North Korea

Vintage Radio Propaganda of the Korean War

Friday A/V Club: The broadcasts of Seoul City Sue



The most welcome world news this week is the budding rapprochement between North and South Korea—a serious peace push in a place that less than a year ago seemed ready to erupt into nuclear war. Among other things, this includes a pledge to take a step beyond the ceasefire that ended the Korean War of 1950–53 and sign a treaty that brings the conflict to a formal close.

As those hostilities hopefully move toward a full termination, here's an artifact from the days when they were a shooting war. Not long after U.S. troops arrived in Korea, a woman nicknamed Seoul City Sue started transmitting radio propaganda to the Americans. "In these broadcasts," Paul Edwards writes in Unusual Footnotes to the Korean War, "she would quietly talk to the American GIs suggesting that they would be better off at home where they could have clean sheets and eat ice cream. She also continually suggested that their girlfriends at home would not wait very long before they sought other men to comfort them. At times she would read off the names from dog tags taken from dead Americans, and would warn the listeners that their names would soon be read on the broadcast."

Here's a snippet from one of her shows, coupled with some film footage from the war:

Seoul City Sue was apparently Ann Wallis Suh, a former Methodist missionary from Arkansas; it is unclear whether she made the broadcasts willingly or unwillingly. Soldiers sometimes compared her to the World War II propaganda broadcaster Tokyo Rose—usually unfavorably, since Tokyo Rose mixed her taunts with western music. Seoul City Sue did not, unless a Sousa march counts.

Writing in September of 1950, UPI war correspondent H.D. Quigg gave Sue a scathing review:

She talks in a monotone. Her voice is icy. She exudes the passion of a well boiled vegetable. What in the name of Lenin she thin[k]s she is going to accomplish and who in tarnation she expects to impress with her type of spiel beats the living daylights out of me….

She can't kid the GI. He's been kidded by experts in all sorts of propaganda since childhood. Also he's accustomed to getting some entertainment when he turns on the radio. Seoul City Sue gives him amateur kidding and no entertainment at all.

The Boyden Reporter

Cynics might note that if soldiers found themselves fantasizing about the feminine voice on their radios, that detail would not necessarily make it into the American press. But boiled vegetable or not, it seems rather doubtful that Suh had much impact on the troops' morale. Even when she talked truthfully about how lousy life could be at the front, she wasn't telling her listeners anything they didn't already know.

Charles Robert Jenkins, an American soldier who defected to North Korea in 1965 and left the country four decades later, writes in his memoir The Reluctant Communist that he encountered Suh shortly after he arrived in Pyongyang:

I met her in 1965 when I went to the "foreigners only" section of the No. 2 Department Store. I was by myself. (Our leader at the time had just said, "Yeah, go on; go ahead," when I asked to go to the store and let me go alone.) I recognized her from [a propaganda pamphlet], so I walked up to her and said, "Hello, Suhr Anna-senseng" (senseng is the Korean word for "teacher"). It was winter, and she was wearing a black leather overcoat, very put-together. She looked surprised and turned, looked at me, and said, "Oh, you must be the American who just came over." I said, "Uh-huh," but she was spooked. The second we met, she wanted to get the hell out of there. She excused herself, saying she really needed to be going, and was gone.

Years later, Jenkins heard that in 1969 the North Korean government had accused the former Seoul City Sue of spying for the South and had shot her. "I have no idea if any of this is true," he reports, "but that is what they told me, and we certainly never saw her again or heard from anyone who had."

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For another installment involving the Korean War, go here. For another installment involving North Korean propaganda, go here.)

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  1. The Statue of Liberty is kaput.

  2. When can we give Obama his Nobel Peace prize for this unprecedented diplomatic victory?

    1. He’s already got one, you see. Oh yeah, it’s very nice.

  3. Seoul City Sue gives him amateur kidding and no entertainment at all.

    Her spirit lives on in far too many Hit’n’Run commenters.

