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Grandson of Famous Korean Activist Withdraws Archival Donation Plans in Protest of Professor’s ‘Comfort Women’ Paper

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The grandson of a Korean independence activist withdrew his offer to donate family historical archives to Harvard’s Schlesinger Library in anger over the University’s failure to respond to a professor’s controversial paper on the issue of “comfort women.”

Philip “Flip” Ahn Cuddy — grandson of Korean independence activist Ahn Chang-ho, known by his pen name Dosan — wrote in a letter to University President Lawrence S. Bacow Wednesday morning that he was withdrawing the submission of family historical materials to Harvard “in direct consequence of” Japanese Legal Studies professor J. Mark Ramseyer’s controversial paper about comfort women, which is slated to be published in the International Review of Law and Economics.

“Comfort women” refers to women and girls from Japan’s occupied territories who were forced into sex slavery by the Imperial Japanese military before and during World War II. Against the historical consensus, Ramseyer claimed in his paper that these women were voluntarily employed. Since, mounting activism condemning Ramseyer’s paper at and beyond Harvard led the journal to delay publication and investigate concerns surrounding his paper.

Cuddy’s letter to Bacow marks the latest in a series of petitions and letters condemning Ramseyer’s paper and calling on Harvard to respond to the backlash. All the while, Harvard spokespeople and officials have kept quiet on the issue.

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In his letter, obtained by The Crimson, Cuddy accused Bacow and the journal publishing Ramseyer’s paper of “hiding behind the veil of academic freedom” and criticized them for not sufficiently addressing Ramseyer’s “misrepresentation of history.”

Cuddy said in an interview with The Crimson that though he believes academic freedom is valuable, it is also crucial to “draw the line” when statements are not backed up by facts and research.

Responding to similar criticism that his claims lack historical evidence, Ramseyer wrote in a emailed statement last week that his article “speaks for itself.”

On Sunday, Ramseyer informed The Crimson he is putting together a “short package of materials on this topic” for release in the near future.

“Allowing employees to think they can hide behind academic freedom freely spewing such pointed false opinions about Comfort Women indicated Harvard is no place to deposit any of my archives,” Cuddy wrote in the letter.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain confirmed Bacow’s office has received the letter, but declined to comment further.

Negotiations between Cuddy and Schlesinger Library began in 2015. At the time, though, library administrators at Harvard had “no understanding” of the importance of his archives, according to Cuddy. Only after American history professor Jane Kamensky — who is also director of Schlesinger Library — became involved in 2019 did talks begin to progress, he said.

After meeting with administrators at UCLA, Stanford, and the Huntington Library in California, Cuddy and his sister Christine S. Cuddy ’71 decided in early 2020 to house their family archives at Harvard. Negotiations were subsequently halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Regarding Cuddy’s termination of negotiations with Harvard, Kamensky wrote in an email that the decision to donate family papers is a “highly personal” one and that it is the Library’s policy not to discuss potential acquisitions prior to an agreement.

In the early 20th century, Ahn Chang-ho, Cuddy’s grandfather, was a notable Korean independence activist who helped found the provisional Korean government in exile while the Japanese Empire occupied the Korean Peninsula. He and his wife were among the first Korean immigrants to the United States, where he organized political movements among Korean-American immigrants. Ahn is also reputed to have written the lyrics to South Korea’s national anthem.

Cuddy said the archival materials he had planned to donate to Harvard included Ahn and his wife’s personal items, documents pertaining to Korean-American organizing, and correspondence with the Korean government, among other items.

Cuddy said his top option for the donations is now the Huntington Library, instead of Harvard.

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at ariel.kim@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at simon.levien@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @simonjlevien

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