Anna Louise Strong

In North Korea: First Eye-Witness Report

And Now?

AND Now that S have returned to America, and look back at North Korea from the events of today, as shown in the American press, I think that my trip to that country throws light on some of the recent reports.

In May of 1948, Korea broke once more into headlines because the Northern Koreans had shut off the electric power from South Korea. According to the American press, it was all the fault of the Russians. The Russians had shut it off. General Hodge, commander of the American armed forces, demanded that the Russians turn the electricity on again. When the Russians referred him to the Koreans, he appealed to Moscow. One more battle in the cold war.

Yet the facts were really very simple. General Hodge and the American press chose to shut their eyes to them, but the facts were there. The great power stations on the Yalu River were built by the Japanese. The Russians seized them as war booty and promptly gave them "to the Korean people" in the summer of 1946. The provisional government of North Korea - known as the "People's Committee of North Korea" - operated them, sending power to North and South Korea and far into Manchuria, to Mukden, Port Arthur and Dairen.

Two years went by. South Korea didn't pay for this electric power. Mukden paid its bills, Dairen paid its bills, North Korea paid its bills, but the American occupation in South Korea did not pay. There were two reasons for this: a technical reason and a top-flight political reason. But even the technical reason was flavored with politics.

The technical reason was that the North Koreans demanded payment in electric equipment from the United States. General Hodge offered to pay in dollars, but how could the North Koreans use those dollars when the American Congress was boycotting Soviet trade? North Korea was perhaps the one spot on earth that scorned dollars. "Give us electric equipment to repair the power plants," they said.

The Americans offered nylon stockings and tobacco and Hollywood movies. But the North Koreans stood pat on getting electric equipment. The reason was plain: so much electric development was going on in all the farming villages of North Korea that they simply couldn't spare power for South Korea unless they got more equipment. It was as simple as that.

The top-flight political reason was that General Hodge insisted on treating the Russians as the owners of the power plant, while the Russians insisted that it had belonged to "the Korean people" for a couple of years. General Hodge does not want to admit that the North Koreans have a legal existence, even as power-plant owners. It is American policy to consider that only the South Koreans have a government administration, while the North Koreans are "Russian puppets." Hodge is like an industrialist who sticks on the point of recognizing the union, but the union also stays pat till it gets recognized.

At the time of my visit to North Korea, August, 1947, South Korea had run up a bill of some 700 million kilowatt hours. (It is more than one billion today.) Any ordinary capitalist electric company would long since have cut such a customer off. I asked the North Koreans why they didn't. The answer is revealing:

"You see, the Russians gave the power plant to 'the Korean people'. That means also the Koreans of the south. We northerners have the management of it, but the power belongs to all Korea and not to us alone. We do not wish to injure our fellow Koreans. We only want them to pay their bill. We want them to pay with equipment, so that we can supply more customers. We are giving them time because their situation is complicated. But some day we'll have to shut off the power, if they don't pay."

In April, 1948, after South Korea had enjoyed two and a half years of electric power without paying, the North Korean radio announced that the power would be shut off unless some responsible people from South Korea came north to discuss the bill. General Hodge refused to recognize this "irresponsible radio," as representing the owners of the power plant. He continued to curse the Russians. So the North Koreans shut off the power and waited for their pay.

That is the simple tale of the power plant, which the American press views as a new Moscow intrigue.


I also note in the press the continuous friction over a certain irrigation dam. On May 26, an American soldier was wounded near the border of the Soviet zone. The headline read: "Russ Wound American." The news story made no mention of any Russians present, but said the American was wounded by "shots from the Russian zone." A careful further reading disclosed that the American had been in a jeep riding along the frontier, near a dam of an irrigation project that straddles the two zones.

Now I think I can throw some light on that incident. When I was in North Korea, they told me that there was an irrigation project in North Korea which supplied water to irrigate 60,000 acres in South Korea.

"We've tried for two years to get paid for that water, but we haven't succeeded yet," they said. They did not blame the South Korean farmers; they blamed the "friction between the zones."

Months later I read a news item to the effect that "the Russians" had turned off the water for a place in South Korea, and that angry South Korean farmers were trying to smash the North Korean dam, which was guarded closely by North Korean constabulary. Since every village in North Korea is today increasing its cultivated fields; and especially its irrigation, it is clear that the water which once went south - and wasn't paid for - is now being used in the north, while the southern farmers angrily try to get it back.

If an armed American in a jeep drives up to an irrigation dam over which such a local fight is going on, he is looking for trouble. There is no proof that any Russian was within a hundred miles when the man was wounded. Some over-suspicious Korean was protecting his dam. Or was he so over-suspicious after all?


"But if everything is so good in the Soviet zone, why do they run away to the American zone?" is a question asked me, both at lectures and by the press.

The answer is, as far as I can give it, that there has been big migration both ways. The first migration went south. It consisted of pro-Japanese officials, former police, former landlords, holders of shares in Japanese companies and also, I imagine, of city people without ration books who found the cost of food very high that first year in the north and thought it would be cheaper in the south. No farmers seem to have fled south, and no industrial workers.

The Americans in South Korea complained that their difficulties were increased by the necessity of "feeding these refugees from the north." But South Korea always fed those people, for South Korea always produced food for the north. When the Americans refused to let the food come north, the people had to go south for it.

By the second year, 1947, the year of my visit, the situation had changed. Farms had expanded in North Korea, there was a good crop, and a half million people moved north. They were counted at the quarantine stations at over 1,500 per day.

The people coming north were workers looking for jobs, and farmers looking for land. I met them in factories and on farms. The north was the gainer by this exchange of populations. The north lost ex-policemen, ex-officials and city folk living on rents and profits; it gained workers and farming people, eager to build and develop the land.

I talked to two of these workers. "Why did you come north?" I asked.

They told me they fled the American zone because there was so much disorder and so much unemployment there.

"The tireworks did not open," said one, "because they can bring tires cheaper from America."

"The textile mill closed down," said another, "because the Korean who bought it found more profit in selling the raw material and machines."

The picture was clear. South Korea, under American control, was becoming a market for American goods and a source of raw material for America. The American Army had taken over Japanese lands and become the greatest landlord in the south. American capital was taking over Japanese factories and tying them into American needs. So there was unemployment in the south, and unrest, and strikes, and revolts.

In the north the Russians had taken nothing for themselves. They had given the Japanese industries to the Korean people as a public possession. And the lands of the Japanese landlords and the Korean landlords had become the property of the men who tilled them.

So there is food in the north and increasing production of factory goods, wid repairing of the ravages of war.


Will the north and south come together? Or will there be civil war?

The 38th parallel, at first used only as a military convenience, has become a barrier dividing two worlds. It has polarized the Korean people; the reactionaries fled south, while the left-wing workers and farraers migrate north. Many observers think the divisions are growing and are pregnant with civil war. In the year since I left North Korea there has developed a "People's Army" while South Korea has also developed armed forces, with former soldiers of the Japanese Army as a base.

There are possibilities of dangerous friction. But I think people who expect civil war here fail to reckon with the passion for unity and for independence that the great majority of Koreans feel.

It was this passion that led Kim Koo, a right-wing terrorist but none the less a Korean patriot-and Kimm Kiu-sic, a former employee of an American firm and an American appointee in government, but none the less a Korean patriot also, to go north to the Unity Congress, leaving the plums of government and graft in South Korea to the Syngman Rhee machine. I think the Unity Government of the north will outlast Syngman Rhee's machine, with all its American backing.

Next: Appendix. Soviet Statement on Evacuation of Troops