?
No. Into the darkness.

Tachihara Michizo

22 April 2007

Poems, quotes, and fragments from the weekend reading

From To think of time
Walt Whitman

To think how eager we are in building our houses,
To think others shall be just as eager and we quite indifferent.

From Whoever you are holding me now in hand
Walt Whitman

Carry me when you go forth over land or sea;
For thus merely touching you is enough, is best,
And thus touching you would I silently sleep and be carried eternally.

Quotes from Peter Singer, One World: The Ethics of Globalization:

“The value of the life of an innocent human being does not vary according to nationality.”

"Democracy, in the sense of the rule of the majority, does not provide a guarantee that human rights will be respected. But a democratic process requires that the policies of the government be publicly defended and justified. They cannot simply be implemented from above… if genocide has to be defended on primetime television, it will become rare indeed.”

“Economics raises questions of value, and economists tend to be too focused on markets to give sufficient importance to values that are not dealt with well by the market.”

Two Korean poems written under Japanese colonial occupation:

From Does spring come to stolen fields?
Yi Sanghwa

This land is no longer our own.
Does spring come just the same
to the stolen fields?

When that day comes
Sim Hun

When that day comes
Mount Samgak will rise and dance,
the waters of Han will rise up.

If that day comes before I perish,
I will soar like a crow at night
and pound the Chongno bell with my head.
The bones of my skull
will scatter, but I shall die in joy.

When that day comes at last
I'll roll and leap and shout on the boulevard
and if joy still stifles within my breast
I'll take a knife

and skin my body and make
a magical drum and march with it
in the vanguard. O procession!
Let me once hear that thundering shout,
my eyes can close then.

Translated by Peter H. Lee in Modern Korean Literature: An Anthology

17 April 2007

Bruce Cumings' "Korea's Place in the Sun"

I finally finished University of Chicago professor Bruce Cumings' Korea's Place in the Sun yesterday, and I give it the highest recommendation to anyone remotely interested in history. Even if you are not specifically interested in Korea or East Asia, this is one of those books that can transform your ideas about warfare, America's role in the world, international relations, and history itself. It certainly had an enormous impact on my way of thinking about these things.

Korea's Place in the Sun is a "modern history" of Korea, and it spends most of its 500 pp. discussing Korea's 20th century history from the Japanese occupation (1905-1945) to the present day. Cumings persuasively argues that everything you have been taught about Korea and the Korean War (1950-51) is either wrong, lopsided, or inadequate.

Did you know, for example:

-Many Koreans, especially in the South and in the police force, collaborated with the Japanese occupation and fought against their countrymen for the Japanese. These Koreans later became the core of the U.S.-supported South Korean (Republic of Korea, or ROK) government.

-The Japanese empire forced many Korean laborers to relocate to Japan in the years before 1945 to build an underground imperial palace (in case of an American invasion) and to work in war factories. At least 10,000 of these Koreans were killed by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those who survived the blasts were ostracized in Korea and not welcomed into Korean or Japanese society.

-On August 10, 1945, U.S. colonels Dean Rusk and Charles Bonesteel spent 30 minutes or less looking at a map of Korea before deciding to divide it in two at the 38th parallel.

-There was no clear aggressor in the Korean War, and neither the North nor the South acknowledged the legitimacy of the 38th parallel as an international border. Both sides wanted war.

-The U.S. occupied Korea between 1945-1948, during which time it chose to side with the elite minority of landowners in South Korea in the belief that the demand for land reform - universal among the peasantry - smacked of communism. "Within one week Americans in Seoul, who had never met a Korean, decided they knew which Korean political leaders they liked," Cumings writes. Unfortunately, most of the elite minority with which the U.S. sided was tainted by collaboration with the Japanese colonizers. A State Department official wrote to Washington: "Korea is completely ripe for agitators.... The most encouraging single factor in the political situation is the presence in Seoul of several hundred conservatives among the older and better educated Koreans. Although many of them have served the Japanese, that stigma ought eventually to disappear."

-To summarize the most important point in the book: The U.S. intervened on the side of the elite of Korean society, "nearly all of whom were widely perceived to have fattened under colonial rule while everybody else suffered." This elite was "the smallest group in Korea."

