Never Forget

Never Forget
Tales of Tragedy, Courage and Triumph in the Face of Violent Government Repression. Clockwise, from left: Book cover with photos of anthology contributors, all foreign missionaries in South Korea who spoke out and took action on behalf of Korean democracy; the eight men wrongly accused at their show trial of treason by the military regime in April 1975, just hours before being hanged; family members in mourning following the injustice; coming full circle, former outlawed democracy movement leader Kim Dae Jung is elected president in 1997.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Theme of Beliefs Resonates Throughout the 2010 Wisconsin Book Festival

Gene Matthews and More Than Witnesses 
at the Wisconsin Book Festival
Associated Media

Above:  Matt Rothschild, editor of the Progressive Magazine, introduces book co-author Gene Matthews, his longtime friend and colleague, in an Oct. 2010 reading at the Wisconsin Book Festival.  Gene's presentation follows.  Click on the image for part one of two.

Above: Gene Matthews reads from his book, and provides background commentary, in Part Two of Two of his presentation.

Click here to listen to Gene's nationally-syndicated radio interview with Progressive Magazine editor Matt Rothschild, recorded on Oct. 3, 2010, which aired during the first week of 2011

Click here to listen to "More that Witnesses" co-author Gene Matthews' Sept. 24, 2010 interview on Madison's WORT-FM radio, hosted by event organizer John Quinlan

Gene is interviewed on WORT's "Third World View" by WORT Operations Manager Norm Stockwell on Oct. 30, 2010
Resonant with Gene's story, Norm's parents and grandparents have a long history serving the Methodist Church as missionaries in Korea and China, going back to the turn of the century.  Gene's interview occurs after a half-hour news round-up, about halfway into the show.

Click here to see a Sept. 29, 2010 Madison Times article on this event

"Beliefs" was chosen as the powerful  theme for the 2010 Wisconsin Book Festival.  And so festival organizers asked numerous authors, poets and other thinkers to reflect on the role beliefs have played in their lives. The multiplicity of perspectives there reflects one of the Wisconsin Humanities Council’s own deeply held beliefs: that when our beliefs get aired, shared and woven together, community life grows more vibrant and our individual lives are enriched.

That book festival theme of Beliefs is directly resonant with "More Than Witnesses," which tells the story of a courageous group of missionaries of diverse faiths living in Korea who faced an enormous series of challenges to their beliefs--indeed a dilemma at the very heart of what it means to put one's faith into action--when asked to take a stand by members of the South Korean democracy movement in facing down a brutally oppressive government. 

In a crucial moment in recent history chronicled by the book, the wives of eight Korean men about to face execution following a show trial in 1975 for trumped up charges of treason (only one of whom identified as Christian) present the ultimate challenge to these missionaries and their beliefs:  are you, a relative stranger in our land, willing to risk torture and interrogation, deportation, or even death to stand up for what is right?

How these missionaries met this challenge is a compelling and captivating story.  At a time when renewed tensions between North and South Korea often dominate the international news, it's an untold story that needs to be told.  In a post-9/11 world when the American people are faced with daunting dilemmas about whether to trade away their basic civil liberties in the name of national security, "More than Witnesses...." presents a cautionary tale with an important message for this time and place.

What Would You Do when faced with a choice of safety or being true to your beliefs?  It's the kind of basic moral dilemma that holds a universal fascination, and one well worth contemplating. Please explore this site to learn more.  And please take time to follow the link above to the video of "More Than Witnesses" contributing writer Gene Matthews, as he relates a powerful contemporary story about being true to one's self, and living out one's beliefs in the face of enormous odds.

