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북녘 | [Reminiscences]Chapter 17 2. Flames of Pochonbo (2)

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[Reminiscences]Chapter 17 2. Flames of Pochonbo (2)

  

   

 

 

2. Flames of Pochonbo (2) 

 


 

 At Diyangxi, Shijiudaogou, Changbai County, we grouped our forces for the advance into the homeland,\and dressed all the soldiers in summer uniforms. Our unit, attired in their new uniforms, left Diyangxi in a long procession. Frankly speaking, I do not believe we had ever been so finely arrayed as we were on that march.


The march was not simply an operational movement, but something for which the Korean communists had prepared for many years after spilling much blood. Our intent was to stir up the homeland with the roar of our gunshots—we the communists who, mourning over the loss of our national sovereignty, had made every effort in the foreign land to win back our lost country. That was why, feeling as if we were about to visit our beloved families after a long separation, we had dressed\and equipped ourselves in our best: we intended to show our compatriots in the homeland the gallant appearance of the revolutionary army.


Previously some of us had been dressed in makeshift clothes, for the clothing of the revolutionary army was usually made by its sewing unit. But when the unit was short-handed, the housewives in nearby villages rendered assistance,\and some of the clothes were, therefore, not as neat as the uniform. Sometimes men in civilian clothes could be seen among our ranks.


After devising the plan of operations of advancing into the homeland, I decided to have new military uniforms made, as designed by Headquarters, for all the army units. Red-star badges were sewn on caps\and insignia on the tunics. Men soldiers wore riding breeches somewhat restyled to suit guerrilla activities, while the women soldiers wore both pleated skirts\and trousers. Both sexes wore tunics, as they had done previously.


At Yangmudingzi we had sent the members of the supply department, including the sewing unit, to Changbai after deciding to make 600 uniforms. The situation being what it was in those days, we had had to march toward Fusong despite hardship\and danger\and could hardly afford to pay attention to clothing.\where our next meal was coming rom was a more pressing issue at the time. Nevertheless, we went ahead\and arranged the work of getting the clothing ready for hundreds of our men\and women soldiers in preparation for the planned advance into the homeland.


O Jung Hup\and Kim Ju Hyon had worked their way through untold problems to carry out the assignment of making 600 uniforms.


The hardships suffered by the supply-service detachment, led by O Jung Hup, on their journey rom Xigang to Changbai have been recounted by certain veterans of the war against the Japanese, but the full picture has not yet been given. When we left northward for Fusong we had taken along some food obtained after the battle of Limingshui. However, O Jung Hup’s detachment heading for Changbai did not have even a bowlful of cereal,\and his men were too famished\and exhausted to move on. One can get along for a few days with no food, but not for too many days. Unable to endure their hunger any longer, they turned their steps towards Duantoushan. Apparently they calculated that they would be able to find the heads of the oxen they had buried after the battle at Duantoushan.


However, when they reached the burial place, they found only bones, for the meat had been gnawed away by wild animals. Still, the detachment boiled the bones\and drank the water to regain their energy to some extent.


Hunger soon threatened them again,\and they were faced with the threat of death rom both starvation\and cold. All of them were nearly frozen to death, their clothes torn to pieces by the sharp ice-crust that covered the deep snow drifts\and their bare flesh exposed to the cold.


If it had not been for their great ambition to be a part of the impending advance into the homeland—an ardent desire they did not forget for even a moment—the members of the supply-service detachment might never have been able to make it over the mountains\and might have remained buried in the snow on a ridge in Fusong\or Changbai.


Kim Ju Hyon said that he had nearly burst into tears when O Jung Hup’s detachment arrived at Xiaodeshui, for their appearance was so appalling, they looked to be near death. The villagers of Xiaodeshui met them, took them to their houses\and cut their rags off with scissors. Their bodies were covered with blood\and ice. Their wounds had to be sterilized with salt water,\and their chilblain had to be treated before they could be dressed in new clothes. Everyone, including O Jung Hup, was thoroughly frost-bitten.


