Banned Books

During my second stint at the Battle Simulation Center in the August of 2005, I was threatened to be reported to the DSC (Defense Security Command) for reading a translation of an autobiography of Che Guevara. It was an idle threat by a bored officer, but the fact is that I brought the book on base without having it approved by the company commander. All outside books have to be approved by the company commander and stamped for verification. I actually could have been punished if the captain had had a spine, but I was getting more rash and apathetic toward the end of my service and didn’t think much of it.

Earlier today, I was preparing class materials for a discussion on banned books, and I found that in 2008, the Ministry of National Defense updated its list of banned books on base. There are 23 books on the list. Of the 23, the books I could find on English news sites and other resources were Noam Chomsky’s What Uncle Sam Really Wants (2007) and Year 501: The Conquest Continues (2000), Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism (2007), and Hyeon Gi-yeong’s A Spoon on Earth (1999). Apparently, Chomsky wrote in response that the MND should be renamed “the Ministry of Defense against Freedom and Democracy.” Sounds like something from a Harry Potter book.

I was oblivious to the fact that this was an issue in 2008—I was preoccupied with drinking, avoiding writing my thesis, and drinking to avoid writing my thesis—but military officers filed a petition with the Constitutional Court, arguing that the ban infringed on soldiers’ basic rights to happiness and freedom of ideas. The Constitutional Court upheld the ban in 2010.

I recently got back in touch with the Korean poet-writer who offered to edit my book, and he’s currently looking for publishers although I get the feeling that he hasn’t edited it yet. I guess he’s seeing if there’s interest before he invests his time. Anyway, one of the reasons I didn’t initially plan on doing a Korean translation of the book was I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of figuring out whether the book would be a violation of information security and whether the government would consider the book subversive or anti-government. I personally don’t think so, but who knows with the government’s oversensitive and irrational standards.

The list:

Image taken from:

Here is a very quick and poorly done translation of the image:

Pro-North Korea
North Korea’s Missile Strategy (2006), Gwak Dong-gi, Mun Gyeong-hwan, et al.
North Korea’s Native Culture (2000), Ju Gang-hyeon
A Spoon on Earth (1999), Hyeon Gi-yeong
History Has Never Led Me Astray (2006), Heo Yeong-cheol
Why the 80 Percent Are Controlled by the 20 Percent (2007), Ha Jong-gang, Hong Se-hwa et al.
North Korea’s Economic Development Strategy (2006), Jeon Yeong-ho
Unification, Our People’s Last Blue Ocean (2007), Jeon Sang-bong
Companion (1992), Baek Nam-ryong
What Uncle Sam Really Wants (2007), Noam Chomsky
Auf der Universität (1999), Theodor Storm
Nuclear Weapons and the Korean Peninsula (2006), Choi Han-uk

Anti-government, Anti-American
Crimes by US Troops in Korea and the ROK-US SOFA (2002), National Campaign for Eradication of Crimes by US Troops in Korea
Salt-flower Tree (2007), Kim Jin-suk
Blood Falls from the Flowers (2004), Kim Nam-ju
Year 501: The Conquest Continues (2000), Noam Chomsky
Our History (1993), Jo Seong-oh
Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism (2007), Ha-Joon Chang
Critical Biography of Kim Nam-ju (2004), Gang Dae-seok
21st Century Philosophy (2004), 21st Century Corea Institute
History of the Republic of Korea (2003), Han Hong-gu
Our God (1996), Kwon Jeong-saeng

Die Globalisierungsfalle: Der Angriff auf Demokratie und Wohlstand (The Global Trap) (1996), Hans-Peter Martin, Harald Schumann
The Guerillas of the Republic of Samsung (2008), Pressian
* Apparently 19 more books were added in 2011, all fitting in this last category

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2 Responses to Banned Books

  1. John says:

    Interesting stuff. I didn’t know you worked at the KBSC (I don’t recall you mentioning that in the book anyway). Was that here on Yongsan?


    • Young says:

      Hey, John. It’s been a long time.

      I worked in the BSC located in what was then the Second ROK Army in Daegu. The BSC was only a five-minute walk from my company barracks. I usually went there for a couple weeks to a month for short-term deployments to provide linguistic support for joint ROK-US exercises. It’s in the last section of the book after I came back from Afghanistan.

      Let’s grab a beer sometime soon.


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