Young Peace Corps volunteer, Paul Courtright was helping leprosy patients in the countryside of South Korea 1980. He enjoyed cooking eggs and listening to music. On his way back home from his medical checkup, he got caught in the middle of Gwangju massacre. Between Peace Corps policy and frustration, he decided to act. He escaped Gwangju to tell the US embassy what was going on there.
He couldn't stop writing notes about what he was witnessing. It was the only way he could process what he was seeing. is based on his massive amount of notes. This memoir is not only the record of Gwangju uprising but also a great story of how the incident changed a young man's life in a very short period of time.
“We have no voice. You have to be our voice. You have to tell people outside what they’re doing to us.” She glanced around the street, then returned her fearless gaze to me. I was rooted to the spot. I was to be the “witness” and she had given me a clear task. I failed the halmeoni. I was given a responsibility that now, forty years later, I can finally face. I hope I’m not too late.
-From the Prologue-
평화봉사단으로 한국에 배치된 청년 폴 코트라이트는 광주민주항쟁이 있던 80년, 전남 나주 호혜원에서 한센 환자를 돌보고 있었다. 호혜원에서 받은 계란으로 요리를 하고 음악을 듣던 평범한 청년은 의례적인 건강검진을 마치고 돌아오던 중, 광주민주항쟁을 마주하게 된다. 현지 국가의 정치적 행동에 개입을 금지하는 평화봉사단의 지침을 따를지, 눈 앞에서 벌어지고 있는 폭력에 저항할 지 심한 갈등을 하다가 폴은 목숨을 걸고 산을 넘어 광주의 상황을 알리러 서울 미 대사관으로 향한다.
광주민주항쟁 기간 동안 목격한 내용을 폴은 끊임없이 기록했다. 당시 그 경험을 감당해 낼 수 있는 유일한 방법이었다. 그 기록은 엄청난 양의 메모가 되었고 기억을 모두 쏟아내 겨우 살아갈 수 있게 되자 그는 메모와 기억을 한 켠에 미룬 채 삶을 지속했다. 목격자로 그 자리에 존재해야 했던 그의 마음 속에 짐으로 남아있던 기억과 메모는 40년이 지난 후에야 절제된 언어로 세상에 나왔다. 에는 아주 짧은 기간 한 청년의 삶과 성격을 바꾸어 버린 강력했던 한국 현대사가 담겨있다.
"우리에겐 목소리가 없어. 우리의 목소리가 되어주게. 바깥 세상 사람들에게 우리에게 무슨 일이 있었는지 알려주게." 할머니는 두려움이 없는 눈으로 나를 뚫어질 듯 보았다. 나는 그 자리에 굳어버렸다. 나는 여기에 '목격하기 위해' 있었다. 할머니가 내게 분명한 임무를 주었다.
나는 그 할머니와 약속을 지키지 못했다. 40년이 지난 이제야, 그 책임을 마주할 수 있게 되었다. 내가 너무 늦지 않았기를 바랄 뿐이다.
- 프롤로그 중에서 -
Author’s note 3
Day 1 (Wednesday, May 14): Demonstration curiosity for the uninitiated 6
Day 2 (Thursday, May 15): Demos are neither won nor lost 12
Day 3 (Friday, May 16): Good to be heading home 19
Day 4 (Saturday, May 17): Getting back to normal 27
Day 5 (Sunday, May 18): Disturbing rumors streak across the sky 33
Day 6 (Monday, May 19): Something awful happened here 38
Day 7 (Tuesday, May 20): Getting marching orders and the last bus home 47
Day 8 (Wednesday, May 21): You can push people only so far 54
Day 9 (Thursday, May 22): The mundane and the crazy can easily coexist in the middle of an uprising 67
Day 10 (Friday, May 23): We are all “impure elements” 82
Day 11 (Saturday, May 24): Translating in a mortuary 100
Day 12 (Sunday, May 25): Is there peace to be found heading over the mountain? 119
Day 13 (Monday, May 26): Losing my temper and heading to Seoul 129
Paul Courtright was a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Jeonnam Province of Korea from 1979-81. He completed his Masters and Doctorate in Public Health focusing on eye diseases and neglected tropical diseases. For 20 years he lived and worked in Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Tanzania establishing, with his wife, the Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology in Moshi, Tanzania.
He has published over 250 scientific articles and has received awards from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Premio Vision Mundi de Lucha Contra la Cuguera, and the Antonio Champalimaud Vision Award. He is a professor (adjunct) at the University of Cape Town and currently he is the Trachoma Technical Lead, consulting for Sightsavers, a UK based non-governmental organization. He is married with two sons and currently lives in San Diego.
Since 1981 he had continued his relationship with Korea conducting research there with Korean colleagues and a summer epidemiology course at Yonsei University with his wife. His work in Africa has been recognized by the Queen and got invited to England.