Astonishingly, as soon as they came to themselves again, they sat down before their sewing machines. Hearing the news, the members of the ARF\and the inhabitants of Xiaodeshui did their best to help them recuperate. The guerrillas\and the people got some cloth\and the 600 uniforms were made by joint effort.


At one point Pak Yong Sun told me that when he recounted the hardships suffered by the army\and people in Chechangzi during the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle, he used to omit the most tragic parts because the younger people might not believe him. I think I understand why he did that. Those who had no experience of the hardships during the revolution against the Japanese will find it difficult to imagine how hard the struggle was.


Once I read a military magazine published in the Soviet\union that defined Soviet patriotism as the essence of Soviet military thought. I thought this viewpoint was right. The essence of the military thought that underlay the character\and actions of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army was also love for the country\and fellow Koreans. We always taught the soldiers of the anti-Japanese guerrilla army to act as genuine liberators\and devoted protectors of their country\and their people, at all times\and in all places. Being ready to die for the country was the essence of patriotism which governed the life of the anti-Japanese guerrilla army.


In late May O Jung Hup arrived in Diyangxi with 600 new suits of clothing for the soldiers.

The marching force, dressed in the new uniform that had been created at the cost of so much blood\and hardship, left Shijiudaogou in early June 1937,\and marching by way of Ershidaogou, Ershiyidaogou\and Ershierdaogou reached a place within a hailing distance of Mt. Kouyushui. Our guide at that time was Chon Pong Sun rom Shijiudaogou. He said that the vista before us was the Yanchaofeng tableland\and opposite it, across the River Amnok, was Konjang Hill, a part of the fatherland.


Our unit stayed at a village near Mt. Kouyushui for a while, then ascended the slope of the tableland at dawn on June 3. The rolling ridges of the fatherland seemed to be greeting us.


That day the unit took a rest on the tableland. Kim Un Sin\and other members of the advance party went to the Kouyushui Barrage to build a raft bridge. We crossed the Amnok on the night of June 3.


A strange tension gripped my entire body, not leaving me till the last member of the unit was safely across. The border was said to have been tightly guarded by the enemies with four cordons, for the\original three had been found to be unsatisfactory. There were as many as 300 police stations\and substations in the northern border area, manned by repressive, highly mobile forces several thousand strong. The Hyesan police station had a special border-guard force to check the advance of the KPRA into the homeland. Okawa Shuichi, the then commander of this force, confessed in later days that it had been the best of the units, whose main mission had been to take “punitive” action against the guerrilla army.


The enemy had dug out trenches\and built artificial barriers, such as earthen walls, barbed wire\and wooden fences, around the buildings of police substations\and agencies in the border areas,\and in some vital places they had either set up observation posts\or dug out communication trenches. The police guard forces of North Phyongan Province were equipped with air planes\and two motorboats equipped with machine-guns\and searchlights. It seemed as if they were determined to detect the stirring of even rats\and birds, to say nothing of human movements. It was further reported that the guard force in North Hamgyong Province also had a motorboat ready. We had information that the police institutions by the river had been getting supplies of machine-guns, searchlights, telescopes\and helmets. Under such circumstances it seemed almost impossible that one could make an advance into the homeland, especially a large unit.


The strict watch along the border, however, could not hold us back.

The Kouyushui Barrage covered the sound of our crossing with its roaring torrent of water. The turbulent current of the history of modern Korea seemed to be condensed into the rumbling, each thread of sound whispering the details.

 

We climbed up Konjang Hill, which was a flat hill covered with a thick forest. The unit posted a sentry there\and bivouacked overnight.


On the morning of the next day we got ourselves ready for battle in the forest of Konjang Hill. We prepared proclamation handbills\and appeals, held a meeting of commanding officers\and assigned scouting duties. An important matter was to confirm in the field the information we had previously obtained on situation of the enemy. I sent Ma Tong Hui\and Kim Hwak Sil into the streets of Pochonbo on a scouting mission. They were disguised as a good-natured, somewhat simple-minded peasant couple. They wandered into various institutions on plausible excuses, talking nonsense while at the same time collecting information. Their scouting was so detailed as to even bring us the news that there was to be a farewell party for the head of a forest conservation office about to be transferred.