Link to Wisconsin Book Festival web page

Gene Matthews Describes the Unprecedented Collaborations That Went Into the Creation of "More than Witnesses"

Gene Matthews:
"There are several unique aspects of the book, one being the close cooperation and friendship of Catholic and Protestant missionaries. Perhaps more unique was the involvement of the Korea Democracy Foundation (KDF). When Kim Dae Jung was elected president he persuaded the National Assembly (South Korea’s unicameral legislative body) to establish and fund KDF with the stated purpose of recording and archiving Korea’s struggle to achieve democracy. As KDF began its task it discovered that rigid government censorship during the struggle meant that not many of the really crucial documents had been preserved. However, the Monday Night Group had amassed a large collection of such documents and pictures. There were some funny stories of hiding them in various attics and moving them from time to time to prevent the KCIA from discovering them. In the end, the great bulk of them had ended up in Rockford, Illinois at the home of Linda Jones (now deceased). In 2003, KDF invited a number of us back to Korea and Linda arrived with several suitcases full of documents. Later, before her death she shipped the remaining items to KDF as well.

"It was during that visit in 2003 that KDF first learned of the existence of the Monday Night Group. The KDF leadership conducted numerous interviews with us during that time and later persuaded one of the major television stations to send a crew to the US to interview several of us for a documentary about the democratic struggle."
Matthews continues:
"During the interviews and discussions with KDF suggestions began to emerge about the possibility of a book. I will not go into the whole process but when the decision was finally made to produce the book, KDF sent us a grant of $5000 to cover editorial costs and when the manuscript was ready published it in Korea in a Hardbound edition. They then translated it into Korean and it is still available in Korea in both English and Korean. KDF sent us 1000 copies which we rapidly distributed to churches and libraries around the country and when we decided to publish a somewhat revised Trade Paperback edition, KDF graciously released the copyright to us while retaining rights to continue publishing it in Korea.

"I have searched in vain for a situation in which a sovereign government through one of its agencies persuaded, financed and published a work by foreign missionaries."

Website of the Korea Democracy Foundation (English Language Version)

Book Festival Event Coordinator, Madison Community Leader John Quinlan, Has Family Ties to the Missionary Experience in Korea, and Gene Matthews, Through his Father

John Quinlan is a longtime Madison community leader whose father, Robert Quinlan, served as a Methodist missionary in South Korea with featured festival speaker and co-author Gene Matthews.  It was Bob Quinlan who met Gene upon his arrival in Korea in 1956, and helped to acclimate him.  Bob returned to the States after serving for four years in Korea, administering war relief on behalf of the Methodist Church in a country in which 90 percent of the structures had been destroyed by war.  Life in Seoul was very simple and often challenging, but Bob Quinlan fell in love with his country, as did his colleagues.  Upon returning to the States, he experienced a kind of transformative culture shock.  On a trip made shortly after his arrival home up the East Coast with this twin brother, Bob was shocked and repulsed by the obsession with materialism and self-centered attitudes of many of those he encountered in 1957 America.  This was in stark contrast to the communitarian values and innate spirituality he had experienced in South Korea: living among people who had little, but who gave so much to those around them.

John's connection this summer with Gene Matthews has given him new insights into the path his father took, one that eventually led him to the ministry and a life of service to others.  Bob Quinlan was ordained a Methodist pastor in 1962, eventually serving Wisconsin churches in Wild Rose, Wausau, New London, Green Bay, and Beaver Dam.  He passed away from complications of surgery on June 9, 2010, at the age of 78.

George and Dorothy Ogle Sent Into Exile, As Ordinary South Koreans Implore them to "Go Forth and Tell Our Story"

John Quinlan, who also created this website, has also been privileged to connect in recent years with another of his father's colleagues from his Korean experience, George Ogle, now retired in Lafayette, Colorado with his wife Dorothy.  George is the author of the first chapter in "More Than Witnesses" entitled, "Our Hearts Cry With You."  He also has a strong Madison connection, having received his Master's and Doctoral degrees from the University of Wisconsin in 1967 and 1973 respectively, using what he learned here to help empower members of the South Korean labor movement.  His wife Dorothy, who became a leading advocate for Korean reunification upon her family's return to the U.S. in 1975, is a native of nearby Rockford, Illinois.

