Webcast Recap

Korea Foundation Junior Scholars Ria Chae and Chaeryung Lee will present the results of their research conducted at the Woodrow Wilson Center from July 2011 through February 2012.

Chae will present on “The Axe Murder Incident of 1976: A Case Study in North-South Korean Competition.” Two American officers supervising a tree-trimming operation were killed by North Korean soldiers in the Joint Security Area between North and South Korea on August 18, 1976. The U.S. reacted with a strong display of military force, after which Kim Il Sung, in an unprecedented move, issued an formal apology.  A new war on the Korean Peninsula was narrowly avoided. While most scholars studying this so-called “Axe Murder Incident” tend to focus on the details of the incident and the American military response, this presentation will attempt to put the event in the broader framework of the competition between North and South Korea during the mid-1970s and the two countries’ relations with the US in the context of the changing Cold War system. Using documents from the archive of the North Korea International Documentation Project, material from the 2011 Critical Oral History Conference, and eyewitness accounts, Chae reconstructs the events preceding and following the incident to demonstrate what North Korea may have tried to achieve through the attack and how the incident was utilized by South Korea. In the end, Pyongyang may not have been the the absolute loser in this game.

Lee will present on “The Routinization of Kim Il Sung’s Charismatic Authority and Kim Jong Il’s Rise to Power.” Although North Korea is nominally a “democratic republic,” the constitution explicitly states that Kim Il Sung’s law prevails over all. Nearly two-decades have passed since the death of Kim Il Sung, and yet his power remains undiminished. This presentation will chart the growth of Kim Il Sung’s power from the late 1960s, when his authority was systematically and successfully consolidated. After assessing the routinization of Kim Il Sung’s charismatic authority, the presentation will consider how Kim’s power affected the rise of his son, Kim Jong Il. 

Joining Chae and Lee on the panel as commenter will be Ryoo Kihljae, Professor at the University of North Korean Studies and former Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

NKIDP Project Coordinator James F. Person will chair the panel.

Ria Chae is a Ph.D. candidate in modern Korean history at Seoul National University and is presently a Korea Foundation Junior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Her dissertation and research focus on inter-Korean relations during the 1970s. Chae has previously taught as a lecturer at Seoul National University and Dankook University. She earned her B.A. in International Studies and an M.A. in Anthropology from Seoul National University.

Chaeryung Lee is an M.A. candidate in Peace and Security Studies in the Graduate School of International Studies, Korea University, and is presently a Korea Foundation Junior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Her research focuses on the institutionalization of Kim Il Sung’s authority in North Korea from 1967 onward. She earned her B.A. in Law from Hankuk University of Foreign Languages.

Ryoo Kihljae is Associate Professor at the University of North Korean Studies in South Korea and a former Woodrow Wilson Center scholar. He is currently studying the domestic politics and foreign relations of the DPRK from 1965 to1974. He is also presently a member of the Policy Advisory Committee to the Senior Secretary of the President, and to the Ministry of Unification of the ROK government. Professor Ryoo is also the Chair of the Committee of North Korea and Unification, Korean Association of International Studies.