    1. You know who else’s spirit lives on in far too many H&R commenters?

      1. Pyotr Arsenievich Smirnov?

      2. Citizen X is really getting into the spirit of things.

        1. It’s late Friday afternoon, i’m about to go home and get as drunk as i want.

      3. Cap’n Jack Sparrow?

        1. And a bottle of rum!

  4. That’s a fascinating history, Jesse. Thanks for the post.

  5. It happens that I’m now reading The Manchurian Candidate. I’d had no idea what a laugh riot it is. Really cynical humor. The brainwashing turns out to be only among the smaller bits of the story.

  6. Anyway, would we be seeing this rapprochement had it not been for Trump’s pressure on China?

    1. Probably not. I don’t think Trump actually plans much at all; he’s simply learned that being unpredictable and saying what’s on his mind at the moment, no matter how contradictory from 5 minutes ago, gets results. I suspect it’s because he’s dealing with people who want something from him, and prefer to nail down any agreement close enough rather than wonder if they wait for a few more wild swings he might be closer to, or further away from, what they can get now. This reinforces what he has learned of just speaking his mind at random seems to work.

      I think what would have worked better with North Korea would have been to simply ignore them, speaking-wise; just trade as normal. No boycotts, no embargoes. Keep the US troops in South Korea as trigger troops. But don’t negotiate with them over stupid things over and over. Just as the Cuban Embargo has done more to prop up the Castros than Soviet or Venezuelan subsidies, so with North Korea. The last thing either of them want is free trade with the west, and when they can get the US to keep their people uninformed and scared of the unknown, so much the better.

    2. Would we be seeing this rapprochement had it not been for Trump’s pressure on China?

      Credit for the rapprochement goes to Moon, not to Trump. But I do give Trump tentative credit for embracing & rolling with it. (Tentative because there still are lots of ways to fuck this up. But last summer I thought Trump’s North Korea policy might turn out to be the worst thing about his administration; now there’s at least a chance that it will end up being the best.)

      1. Moon would not be doing shit without the USA backing his play. Olympics are child’s play compared to brokering a peace agreement and/or eliminating nukes from NK.

        Its not that Moon deserves zero credit because he does and so does Trump putting pressure on China, which Moon did not do.

        Some people only see TDS rather than a long play to solve the Korean tension. Whatever floats your boat.

        1. Moon would not be doing shit without the USA backing his play.

          That is exactly backwards—Moon has clearly led the way on this, and was doing so well before Trump came around. But I understand how one might get a different impression. Much of the American media, both pro-Trump and anti-Trump, can’t conceive of anything happening in the world without the U.S. being at the center of it.

          1. Well I can and it’s pretty obvious that Trump’s attitude towards NK has been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

            I’ve no doubt Kim’s been looking for a way to get out of the fix he and his family have put the country in, and this has all come at the right time. At some point being a impoverished backwater ain’t fun any longer, but you just can’t look like a softcock and give it up, so this is diplomatic dance is the face-saver.

            He’ll try to manage this whole thing so he can stay in power and enjoy having a wealthier tinpot dictatorship at his feet but I expect he’ll be strung up, or escape to Iran and enjoy the billions anonymously stashed in Geneva.

          2. So your claim is that Moon, elected in May 2017 convinced Kim Jung-Un to peace completely without the USA backing his play?

            I guess Trump’s positioning of US military strength in April 2017 had nothing to do with any pressure on NK?

            I guess it had nothing to do with Trump’s push for the U.N. Security Council to pressure NK to halt aggressive missile launches in April 2017?

            It has nothing to do with Trump pressuring China in July 2017 to change the situation with NK threats?

            Your position is backwards. You got TDS Jesse and it shows.

            1. You got TDS Jesse and it shows.

              That’s an odd way to react to one of the few areas where I think Trump is currently doing more or less the right thing.