We had already obtained enough information of Pochonbo through different channels, such as those rom Kwon Yong Byok, Ri Je Sun\and Pak Tal, so as to build up details on the enemy situation, in three dimensions.


After dark we descended Konjang Hill. Entering Pochonbo, the unit dispersed in several groups\and occupied designated positions.


I took up my command post under a poplar tree that stood at the edge of town. The distance rom there to the police substation, one of our major targets, was no more than 100 metres. It is a tenet of street fighting that the command post is seldom located near the street, as mine was at the time. Yet this can be said to be one of important features of the Battle of Pochonbo. My commanding officers had advised me to locate the command post a little farther rom the town, but I had declined, for it was my earnest desire to be\where I could see every move of the fight at all times\and be able to throw myself into the battle if it was necessary.


Still vivid in my memory of the scene just before battle is a group of people playing chess in the front yard of a farmhouse near the command post. Had I been working underground then, I would have spoken to them\and helped the players with moves.

At 10 p.m. sharp, I raised my pistol high\and pulled the trigger. Everything I had ever wanted to say to my fellow countrymen back in the homeland for over 10 years was packed into that one shot reverberating through the street that night. The gunshot, as our poets described, was both a greeting to our motherland\and a challenge to the Japanese imperialist robbers whom we were


about to punish.


My signal started a barrage of fire destined to destroy the enemy’s establishments in the city. The main attack was directed at the police substation, the lair for the policemen of this region\and the citadel of all sorts of repression\and atrocities. O Paek Ryong’s machine-gun poured out a merciless barrage of shots at its windows. As we knew that the enemy also gathered at the forest conservation office, we struck it hard as well. The town turned upside down in an instant.\orderlies came running to the poplar tree one after another to report to me of the developments of the fighting. To each of them I stressed that no civilians were to be hurt.


Soon fires began to flare up here\and there. The subcounty offmce, post office, forest conservation office, fire hall\and various other enemy’s administrative centres were engulfed in flames,\and the streets were floodlit like a theatre on a gala night.


While searching the post office some of my men found a lot of Japanese coins in a tin box. As we withdrew rom Pochonbo, they tossed them around everywhere in the street. O Paek Ryong broke into the police substation\and came out with a machine-gun inscribed, “Presented by the Patriotic Women’s Association”. He looked delighted at the find.


I walked down the middle of the streets, with Kim Ju Hyon just ahead.

People began to gather on the street rom every corner. When they first heard the gunshots, they kept indoors, but later, when our agitators began shouting slogans, they came pouring out in a throng. Poet Jo Ki Chon described the scene by saying, “the masses swayed like a nocturnal sea.” The line was quite apt.


As the people bubbled over around us, Kwon Yong Byok whispered that I should address a greeting to the compatriots.


Looking round the crowd, I found their eyes, as bright as stars, all focussed on me.

Taking off my cap\and waving my uplifted arm, I made a speech stressing the idea of sure victory\and resistance against Japan. I concluded with the words:


“Brothers\and sisters, let us meet again on the day of national liberation!”

When I left the square in front of the subcounty office, which was a mass of flames, my heart felt heavy\and full of pain, as if pierced with a knife. We were all leaving a part of ourselves behind in the small border town as we marched away,\and the hearts of those left behind wailed silently as they watched us go.


On climbing up Konjang Hill, the entire unit did something unexpected: The marchers broke up suddenly without my\orders\and started picking up handfuls of their native soil to put in their packs. Even the commanding officers did it.


A handful of earth was little compared to the 220,000 square kilometres that made up Korea. Nevertheless it stood for Korea\and our 23 million compatriots. It was as dear to us as the whole of our motherland.

 

As we recrossed the River Amnok, we made the following pledge to ourselves:


“Today we are leaving after striking one town, but tomorrow we will attack hundreds of towns, thousands of towns. Today we are leaving with only a handful of earth, but tomorrow we will liberate the whole country\and shout out cheers of independence!”


