3.05.2010

Seoul City Sue.

For those of you who may not know, this is Seoul City Sue (as she was known by American soldiers during the Korean War), or Anna Wallis Suh. Suh was born and raised in Arkansas. She grew up to be a good ol' Methodist missionary and somehow found herself in Korea. During the Japanese occupation, however, she was pushed out of missionary work and, eventually, out of the country. She joined the Shanghai American School staff, and, for whatever reasons, was completely dropped from (or severed her ties with) the missionary groups. She met and married Suh Kyoon Chul, apparently instantly losing her American citizenship, based on laws at the time (not that she knew this).

Long story short, one thing led to another and the Korean War started. The Suhs were in Seoul at the time, when North Korea took the city. From that point on, anybody's willingness in anything is purely speculation, although I'm of the opinion that, at least at first, the Suhs went along with things quite consensually.

The nickname comes in, in that Suh began, shortly thereafter (and I mean, very shortly thereafter -- around a month later), to make propaganda broadcasts for the North. She became a staple during the war, reading the names off of the dogtags taken from dead American soldiers "in a gentle voice with a background of soft music". Her broadcasts involved mostly her taunting American soldiers with various unpleasant suggestions and criticisms of their situation. Somehow, whenever I imagine Seoul City Sue's voice, I keep hearing the narrator of "Desperate Housewives". It's the same when I think of Hanoi Hannah or Tokyo Rose. Maybe it's the fact that they were apparently supposed to appear to their audiences as almost omniscient, casually mentioning supposedly clandestine information, or name-dropping particular unit names or positions, in an attempt to basically creep everyone the fuck out.

The strange thing about Suh is that she wasn't Korean -- she was a good, pretty girl raised right in a nice southern Christian American household. She took her upbringing so much to heart, in fact, that she dedicated her life to it. So what in the hell happened there? Whatever it was, it happened long before the North "captured" her or "adopted" her or whatever stance it is you take on that one. I imagine it happened somewhere around the time she decided to marry a Korean man, in fact.

All of this just weirds me out, to be honest. Anyone in my family (which was headed by my Southern Baptist pastor of a grandfather) will tell you that when I was little, I had only one thought in my head -- to be a missionary, so that I could travel the world. I was obsessed with Lottie Moon. Obsessed. Obsessed with the fact that she never had to get married, obsessed with the fact that she could travel to some far off country and live on her own -- obsessed with the fact that she was the only woman my extremely sexist religion seemed to acknowledge at all. Of course, no one ever bothered to tell me her family were slave owners....

Eventually (and quite obviously) I made a break from my religion -- a quite severe one. The people who know me now are quite shocked to find out I ever had any such ideas. In fact, they think it's fucking hilarious. But, at the time, in my situation, being a missionary was quite a logical solution to the fact that I didn't want to just marry some guy and obey him and have his children and stuff. I wanted to actually do something, go somewhere.

There was an American soldier who defected to the North fifteen years later named Charles Robert Jenkins. Most of just about everyone will know his name and his story, thanks to the fact that he finally made it back out of North Korea in 2004. I've read his memoir, as well as seen the film made about James Dresnok (who is still inside), wherein Dresnok denounces just about everything Jenkins says as hideous lies told to save his own skin from the punishment of the US Army. If anything, I picked up Jenkins' book thinking pretty much right along the lines of what Dresnok claimed, and not expecting much. But I found his account to be pretty plausible, and his character seemed far from even capable of fabricating his entire story.

All of this is to say that, although I believe Jenkins very easily could have been confused, or misled by the regime to believe something that simply wasn't true, Jenkins claimed in his memoir to have seen Seoul City Sue in 1965 at the foreigners only section of a department store. He described her as looking generally composed, but as being extremely skittish. Apparently she disappeared just as soon as he had encountered her. Later, he states with strange simplicity and trust in the regime's presentation of fact, she was executed for being a spy for the South.

Needless to say, I'm fairly fascinated in general with Women Who Do Exactly What They Ought Not To, so Seoul City Sue caught my attention pretty quick. It's an unbelievable shame that we'll never really hear her story, or know for sure what the hell went on with that. That's the situation with North Korea, though. Even now, as I try to get as much information from as many differently-oriented sources as possible, I feel like there's absolutely nothing coming from one direction or another that can absolutely be trusted. Even the people who have lived it and made it out to the other side become suspect, given that they are now at the mercy of the other side. It's one big mess that will take much longer to unravel than it took to make, that's for sure. And I find the big black hole in history we will all be left with at the end of it really, really disturbing. It'll be Seoul City Sue's life en masse -- a whole nation with part of its story completely altered, maligned, or simply wiped out. It's disturbing.

6 comments:

MikejGrey said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tr%C6%B0ng_Sisters

!

I should probably be working, huh?

I'm no Picasso said...

<3 The Trung sisters.

Female warriors are so cool. So is Vietnamese history.

And work is overrated. Let's plan our trip while I don't clean my apartment.

Kel said...

Whoa that's so interesting! I had no idea about this...need to google...

I'm no Picasso said...

Kel -- I know! I don't know why I hadn't heard a damn word about her, until I picked up these books.........

Kosaru said...

Oh fabulous, you already read his memoir-- I was going to recommend that as well!

cmholm said...

I busted my okole trying to dig up most of the material for the wikipedia entry... but still haven't read Jenkins book. The town library is only a couple blocks away, making this situation particularly pathetic.