Church Offers Govt. Insight

Alexandria Smith, Web Master

Students gained insight about the relationship between the U.S. and Asia from a former government intelligence operative during the James Church Presentations Oct. 22-23.

The presenter uses the name James Church as a pseudonym to protect his identity.

“A former Western intelligence officer with decades of experience in Asia,” Church first turned his experiences into fiction in A Corpse in the Koryo (2006). According to Slate Online, Church’s “inside-out exploration of a shrouded world now spans the last two decades of turmoil in North Korea and may be among the most nuanced portrayals available.”

The week-long series of presentations included two master classes, a presentation, and an intimate reading of Church’s works for English and History and Government departments. The events not only celebrated his accomplishments but promoted understanding of North Korea, a country that he said is often culturally stereotyped.

“I started [analyzing North Korea], I knew nothing – which was good be- cause, I mean, I had no precon- ceived notions. None. Blank slate. And I learned. I learned, and I enjoyed working on North Korea because it was such a great intel- lectual puzzle. There were so many pieces you had to put together and so many self-imposed obstacles. We have so many preconceived notions. We are so judgmental and so convinced we are right, they are wrong, and we are moral, they are immoral – which I mean, there may be grains of truth in much of that – but the point is that it warps and undermines our ability to understand them.The name of the game is under- standing them. It’s not approving of what they do; it’s understand- ing them.”

“Because if you’re going to deal with them effectively – no matter what path you choose – you need to understand them.” said Church.

As a former government intelligence operative, Church under- stood the necessity of gaining information on nationalities out- side of the range of preconceived

ideas, which was the underlying theme of his work as an agent and author. The point of human-to- human relations – not America to North Korea, West to East – came up often.

Fellow author and Assistant Professor Matthew Nickel recognized the theme of the presentations, which raised the significance of the subject from purely political to fundamentally human.

“The novel allows the representation of the human aspect. What he continued to say in every presentation – as one of those ‘overlapping circles’ – was the necessity to see North Koreans as individuals and not under an abstract banner of some distant idea that we’ve been given, cartoonish, from media. Fiction is more true, sometimes, than what we experience, you know, and I think it probably accomplished an awareness through the fiction [more] than plain journalism [could],” Nickel said.

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Russ Pottle stressed the value of Church’s views on international relations and said the visit was a highly influential experience for all who attended.

“I think that’s one of the things that a university does. It brings in people who broaden everybody’s experience and present new knowledge, and new ideas, and consider things in a way that they hadn’t previously,” says Pottle, whose analysis of Koryo first put him in contact with the author.

Nickel also saw the Church’s week-long role on campus helped students to develop a context, and a relevance, for Church’s ideas.

“In his book, he talks in one place about how ‘things don’t follow a straight line; they’re overlapping circles,’ right, and I think that’s what he gave us. All the four different things were sort of different circles, but they all overlapped in some ways. He began with talking about writing yesterday but in some ways, the things he talked about were still applicable in this presentation [a master class]. I think they’re all equally important.”

The James Church Presentations were funded by the Soyka Fund for the Humanities.

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