The Dale Center for the Study of War and Society hosted Suzy Kim, Ph.D., associate professor of Korean History at Rutgers University, who gave a lecture entitled “Beyond the Iron Curtain: Cold War Women in North Korea” on Wednesday, March 20 in LAB 102 as a part of Women’s History Month.
Suzy Kim has a Ph.D. in Korean History from the University of Chicago, and she has published a book titled “Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution 1945-1950.” She has also spent time in North Korea conducting research on the history and culture of the country.
The lecture focused heavily on the role of Communist women in North Korea during the Cold War Period as well as a group known as the Women’s International Democratic Federation which consisted of both Korean and European women and was formed specifically to fight against fascism and for peace.
Kim highlighted that this group investigated the Korean War and released a controversial exposé about possible American and UN war crimes that resulted in many of the women involved losing their careers. She also talked about how the traditional Korean view of femininity differs from the traditional Western view, pointing out that Korea as a whole has seen prominent women throughout their history as strong figures, even depicting their military prowess during the Korean War in paintings commemorating that time period.
Many students who attended the lecture saw it as an opportunity to explore the history of a culture that not many people know about, especially within the context of Women’s History Month. One of the people who shared this perspective was Cheyenne Ellzey, a senior history major, who said that the lecture was a rare opportunity to learn from about North Korean culture, which is very closed off, from a historian that specializes in the history of that culture.
“When you have a historian that has been there [to North Korea] and has collected history through her studies, it’s really important to attend those lectures so that you can have an understanding of something that you otherwise would have no clue about,” Ellzey said. “The fact that it is Women’s History Month and the fact that we can point out these pivotal women, it gives us a new viewpoint of North Korea.”
The lecture especially spoke to Dr. Michong Rayborn, an associate professor in the Southern Miss College of Nursing, who is from South Korea. She said that Dr. Kim’s presentation gave her a lot of insight into the culture of North Korea, a country that she had always seen as closed off from the rest of the world, and that this insight gave her hope that Korean reunification truly is possible.
“As a South Korean, I always thought of North Korea as forbidden, but I feel as if I am a Korean,” Rayborn said. “I felt in Dr. Kim’s lecture today that Korean reunification is possible, but that the power is not through the men, but through the women’s movement, and that really inspired me.”
Kim said that she felt that lectures such as this are important for college students to attend because topics such as the culture of North Korea are very relevant to modern day politics, and as the next generation of voters, we need to be as informed as possible on these things. She said she really appreciated being asked to speak at Southern Miss as this is her first time visiting Mississippi.
“This is a whole new group of students that I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and I feel that Korean history is so connected to U.S. history,” Kim said. “Korea is in the news a lot lately because of the North Korea-U.S. Summit and all of those things, and the reason why this kind of public education is important is that these students are going to be voting for public officials and sharing their opinions with other people. So I hope this will have a ripple effect that will have a positive impact on our policy towards Korea.”