Nym Wales & Kim San

Song of Ariran: A Korean Communist in the Chinese Revolution

I have seen much of class hatred, of racial hatred, of personal hatred, of hatred between nations—so much that cruelty no longer has any meaning for me as a moral value. I am stirred by victories and roused by defeats, but the cruelty by means of which these are achieved I take for granted. I would be greatly stirred by some historic change without cruelty, but this would be like the realization of a beautiful dream. Long ago I lost all the utopian fancies of my youth. (98)

Terrorism has been an integral phase of the Korean struggle against the Japanese. Like anarchism, it develops in a society of isolated peasant units where mass action is difficult. It is a reaction against constant suppression and revulsion against a sense of frustration and futility. It expresses the yearning for freedom that only those who are slaves can really feel.

Koreans are a gentle folk, peaceful and quiet and religious. Out of the exasperation caused by this general passivity and toleration of unrelieved suffering, young people turned to direct action and seized the only weapons available to them for redress of suffering and injustice—the bomb, the gun, the knife. Out of its gentlest people, society often produces its most fiery individual heroes, seeking immolation in sacrifice. That is a dialectical process. Because of this spirit of daring and sacrifice, Koreans are renowned throughout the Fear East as its most redoubtable terrorists. Whenever the Chinese want an act of terrorism done against the Japanese, they usually turn to the Koreans for volunteers. (122–123)

Many Korean Tolstoyans became terrorists. This is because Tolstoy's philosophy is full of contradictions which are never resolved, hence the necessity for direct action and struggle in a blind attempt at resolution. I loved Tolstoy all during my early youth but could find no method in his philosophy. (127)

The Antung company manager was an Irish terrorist whom we Koreans called "Sao." He hated the Japanese almost as much as he hated the British, and supported the Korean independence movement enthusiastically at great risk to himself. (128)

All Koreans wanted only two things really, though they differed in how to achieve these: independence and democracy. Really they wanted only one thing: freedom—a golden word to those who know it not. Any kind of freedom looked divine to them. They wanted freedom from Japanese oppression, freedom in marriage and love, freedom to live a normal, happy life, freedom to rule their own lives. That is why anarchism had such appeal. The urge toward a broad democracy was really very strong in Korea. This is one reason we did not develop a strong, centralized system of political parties. Each group defended its right to exist and its right to free expression. And each individual fought to the end for his own freedom of belief. There was plenty of democracy among us—but very little discipline. (140)

"You four are so happy together," I said one day to Pak Chin. "why is it you don't want a peaceful life now after so much struggle?"

"While the Korean revolution is unfinished, peace is only pain to me," he replied. "Struggle is life. Passivity is death. I like to fight." (152)

During the Commune I learned the bitter lesson that the party must never be a brake on the mass movement. A mass uprising must succeed, no matter how many may be sacrificed on either side. If we do not destroy the enemy, the enemy will annihilate us. To fail is death for all who participate. (171)

"Love does not make a man or a woman a coward. It makes them braver and more determined. If it should make you less courageous, I would despise you for it, and the problem would be solved. Since my lover was killed, I have had no fear of death‐either for myself or another. Life has become less valuable, courage more. Now my duty to the revolution is greater‐I must carry on his work as well as my own. If you die too, believe me, you will not be lost to the revolution. I shall consider my future burden doubled, and I shall not fail. Revolution is not an abstraction. It is made up of living personalities. The personal element is very important. It gives the revolution organic solidarity—loyalty and greater responsibility among comrades. Together we are strong. Separately, you and I are only individuals, not a complete unit." (226)

I thought of the beautiful clear rivers of Korea, where suicide was a pleasure... I who am about to die remember you, Korea, for your beautiful rivers and your lovely green mountains. Your sons are weak, but those mountains and rivers of ten thousand li are strong. They will live when we are all dead in foreign lands. I regret that I cannot bring back my blood to nourish the soil of my birth‐even my rotten, tubercular blood poisoned with despair. I have destroyed myself fighting for you and for the freedom of humanity. (270–271)

After all, freedom was long and prison short in the life of a revolutionary. You compressed many years into one during periods of action. That was what mattered, not the few years in a cell that one might have to spend now and then. And, if prison meant death, that was even shorter. (289)

I resolved never to resort to any questionable means to gain my ends, no matter how important the end might be. Never would I betray friend or personal enemy. I would kill my enemy with my hand, but I would never destroy him by betrayal to others. What moral right had we of the revolution to win if we had to do so by treachery? We must create individuals better and finer than the class enemy, and rottenness in leadership would destroy our end. It was better to die honestly, even though our tasks were unfulfilled, than to try to survive by treachery and intrigue. (293)

When a revolutionary submits to being deprived of his right to exercise freedom of opinion, he is failing in his duty. And no mind is free which oppresses others. (317)

It is not easy to be morally brave in a political party; it is easier to follow, and to shirk responsibility. To be alone on a mountaintop is pleasant; to be alone among comrades is to be lonely indeed. (317)

Where democratic expression exists, the problem of leadership is easy. Where it is suppressed, it is dangerous and difficult.

Tragedy is a part of human life. To rise above oppression is the glory of man; to submit is his shame. To me it is tragic to see millions of men blindly give up their lives in imperialist war. That is waste. It is tragic to see millions of men blindly give up their lives in imperialist wars. That is waste. It is tragic to see them utilized to oppress each other. That is stupidity. It is not tragic for men to die consciously fighting for liberty and for the things they believe in. That is glorious and splendid. Death is not good or bad. It is either futile or necessary.

Nearly all the friends and comrades of my youth are dead, hundreds of them: nationalist, Christian, anarchist, terrorist, communist. But they are alive to me. Where their graves should be, no one ever cared. On the battlefields and execution grounds, on the streets of city and village, their warm revolutionary blood flowed proudly into the soil of Korea, Manchuria, Siberia, Japan, China. They failed in the immediate thing, but history keeps a fine accounting. A man's name and his brief dream may be buried with his bones, but nothing that he has ever done or failed to do is lost in the final balance of forces. That is his immortality, his glory or shame. Not even he himself can change this objective fact, for he is history. Nothing can rob a man of a place in the movement of history. Nothing can grant him escape. His only individual decision is whether to move forward or backward, whether to fight or submit, whether to create value or destroy it, whether to be strong or weak. (320)

I hated cruelty very much when I was young, and I have seen so much of it that I have learned the great historic value of humanitarianism. Now I no longer hate cruelty. I accept it as a phase of truth. It exists. To like it or not is no longer my personal problem. It is to kill or be killed. To hate the truth is only a diversion of emotional energy. My job is to create justice where cruelty has been. Tolstoy also gave up his hatred of cruelty and concentrated on exposing its existence. (323)