              Anyway, it’s not exactly new for Washington to rattle its sabres at Pyongyang, nor to try to pressure it via China or the UN. Trump’s rhetoric may have been more blustery and reckless than past presidents’ rhetoric, but the policies behind the tweets weren’t all that different from what came before. What changed was the election of a South Korean president who campaigned on rapprochement with North Korea and launched a major diplomatic peace push as soon as he was in office.

              It’s not a diss on Trump that South Korea took the lead here. South Korea should take the lead here. I don’t want the U.S. ramming its own vision down the Koreans’ throat, and I’m glad that Trump does not currently seem intent on doing that. Instead he shifted his rhetoric so it matched rather than contradicted what Moon was saying. As he should have. Good for him.

              1. “That’s an odd way to react to one of the few areas where I think Trump is currently doing more or less the right thing.”
                If the shoe fits. You have no choice to acknowledge Trump is doing well in this area. You did not see it coming and you were among the people that thought the threats of tariffs was purely to destroy the Americans economy. You never imagined that strategy was being used to pressure China.

                “Anyway, it’s not exactly new for Washington to rattle its sabres at Pyongyang, nor to try to pressure it via China or the UN. Trump’s rhetoric may have been more blustery and reckless than past presidents’ rhetoric, but the policies behind the tweets weren’t all that different from what came before.”

                See, TDS. This current Trump strategy has never been done before.

                The USA has rattled sabres before. The USA has visited China before. The USA has used tariffs to put pressure on China. The USA has used sanctions on NK before. The USA has tried to appease NK before. The USA has fought a war with NK before. The USA has fought a war with China before. The USA has discussed using nukes in Korea before.

                1. (contd)
                  The USA has never used everything in the tool box to resolve the NK situation. Never.

                  There is zero evidence that the USA wants to jam its vision of Korea down Korean’s throats. Americans not only have bled for Koreans but we have kept them safe for decades. If America gets this chance to make sure this bullshit ends, great! If Moon can pull off a diplomatic coup with NK, great! NK is not scared of South Korea at all.

                  Its that you will have to really gather yourself to give Trump credit if a great peace deal is worked out. I give credit to those who earn it and criticism for those who deserve it. It will be easy for me to give Trump praise if he pulls it off. It will be easy to give Moon credit if pulls it off. It will be easy to give blame if Trump, Moon, or some other person fucks this chance up by failing to negotiate from a position of strength but not being prepared for war.

                  1. Its that you will have to really gather yourself to give Trump credit if a great peace deal is worked out.

                    No, what I have trouble doing is pretending that last year’s saber-rattling etc. was part of a long game being led from Washington that is paying off now. I’m open to being corrected by the diplomatic historians of the future, but for now that narrative relies on a lot of speculations that I find pretty dubious.

                    Instead I think this: Trump is famously prone to reversing himself, and this time he reversed himself in the right direction. Last summer he was taking the wrong approach, and now he’s taking pretty much the right approach. If he stays on his current path, I give him credit for changing his mind.

                    1. In 2017, NK was threatening to nuke the USA and the had the nukes to back it up. I think their accuracy for hitting targets is still crap but that might not be the case forever. Its still a credible threat. Its not like the USA picked a fight with NK.

                      Trump’s strategy was to push back and project a strong USA that is willing to go to war in Korea if need be; if Japan, South Korea, and/or Philippines were attacked; and certainly if any part of the USA is attacked. That is an active plan by Trump and he has been consistent on that. I think that plan plus pushing China got us to where we are now.

                      The Peace thru Superior Firepower schtick is in and of itself is one the few thing these tyrants find troubling and will bring them to talk. It happened over and over with the USSR. Peace through superior firepower convinces those madmen dictators that the USA will fight.

                      Although I agree that its impossible to know for sure what actions correlate with what, no president has ever gotten the Kim family tyrants to this level of potential peace. It could also be complete BS and Kim is playing the USA. It really could either way.

                      I look forward to your promised credit if historic peace is reached in Korea or the USA can get Kim to give up nukes for real.