Shortly after leaving Madison and arriving back in South Korea in 1973, George and Dorothy Ogle were shocked to discover how a cloak of government oppression had descended over the country in their absence.  From the pulpit, and as part of a group of missionaries known as the Monday Night Group who provided information about human rights abuses to foreign correspondents, they became very visible supporters of the nascent democracy movement.  (These are experiences resonant with the stories of many of the missionaries of different faiths described in "More than Witnesses.")  In 1974, in response to entreaties from the condemned men's wives, George spoke out in support of eight wrongly accused men who were eventually hanged for treason. George Ogle subsequently faced the wrath of the military government, and its agents, the Korean CIA.  Faced with a brutal 32 hour interrogation, Ogle would not implicate others, and at the end of this process, he was summarily deported.  Ordinary South Korean citizens, by and large, were then living in a state of great fear, potentially facing torture or death if they dared speak out against the human rights and civil rights abuses of their government.  

And yet, two months later, as George's wife Dorothy was leaving to join George back in the States, a miracle happened.  Hundreds showed up at the Seoul airport to see them off, many with signs that said simply "Go Tell Our Story."  Many, inspired by the Ogles' courage, could remain silent no more.

In the years that followed, George and Dorothy Ogle became powerful advocates for South Korean democracy--and later for the peaceful reunification of the entire Korean peninsula--from their home base back in the U.S.  The government's efforts to silence them had backfired.  And more than two decades later in 1998, George Ogle returned to South Korea along with Gene Matthews, where both men witnessed the swearing-in of newly-elected South Korean President Kim Dae Jung.  Shortly after, both men received awards from the pro-democracy group the new president had founded as a then-outlawed democracy movement leader.  It was a coming full circle in a powerful way.

John Quinlan interviewed George and Dorothy Ogle in December 1997 on his Madison-based public affairs radio show, Forward Forum.  He later transcribed that interview, for the following paper he submitted to a Korean Literature in Translation class at the UW-Madison.  It describes in detail the courageous path taken by the Ogles, one mirrored in the chapter, "Our Hearts Cry With You."

Read More about George and Dorothy's Story

Link to academic paper and radio show transcript describing the Ogles' story

Editor's Note:  Event coordinator, and blog creator, John Quinlan is a Madison, Wisconsin-based consultant and journalist, who is the immediate past president of the United Nations Association of Dane County, and the 2008 recipient of the City of Madison's Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award.  As mentioned above, John's father, the Rev. Robert Quinlan, passed away unexpectedly on June 9th of this year, and John spent much of the summer seeking a way to honor him.  Learning of the publication of the book, "More than Witnesses," and the chosen theme of the Wisconsin Book Festival of "Beliefs," he put the two projects together, presenting a proposal that resulted in the book becoming a featured selection of the festival.  Featured speaker, and "More Than Witnesses" contributing writer, Gene Matthews of Iowa City, presented at 4pm on October 3rd in the Fellowship Hall of First United Methodist Church, 203 Wisconsin Avenue, at an event co-sponsored by the church, the UN Association-USA of Dane County, and The Progressive Magazine.  This website was originally designed to promote that event, and has now been adapted for use as an ongoing resource.

Korean Democracy Foundation Newsletter chronicles the second "People's Revolutionary Party" incident in 1975

Eight South Korean men, accused of the capital crime of listening to a North Korean radio broadcast, await trial in April 1975.

Please follow the two links below for compelling accounts written in recent years in reaction to the vindication of the eight men falsely accused of treason in a 1975 show trial, an event central to the history described in the book "More Than Witnesses...."

Link One:  The second People Revolutionary Party incident in 1975: A'judicial murder' committed in the dark age

Part One:  The anatomy of a show trial, where words are distorted and due process is denied, followed by a speedy execution described 

Part Two:  A moving interview with the wife of one of the men wrongfully accused and executed
(after selecting the link above, please scroll to bottom of page)

"Who can fathom how we feel, hanging around in tears under a parasol in summer and going about in a muffler in winter?"

