Scholar to publish book on Soviet involvement in the Korean War

This story was written originally for The Korea Times on Dec. 12, 2011.

An American professor, who brought to light in much more detail than ever before the nature and extent of the Soviet Union’s pivotal involvement in the Korean War, has decided during her six month teaching sabbatical in Seoul, to publish her original findings in a book for the Korean domestic audience.

Prof. Kathryn Weathersby, a visiting professor at Sungshin Women’s University in Seoul, mined Soviet archives for some four years in the early 1990s immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union in search of the true nature of the relationship between North Korea and the former Soviet Union.

Weathersby revealed that North Korea’s Kim Il-sung had to first receive permission from the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin in order to invade South Korea, as well as logistical support, training and military advisors.

“Kim Il-sung was a young idealist picked by Stalin,” Weathersby said. “He was an underling and Stalin was the big boss. (Kim) had to turn to him to make a major decision like that.”

She is credited as having been the first scholar to bring to light in much more detail the extent of Soviet involvement in the Korean War. Many researchers followed her example, mining Soviet archives to help tell the story of the Cold War as history.

She said what was of importance in her search was Stalin’s calculation, not Kim’s. “Kim’s not thinking. He only wants to invade the South, bring his revolution to the South. He’s not a careful tactician,” said Weathersby, a professor of political science and diplomacy, in an interview with The Korea Times at her office on the campus of the women’s college in Seoul.

She said she has not yet found a publisher, but she is aiming for 2012 for publication.

Weathersby received a Ph.D. in modern Russian history from Indiana University in 1990, with a second field in modern East Asian history. She said this is not her first time in Korea, but it is the professor’s first time for an extended stay.

She heads back to the United States this coming Thursday.

Her findings had a huge impact on how scholars and policy makers understand the Korean War and, by extension, the Cold War. In the 1990s, it was academically incendiary adding fuel to a polemical debate over how much Kim Il-sung was in actual control over the invasion he launched on June 25, 1950.

“It invalidated the so-called ‘revisionist school’ by showing that the decision was made directly by the Soviet Union,” she said, adding “it supported the original American decision to intervene.”

She cautioned against drawing direct parallels from a historical understanding to current political decisions.

“It’s not that there is a direct link between one piece of historical understanding and any specific current situation,” she said. “It does shape our collective understanding on issues like deterrence, on whether such policies worked in the past.”

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