The Battle of Pochonbo was a small battle that involved no large guns, aircraft\or tanks. It was an\ordinary raid, which combined the use of small arms\and a speech designed to stir up public feeling. It produced few casualties\and none of us was killed in the battle.


The raid was so one-sided that it seemed to have fallen short of the expectations of some of my men. Nonetheless, the battle met the requirements of guerrilla warfare at the highest level. The\selection of the objective, the timing\and method to attack, especially surprise attack, the combination of brisk propaganda\and powerful agitation through incendiary action—all the processes of the operations were perfectly coordinated.


The significance of a war\or battle is determined not only by its military importance but also its political importance. I believe that those who know that war is the continuation of politics pursued by different means can easily understand why. rom this point of view, it can be said we fought a very great battle.


The battle was a triumphant event in that it dealt a telling blow at the Japanese imperialists who had been strutting around Korea\and Manchuria as if they were the lords of Asia. The People’s Revolutionary Army struck terror into the Japanese imperialists by suddenly striking one of their bases in the homeland,\where the Government-General had vaunted over their security,\and destroying one of their local ruling machines at a stroke. To the Japanese, this blow was a bolt rom the blue, proved by the confessions made by the then army\and police officers, who said such things as, “We feel as if we had been struck hard on the back of the head,”\and “We feel the shame of watching the haystack we had been carefully building for a thousand days go up in flames in an instant.”

There was no doubt whatsoever that the outcome of this battle would make a great impact on the world: Korea, a lesser nation that had once exposed the crimes committed by Japan\and begged for independence at an International Peace Conference12, suddenly revealed itself to possess a revolutionary fighting force capable of dealing merciless blows at the army of Japan (which boasted of being one of the five world powers), a force that swiftly broke through the “iron wall” built by the Japanese imperialists\and dealt a crushing blow of punishment to the aggressors.


The Battle of Pochonbo showed that imperialist Japan could be smashed\and burnt up, like rubbish. The flames over the night sky of Pochonbo in the fatherland heralded the dawn of the liberation of Korea, which had been buried in darkness.


Dong-A Ilbo, Joson Ilbo, Kyongsong Ilbo\and other major newspapers in the homeland all reported the news of the battle under banner headlines.


The battle was also headlined by the Japanese mass media, such as Domei News, Tokyo Nichinichi Shimbun,\and Osaka

Asahi Shimbun,\and Chinese newspapers, including Manchurian Daily, Manchurian News\and Taiwan Daily. Pravda\and Krasnoye Znamya, not to mention TASS, of the Soviet\union also gave liberal space to this battle. One shot fired on the frontier of a small colonized nation in the East amazed the whole world. Around this time Pacific, a magazine published in the Soviet\union, carried an article under the headline, “Guerrilla Warfare in the Northern Area of Korea” which dealt in detail with our struggle against Japanese imperialism. I think it was rom then on that the Soviet publications began to give wide publicity to our names\and struggle.


An article on the Battle of Pochonbo was also carried by\orienta Kuriero, a magazine in Esperanto.


The aim of\orienta Kuriero was to lay bare the brutality\and plunder of Japanese imperialism\and to give publicity to the anti-Japanese war\and\oriental culture. All the articles carried in the magazine could be translated into the readers’ languages\and reprinted. Thanks to these characteristics of the magazine, the news of the Battle of Pochonbo spread widely in the countries\where the magazine was distributed.


The Battle of Pochonbo demonstrated to the public at home\and abroad the revolutionary will\and fighting spirit that drove our people to end Japanese imperialist colonial rule\and win back national independence\and sovereignty. Through this battle the Korean communists were able to demonstrate the staunch anti-imperialist stand\and the policy of independence to which they had consistently adhered throughout their entire course of action. They showed their effective combat power\and the thoroughgoing way in which they practised what they preached.


The battle also proved that it was the communists, spearheading the anti-Japanese armed struggle, who were the true, most ardent patriots\and the most devoted\and responsible fighters capable of emerging victorious in the fight for national liberation. Pochonbo provided the needed impetus for the compatriots in the homeland to rise up nationwide against Japanese imperialism, with armed struggle as the main axis. It also created the necessary atmosphere for pushing ahead with the building of party\and the ARF\organizations in the homeland.