          3. Interesting how some of those drastic American policy changes came about before Moon was elected in May 2017, but Moon led the way.

            One thing South Koreans are know for is resolving the aggression problem with North Korea in the last 65 years.

  7. Since Reason is doing stories about funny things that happened during the Korean War, how about some of the not-so-funny things that happened.

    Stalin demanded that Korea be split and Truman caved, so inevitable conflict would kick off. Same thing with Germany but at least Germany was the aggressor in WWII, unlike Korea.

    North Korea pushed the U.N. troops back to the Busan perimeter after decimating U.N. troops. MacArthur saved the day by executing an outstanding amphibious attack at Inchon to cut off the North Korean army supply routes.

    U.N. forces pushed the North Korean all the way to the Yalu River and defeated North Korea until Chinese Communist forces pushed the U.N. forces back. MacArthur was fired for publicly implying that Truman was a pussy for not fighting the Chinese with nukes and would let them retake Korea.

    Seoul changed hands four times and most of the substantial buildings in North and South Korea were completely destroyed. Over 1 million civilians and soldiers were killed and that is a low estimate since the Chinese have not really fessed up to how many forces they lost.

    Since all presidents since Truman have fucked up Korea, Trump is ahead of the curve.

    1. “Stalin demanded that Korea be split and Truman caved, so inevitable conflict would kick off. Same thing with Germany but at least Germany was the aggressor in WWII, unlike Korea.”

      Not true. I do not know why you keep making this up. Two Americans proposed the 38th parallel as a demarcation zone, Dean Rusk and Charles Bonesteel in Washington D.C. Furthermore, the Soviets already had troops in Korea so we had little leverage when the line was proposed either. Check the Wikipedia page “Division of Korea” if you need assurance.

      Truman was a good President and a patriot, I do not know why people like yourself need to trash people like him just because he had a D beside his name.

      1. You never know what you are talking about but keep on posting nonsense.

        From your wikipedia:
        “In November 1943, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek met at the Cairo Conference to discuss what should happen to Japan’s colonies, and agreed that Japan should lose all the territories it had conquered by force. In the declaration after this conference, Korea was mentioned for the first time. The three powers declared that they were, “mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, … determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent.” Roosevelt floated the idea of a trusteeship over Korea, but did not obtain agreement from the other powers. Roosevelt raised the idea with Joseph Stalin at the Tehran Conference in November 1943 and the Yalta Conference in February 1945. Stalin did not disagree, but advocated that the period of trusteeship be short.”

        Did you know that Russian troops were located in Austria and they left as part of the agreement in 1955? It was not impossible to get Russian troops out of countries as long as you stuck to standing up for the occupied country. Korea and Eastern Europe never got much of that political help and the Russians took advantage of it.

      2. In December 1945, at the Moscow Conference, the Allies agreed that the Soviet Union, the US, the Republic of China, and Britain would take part in a trusteeship over Korea for up to five years in the lead-up to independence. Many Koreans demanded independence immediately; however, the Korean Communist Party, which was closely aligned with the Soviet Communist party, supported the trusteeship.

        A Soviet-US Joint Commission met in 1946 and 1947 to work towards a unified administration, but failed to make progress due to increasing Cold War antagonism and to Korean opposition to the trusteeship.[18] Meanwhile, the division between the two zones deepened. The difference in policy between the occupying powers led to a polarization of politics, and a transfer of population between North and South.In May 1946 it was made illegal to cross the 38th parallel without a permit.

        In other words, Stalin wanted Korea Communist under Kim Il-Sung. Western Allies wanted Korea independent. The compromise was a partially divided Korea and hopes on working out a deal.

        Stalin wanted to control as much territory as he could get his hands on and the Western Allies were nervous about that. The two Americans mentioned the 38th parallel but they did not decide the fate of Korea. Roosevelt’s lack of interest sealed that deal.