--Madame Lee Yeong-gyo, Ha Jae-wan's wife, discusses the toll on her children of being forced to live in shame, and what vindication means for her family two decades later.

Link Two:  Reflections on the Court's Decision to Retry the Case

" I have not done anything but object to the Yushin establishment. Why should I die on a false charge?"

--Death row inmate Mr. Lee Su-Byeong, one of eight who had been sentenced to death on charges of "forming a People Revolutionary Party Reconstruction Commission" that allegedly represented a security threat to the South Korean government.  The Yushin establishment was a series of draconian laws that severely curtailed civil liberties in the name of national security.  His words were never recorded, in a trial where evidence was fabricated, and testimony rewritten for the official record.  Two decades later, the Korean government finally admitted that no such organization had ever existed.

Gene Matthews Interviewed on the Radio: "The Story" Upon Death of Kim Dae Jung (Aug. 2009); On WORT's A Public Affair (Sept. 2010)

Rev. Gene Matthews was interviewed by host Dick Gordon on American Public Media's "The Story," on August 31, 2009, in the days following the death of former South Korean president Kim Dae Jung.

Click here to access the show's website

Click here to listen to the show (mp3 format)

Gene was interviewed by John Quinlan on "A Public Affair," on Madison's listener-sponsored station, WORT-FM, on Friday, September 24th, 2010.

Click here to listen to the show (mp3 format)

Fr. James Sinnott: Continuing to Remember the Families of the Wrongly Accused

Like his colleague, United Methodist missionary George Ogle, Catholic priest James Sinnott was expelled from South Korea by the military regime in 1975 in retaliation for his advocacy on behalf of eight Korean men wrongly accused of treason, an experience he writes about in "More Than Witnesses."

In 2005, he returned to the small house that first became home to him 50 years ago, praying, painting, and writing poetry.  (See his updated story, Fr. James Sinnott Returns to Korea after his Expulsion, on the website .)

Below is a poem written by Fr. Jim Sinnott, offering his reflections following a visit by the families of those executed, as he marked his 80th birthday last year.

Summer Solstice, June 2009

Write it down
Before it goes away:
Eleven people sitting round a table
Out on a lawn under a tree
Here where I live now,
Remembering the things we did,
Attempts against some things
Happening here in South Korea
More than thirty years ago:
Men falsely accused, jailed unfairly –
One of them, eight years imprisoned,
Sitting next to me and
The widow of another
Sitting at my other side.

We are gathered here today

Because I’ve just turned eighty,
A thing impossible to dream of
In one’s early years,
As impossible as the events
That happened here in South Korea
More than thirty years ago,
Events that knit us into one,
An inseparable fabric
Labeled by security police
The “In hyek dang”
The Peoples’ Revolutionary Party,
That phony dictator’s concoction,
That lie that changed our lives
And made widows of these women
As well as years-long prisoners
Of twenty other men.
Eight men were hanged
One early morning, an evil solstice
More than thirty years ago, nine April,
When for us the sun stood still,
A day declared “Black day
In the history of jurisprudence”
By the lawyers of the world;

A day etched in the memory of my guests today,

Gathered round this table
On the lawn outside my house
For an eightieth birthday celebration,
An occasion no young person
Of my generation gives much thought to,
Anymore than one would plan
To be involved with
Murderous judicial decisions,
Torture of the chosen victims
Who were innocent of any crime,
As an apologetic nation
Finally admitted -
Thirty years too late.

And so we gather at this table

And reminisce
About the ways we tried to fight
Those terrible decisions
And we sing again the songs we sang
As we paraded on the streets,
Breaking the “peaceful order” laws
Of those dark times of martial law;
Eleven men and women sitting at a table,
On this day, this summer solstice,
Remembering, together,
Before we also go away.

James Sinnott, MM