Project Eagle

The American Christians of North Korea in World War II

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Robert S. Kim
  • Chapel Hill, NC: 
    University of Nebraska Press
    , May
     2017.
     360 pages.
     $34.95.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781612348698.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

There is much more in Project Eagle than its subtitle, The American Christians of North Korea in World War II, would imply. This book is a study of the relations between Americans and Koreans in the nationalist movement for independence from Japan, and in the political aftermath in the Korean Peninsula following Japan’s defeat. This book ranges from the beginnings of Protestant Christianity in Korea at the end of the nineteenth century, Protestant educational impact on a key group of Korean modernisers, Korean Christian involvement in nationalist movements during the Japanese colonial era (1910-1945) and the emergence of an independent (south) Korean state, the involvement of young Americans from the Korea missionary community in the Second World War, and the creation of the Republic of Korea. The broad outline of the history of this period is well known, as are many of the characters discussed in the book. What is distinctive about Project Eagle is its detailed and balanced descriptions of key American and Korean figures, and a clear analysis of their actions. Although the narrative of the book is focussed around a proposal—Project Eagle—developed by the Office of Strategic Services with the Korean Restoration Army in China to infiltrate Korean saboteurs into the Korean Peninsula in the dying days of World War II, the book is more of a study in how conflicts of interests by actors working together hinder the achievement of a common goal. The author highlights the role of the sons of Methodist missionaries (Clarence Weems Jr.) and of Presbyterian missionaries (George McAfee McCune), who were, as academics, prized by the American armed forces during the war for their knowledge of Korea. Although the book’s narrative focuses on them, author Robert Kim also has examined, in detail, the lives and work of a number of Koreans and other Americans who surrounded them. Kim is particularly good at grasping the character of these individuals and how that character helped or hindered their work. His observations on Syngman Rhee, Kim Ku, Yi Pomsok, Lt. General John Hodge, and others during the era of the American Military Government—ending in 1948—and the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948 is especially astute. His nuanced assessment of General Hodge is one of the best interpretations of this key figure. This book is not about “religion,” or “Christianity,” or even about “missions,” or a foreign community. Rather it is a study of the lives of important figures in a crucial period in modern Korean history who came from a Christian background and who were involved with the “modernisation” and independence of Korea. Given Kim’s detailed analysis of these figures, I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to know something about modern East Asian history and the relationship of religion and politics. The book is enriched with more than 50 photographs and charts, many of which are not commonly seen.

About the Reviewer(s): 

James H. Grayson is professor emeritus in East Asian Studies at teh Univeristy of Sheffield.

Date of Review: 
July 5, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Robert S. Kim has almost two decades of experience in law and foreign affairs. He has worked in international financial law at a New York firm and in financial regulation at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and at the Department of the Treasury. He previously worked at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and served as the Treasury Department’s deputy attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad from 2009 to 2010.

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