      3. Truman, of course, took over after FDR luckily died and never fought the Russians hard on Korea or the northern Japanese islands that the Russians had seized. Truman focused on Europe but here was still unprepared for defending West Germany from Russian aggression because he was a known appeaser.

        The only reason that Truman sucked it up and had nukes dropped on Japan was to prevent a million Americans from dying during an invasion. Truman was fine with Russians taking as much former Japanese territory as they wanted. He was too dumb to realize the Russian threat and so was FDR. They were both progressives and were fine with fellow socialists keeping people subjugated.

        Truman later refused to use nukes against Chinese forces killing Americans in Korea, which shows that he was not prepared to use nukes to win.

      4. There are quite a few good books on WWII, Korea, and Truman to get a better background for you.

        1. “Truman was fine with Russians taking as much former Japanese territory as they wanted.”

          30,000 dead Americans in Korea say otherwise. You are making up a false history.

          And it is funny you mention good books on Korea. I suggest one for you I just finished reading. It is called “This Kind of War” by T.R. Fehrebanch and he states unequivocally that the 38th Parallel was proposed by Americans in Washington D.C. that were nervous about Soviets with boots on the ground in Korea.

          From another source below.

          “That line was the 38th parallel, whose origins as modern Korea’s first intra-national boundary can be traced back to the final hours of World War II, when officials from the U.S. War and State Departments were preparing to negotiate with the Soviet Union over how Japanese-occupied Korea would be administered following Japan’s surrender.

          Future U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, then a colonel on General George Marshall’s staff, and fellow Army staffer Col. Charles “Tic” Bonesteel, were assigned with identifying a line of control that both the U.S. and the Soviets could agree to.

          Time was of the essence: the Soviets had just entered the war against Japan, and American officials worried that they would rush in to occupy the entire Korean peninsula before the U.S., whose nearest troops were still 600 miles (966 kilometers) away on Okinawa, could establish its own presence on the mainland.”
          National Geographic, Korea, and the 38th Parallel, Michael Fry, 4 AUG 2013

          1. Russian boots were already on the ground in Korea.

            Do you even understand Russia conquered an area of Asia larger than Texas in less than 3 weeks, from 9 August-2 September 1945?
            Size of Manchuria
            Manchuria corresponds in latitude to Manitoba, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska. Its area of 362,310 square miles is only 10,000 square miles less than the combined area of these great grain states. It Is two and one-half times greater than California and is as big as Texas, Alabama and Louisiana combined. In the northern part of the province are thousands of square miles of rich wheat land entirely untouched. Manchuria has a possible wheat area as great as that of the United States.
            ~National Geographic Magazine.

            Add in conquering most of Korea and Sakhalin Island and most of the Kuril Islands.

  8. Years later, Jenkins heard that in 1969 the North Korean government had accused the former Seoul City Sue of spying for the South and had shot her.

    At least the story had a happy ending.

    1. Nobody knows for sure. She could be Pelosi for all we know.

    2. I would suspect that she may not have made those propaganda broadcasts voluntarily.

      1. Possibly. I would rather die than be a puppet of a regime like that.

        I might try and send hidden clues in my broadcasts with intonation or something. Like Vietnam POWs in pictures having their middle fingers out. There were beaten severely for that but that is my kind of fight to never surrender my free will.

        1. Easy to talk big when not in their shoes.

          1. Not really. Some of us have principles over principals.

            At least YOU know that YOU would not give your life for principles.

            1. I am in the Navy right now hombre. Proud to serve.

              What I am not is a person who was kidnapped by the Norks.

              1. Oh god. Not a fellow squid.

                Your time on the Navy now is not like service in the 1990s or in the 1950s. Ask a salty dog about it.

                1. *shrug* I was not in back then so I do not know. Navy now ain’t too bad, just too much bureaucracy and bullshit.

                  1. Ask someone? You don’t even know how much the Navy sucks compared to even a few decades back by what older sailors say?

                    The Navy always had bureaucracy and bullshit. At least you could visit good ports, get laid, and put your liver on suicide watch.

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