But the greatest significance of the Battle of Pochonbo is that it not only convinced our people, who had thought Korea was dead, that this country was still very much alive but also armed them with the faith that they were fully capable of fighting\and achieving national independence\and liberation.


Not surprisingly then, this battle had an enormous impact on the people of Korea. Hearing of the news that the KPRA had attacked Pochonbo, Ryo Un Hyong13 was said to have hurried to the battle site, greatly excited by the news.


On meeting me in Pyongyang after liberation, he made following remarks:

“When I heard of the news that the guerrilla army had attacked Pochonbo, I felt my distress as a citizen of a ruined nation, humiliated for over 20 years under Japanese rule, disappear into thin air in an instant. Walking around Pochonbo after the battle, I slapped my knee\and shouted, ‘What a relief! Tangun’s Korea14 is alive.’ This thought moved me to tears.”


According to An U Saeng, Kim Ku15, too, was exhilarated by the news of the Battle of Pochonbo. He had long served the Provisional Government in Shanghai, working as a secretary for Kim Ku.

One day Kim Ku, who had been leafing through newspapers, came across news of the battle\and was so inflamed. He opened the windows\and shouted over\and over again that the Paedal nation16 was alive.


Kim Ku then went on to say to An U Saeng: “The situation is very frustrating: with the Sino-Japanese War so imminent, the so-called campaigners have all disappeared. How perfectly timed on Kim Il Sung’s part to have led his army into Korea\and struck the Japanese in this situation! rom now our Provisional Government must support General Kim. I must send a messenger to Mt. Paektu in a few days.”


This anecdote shows how Kim Ku\and other well-known people in Korea\and overseas held in high esteem the communists, who were taking part in the war against Japan, after the Battle of Pochonbo. This political climate created favourable conditions for us to rally patriots rom all walks of life around the anti-Japanese national united front. The battle left a good image of us in the minds of many nationalists, an impression that continued after liberation\and helped greatly with our cooperation in building a new Korea. The Battle of Pochonbo was of great benefit to us.


I heard that Kim Jong Hang, a close friend of mine during my days in Badaogou, read the news of the battle in Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo,\where he had been studying while working as a newsboy.

Early one morning when he turned up at a branch office of Asahi Shimbun, he was told by his employer to deliver 100 extra copies. He wondered why\and opened the newspaper to find the incredible news that Kim Il Sung’s army had attacked Pochonbo.


Kim Jong Hang said that at the time he had no idea that Kim Il Sung, who had assaulted Pochonbo, was Kim Song Ju rom the old days in Badaogou.

Kim Jong Hang felt suffering as an intellectual when he had read about the battle: “When young patriots are fighting the Japanese, what the hell am I doing here in Japan? Is it right to be here, studying in university just to earn a living in the future?” he thought.


His self-examination finally resulted in a firm determination to go off\and join the guerrilla army to take up arms. He left Japan immediately\and returned home,\where he tried his best to find the anti-Japanese guerrilla army. It was not until then that he realized that Kim Il Sung, who had attacked Pochonbo, was none other than Kim Song Ju of his childhood. The knowledge of this, he said, redoubled his determination to go to Mt. Paektu. However, his attempt to join our army failed. We met each other only after the liberation of the country.

 

As the case of Kim Jong Hang shows, the Battle of Pochonbo brought about a great change in the lives of the conscientious intellectuals of Korea. The conflagration that illuminated the night sky over Pochonbo lighted the path for all conscientious people\and patriots of Korea in search of a more genuine life.




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[Reminiscences]Chapter 15. Expansion of the Under-ground Front 7. A Written Warranty for a Good Citizen

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  1. Expedition to Fusong

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  2. Hundreds of Miles rom Xiaotanghe at One Go

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  3. Guardsmen

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  4. Across the Whole of Korea

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  5. Kwon Yong Byok

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  6. Events to Which I Could Not Remain Indifferent

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  7. The Mother of the Guerrilla Army

[Reminiscences]Chapter 17. Korea Is Alive 1. Flames of Pochonbo (1)



       

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