In our article on South Korea’s dissident poet, Kim Chi Ha [NYR, August 7, 1975], who was arrested in March 1975, Frank Baldwin and I suggested that Kim’s alleged confessions of communist sympathies must be evaluated against the specific conditions obtaining under Park Chung Hee’s repressive rule. For in Park’s regime, such confessions are routinely wrung from political prisoners by means of torture. Since the appearance of the article, Kim has validated the substance of our remarks.
In June Kim smuggled out of prison a 12,000-word “Declaration of Conscience,” reportedly scratched in mud on paper stolen from prison authorities. The Japanese Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice published the document in Tokyo in early August, and recently the Committee to Rescue Kim Chi Ha and his Friends, also in Tokyo, has made available an English translation of it. It is a statement of extraordinary eloquence and importance, and deserves the widest possible audience.
In the document Kim explains how the Korean CIA extracted his “confession” (which was later widely circulated as a government pamphlet, “The Case Against Kim Chi Ha”), as follows:
It was not a voluntary statement. I was a powerless individual in an underground interrogation room of the KCIA’s Fifth Bureau. They were the almighty agency of state terror, beyond any law or decency…. The government had decided to destroy me politically and religiously. They were going to crush me until I was flattened out like a piece of dried cuttlefish.
After resisting his tormentors for five or six days, Kim became “exhausted and delirious” and, while the KCIA men dictated, wrote out his confession: “I scribbled it down like graffiti on a toilet wall and threw it at them.”
The KCIA’s pamphlet also quoted from Kim’s prison jottings, but it appears to be selective. Kim writes:
If the government will make public all my notes, the charges against me will fall of their own weight. Anyone who examines the material will see my values: my hatred of oppression and exploitation, my groping in the political wilderness for a way out of these iniquities, how I have driven myself in the quest for answers! This search has nothing to do with communism.
Kim said that he belonged to no political sect or party:
I belong in the creative tension formed by the chaos of freedom. A natural pool swirls with cross currents of ideas, values, systems, and experiences. By diving into that pool again and again I hope to come up with a few grains of truth. I stand beside that pool poised for the next dive.
The remainder of Kim’s statement consists of a moving and thoughtful explanation of his beliefs and the manner in which the work he is writing expresses them. He believes, he says, in “the unity of God and revolution.” By this he means that he seeks a synthesis of materialism—with its emphasis on a redemptive historical process whose agency is the common people who recover their humanity through struggle—and a spiritual realm in which both oppressor and oppressed find salvation. As his poetry attests, Kim has always related his philosophy to the Korean people, with their “tradition of resistance and revolution, with its unique vitality under the incredibly negative circumstances prevailing here.”
Indeed he and the Korean people live under incredibly negative circumstances. Kim tries to resolve seeming opposites, to think dialectically. He read Mao’s “On Contradiction” some six years ago. The KCIA found this out and, in Kim’s words,
To my astonishment, the KCIA even attributed my use of the word “resurrection” to Mao! They said the “resolution” of death into resurrection was the resolution of a contradiction! Even perverse sophistry has its limits, one would think….
The police of the Republic of Korea are not much for subtle distinctions. They regard materialism as identical with metaphysics. At the faintest whiff of dialectics, they stick the communist label on you. In South Korea, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Jesus, the Buddha, anybody and everybody concerned with fundamental truth or essential reality would be a communist.
As this is written Kim remains in jail, although it would appear he is no longer under pre-trial detention. His trial, scheduled to begin on September 15, did not take place, and a military tribunal reinstated an earlier life sentence as a means of keeping him in jail. A trial will be held in the coming weeks, however, on charges of sedition carrying with them a death penalty; it should be an occasion for intense protest to the Park government.
October 16, 1975