the friend online
02 February 2007

International Edition: Quakers enter Korea (1953)

Transcribed from The Australian Friend, October 20, 1953

The first air-mail letter from Frank and Patricia Hunt in Korea reached Friends House in London on the day the Korean armistice was signed. Later letters have told of their plans to receive their Anglo-American Quaker relief team - or Friends Service Unit as it is now called - in Korea about the end of September.

Two doctors, a physiotherapist, a nurse, and a social worker were leaving England for the U.S.A. by boat on August 30. They were flying on to Tokyo where they will join AFSC co-workers for a short preparation course before going into Korea.

The main task ahead is rehabilitation of a hospital at Kunsan, a Korean west coast port being reconstructed for ships bringing U.N. relief supplies. Social work, possibly for children or vocational training for women, may also be developed.

Behind these rather bare facts a hope deferred for three years is at last being realised. Since the Korean war began on June 25, 1950, it has been the longing of many Friends to make some gesture of friendship, however small, to the Korean people. Until this year, military conditions made it impossible for most voluntary bodies to enter the country and to act freely. Now the door is open, at any rate in the South.

The help of British and American Friends is being warmly welcomed, by ROK (Republic of Korea) officials, by KCAC (Korean Civil Assistance Command, pronounced Kay-cack), and by UNKRA (United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency). Official supplies are being offered to our workers. American Friends are eager and generous colleagues. Our opportunity in Britain is, by providing our share of trained workers, to help some of the 30,000,000 Koreans - the real losers in the recent fighting - towards the means of life, and to heal some of the wounds of war, non-material as well as physical. But even transporting workers to Korea is quite a costly matter. The fare alone for each worker travelling from England will cost FSC about £400; so our share must also be by contributing funds, as well as moral support.

KCAC (the U.N. relief body) has twelve provincial teams feeding about four million people in South Korea with rice and barley. The ration is about l lb. per day, but not many receive it in full. Yet it is, thanks to U.N. large-scale feeding and inoculation programmes, that starvation and epidemics have been kept at bay throughout the war period.

It is a remarkable achievement: life-saving on the grand scale. But it is only a beginning. The country, says Patrick O'Donovan in The Observer", "is being kept alive by injections of foreign money and goods - like a carrot-top in a saucer of water." A new national economy has to be built up from bare existence.

The main tasks are to develop hospitals, sanitation, and welfare schemes; to supply housing; to continue importing relief supplies, fertilisers, etc.; and generally to expand agriculture, power, transport, and production of all kinds to help provide the employment so badly needed by the refugees. It is the first of these objectives in which Friends feel best able to help. Longer-term aims, perhaps including Quaker service in North Korea, where war destruction has been more complete than anywhere in Europe, may only become practicable later.

Personal service bringing direct contacts with people would always be the choice of Quaker relief workers. But in Korea this choice is likely to confront our workers with special difficulties. Very few people in the West knew much about Korea before June, 1950; and even now most of us know next to nothing about the Koreans as people. Geography, climate, language, and 'social conditions in Korea will make demands on the powers of adaptation of our workers.

Geography and history in Korea are closely inter-related. The country is a mountainous peninsular, roughly the same size as Great Britain. It has always been either a menace or a temptation for Japan because of its situation, jutting out of the mainland of Asia like a dagger or a stairway. Likewise it has been under the immense shadow of China. So, for the whole of their history, its people have been the pawns of powerful foreign neighbours. Russia and the West more recently have joined in the play of world forces round what was known for nearly 300 years as the Hermit Kingdom.

Japanese occupation from 1910 to 1945, has made a deep scar on Korean memories; and Korean culture and the whole outlook of her people bear the lasting stamp of her national fortunes. Patrick O'Donovan says: "They (the Koreans) are as proud as the devil and remote with strangers. They are humiliated by gifts . . . To be honest, Koreans are often unspeakably cruel and that is the way they themselves have been treated throughout their history." History also helps to explain this extract from an official U.N. report on education in Korea: "The people seem to have no community consciousness, and no sense of social responsibility. When they co-operate, for instance, in the repairing of a road it is frequently, if not usually, because they have received orders and are afraid of the police . . . There is an abyss over which a bridge needs to be built."

The climate is one of summer heat and winter cold. For the winter the average Korean house, though structurally insecure, has an ingenious and efficient heating system. Hot smoke from the kitchen fire is passed by tunnels under the flooring. But war conditions have not only spread destruction and neglect but made firewood prohibitive in price. A three-ton lorry load costs a million won wholesale (i.e., about £70). As winter comes on, whole families have to spend hours in the fields picking shrubs and roots simply to maintain their home fire for 24 hours. For the 2,000,000 still homeless refugees no such possibility is open. They have to exist in shacks, perhaps with no more than a rusty roof made of flattened beer tins.

Health conditions are disturbing, even though major epidemics have been avoided. Four hundred thousand homes have been destroyed in the South. Undernourishment is widespread. Typhoid and dysentery are endemic, and intestinal parasites are common; but the main life-taking disease is tuberculosis, with 1,200,000 cases in the South. Sanitation standards are low. In refugee camps holding thousands, houses are built straddling open, drainage ditches. Most water supplies are insanitary.

The language difficulty will be a particular problem for our workers in Korea, though fortunately a young American member of the team speaks Chinese and Japanese.

Despite their long history of foreign interference, Koreans are justly proud of their national achievements. Korean porcelains of the 13th century are esteemed by many students of ceramics more highly even than the early Chinese porcelains; and ceramics and weaving, though still primitive, are the two main domestic industries after farming. In general, though they make good craftsmen and mechanics, Koreans are a farming race. They have the farmer's traditional independence. Their rather reckless pride and tendency to cruelty are mixed with generosity and warm hospitality. They are intelligent; the country has an 80% literacy rate the second highest in Asia, after Japan. The three per cent Christians make Korea, through Western missions, "the most Christianised country in the Orient," but the great majority of Koreans profess no religion. There is at present comparatively little antiWestern feeling, at any rate among the 21,000,000 in the South; the country remembers too well the Japanese as imperialists, and not Europeans or Americans.

As the months go by we shall no doubt hear something from our small Quaker team in Korea of the difficulties they face and, we hope, some of the rewards of their efforts. I think they will discover that the Koreans, though they have suffered cruelly and have been "pushed around" for as long as memory can go, are much like human beings in any other part of the world - lovable when understood, responsive to an approach which recognises "that of God" in them, and as capable of generosity and noble achievements as any race on earth. They have almost come to the end of their own efforts to help themselves. It is time for the rest of the world to bury its hates, and to help rebuild a whole nation fallen by the wayside on the road to Jericho.

(We are glad to have the opportunity of reprinting this article from the September "Wayfarer," very slightly cut. What can Australian Friends contribute towards rehabilitation in Korea? George Whiteman has suggested separately that as very much in the way of supplies is being collected and sent from America, it would be as well for Australian Friends to inquire from AFSC, Philadelphia, what would be the most welcome contribution they could make - possibly something for the Kunsan hospital. Ed.)

We thank Kim Sungsoo (Stephen) and the Australian Friend for making this article available to us as part of the South Korea section

George W Whiteman


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The pulse of truth
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Quaker mysticism: a bridge to Islam
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Putting testimony to the test
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International Edition: Quakers enter Korea (1953)
George W Whiteman
International Edition: 509 messages from Friends in Korea (1973)

International Edition: Comments on Friends' activities in the Republic of Korea (1960)
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