-The U.S. considered using atomic weapons against the North from the very first days of the Korean War and during several crises that arose after the armistice that ended the war. "All sides of the war were guilty of atrocities," but the U.S. bombings from the air - directed by Curtis LeMay, the mass-murderer responsible for the firebombings of Japan in WWII - were the most devastating aspect of the Korean War. "By 1952 just about everything in northern and central Korea was completely leveled. What was left of the population survived in caves, the North Koreans creating an entire life underground, in complexes of dwellings, schools, hospitals, and factories." Most horrible of all was the decision to bomb the North's irrigation dams, which "provided water for 75 percent of the North's food production." The destruction of the dams led to the mass starvation of peasants completely unconnected with the war or the politics behind it, people who knew nothing of "containment" or "communism."

-Following the Korean War, North Korea became a left-wing dictatorship under Kim il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il, and it remains so today. South Korea became a right-wing dictatorship under Syngman Rhee and his successors, and it did not become a democracy until 1997. The democratization process in South Korea was significantly slowed by U.S. policies that coddled the South Korean dictators; several pro-democracy demonstrations and uprisings were put down by the ROK regime using American-supplied tear gas and other weaponry, sometimes resulting in death tolls that rivaled the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in China.


I could go on, but that's enough for now. Everyone who studies history and has opinions about politics and warfare should go out of their way to study Korea's experience in the past century. This history is a sad tale of avoidable tragedies.

15 April 2007

Poems and fragments by Frost, Arnold, Millay, Auden, and Sandburg

A few wonderful lines I've discovered or re-discovered in this weekend's reading:

From Escapist - Never
Robert Frost

His life is a pursuit of a pursuit forever.
It is the future that creates his present.
All is an interminable chain of longing.

To Marguerite - Continued
Matthew Arnold

Yes! in the sea of life enisled,
With echoing straits between us thrown,
Dotting the shoreless watery wild,
We mortal millions live alone.
The islands feel the enclasping flow,
And then their endless bounds they know.

But when the moon their hollows lights,
And they are swept by balms of spring,
And in their glens, on starry nights,
The nightingales divinely sing;
And lovely notes, from shore to shore,
Across the sounds and channels pour -

O! then a longing like despair
Is to their farthest caverns sent;
For surely once, they feel, we were
Parts of a single continent!
Now round us spreads the watery plain—
O might our marges meet again!

Who order'd that their longing's fire
Should be, as soon as kindled, cooled?
Who renders vain their deep desire?—
A God, a God their severance ruled!
And bade betwixt their shores to be
The unplumbed, salt, estranging sea.

From Exiled
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Always I climbed the wave at morning,
Shook the sand from my shoes at night,
That now am caught beneath great buildings,
Stricken with noise, confused with light.
I should be happy, that am happy
Never at all since I came here.
I am too long away from water.
I have a need of water near.

Song of the Master and Boatswain
W.H. Auden

At Dirty Dick’s and Sloppy Joe’s
We drank our liquor straight,
Some went upstairs with Margery,
And some, alas, with Kate;
And two by two like cat and mouse,
The homeless played at keeping house.

There Wealthy Meg, the Sailor’s Friend,
And Marion, cow-eyed,
Opened their arms to me, but I
Refused to step inside;
I was not looking for a cage
In which to mope in my old age.

The nightingales are sobbing in
The orchards of our mothers,
And hearts that we broke long ago
Have long been breaking others;
Tears are round, the sea is deep:
Roll them overboard and sleep.

Carl Sandburg

Night from a railroad car window
Is a great, dark, soft thing
Broken across with slashes of light.

12 April 2007

U.S. - South Korea ambassadors panel

Today, I had the priviledge of listening to the American ambassador to South Korea and the South Korean ambassador to the U.S. give a joint talk on political and economic conditions on the Korean peninsula. Both ambassadors centered their speeches around the issues of the recently agreed-upon KORUS FTA, or United States - Korea Free Trade Agreement, and the recent breakthrough on the North Korean nuclear issue.

The KORUS FTA would be the biggest free trade agreement involving the U.S. since NAFTA; as such, it will run into a lot of opposition in Congress. There are plenty of domestic interest groups that benefit from the tariffs we place on imports from South Korea; the beef lobby will be especially difficult to placate, I was told. But it will be a major boost for most American businesses and consumers. South Korea is a staunch ally and the twelfth largest economy in the world.

On the security side of things, the ambassadors spoke cautiously of a recent breakthrough in which the North Koreans agreed to dismantle their nuclear program and admit IAEA (Int'l Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors in exchange for reduced sanctions and normalization talks. As a first step, the U.S. freed $25 million of North Korean funds this week that we had frozen in a bank in Macau. If North Korea follows through, this could be a sign of enormous progress.