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The Marijuana Crisis of ’75

Filed under: — Owen @ 1:37 pm Print

I’ve been dipping into an excellent book on the history of Korean popular music now and then (이혜숙 & 손우석 – 한국대중음악사) and came across a fascinating passage on Park Chung-hee’s use of drugs scares to suppress the emerging youth culture that he found threatening. Here’s an excerpt (my rough translation):

After the defeat in Vietnam Park Chung-hee set about strengthening his dictatorship by stressing an external policy of self-reliant defence and an internal policy of ‘defending the system’. To that end, the possession of nuclear weapons, national harmony and traditional culture were all emphasised. However, the imitation of the Western youth culture of jeans, long hair, [folk] guitar and pop songs was widespread. At a time when it was necessary to defend the system and achieve national unity and a self-reliant defence it was impossible to remain indifferent to this degenerate Western youth culture. It was necessary to tighten social discipline. In the view of Park Chung-hee the base and degenerate culture of the West appeared in two forms: one was the folk guitar singers and the other was the entertainers who had originated in the [clubs frequented by] US Eighth Army soldiers. A crackdown on these people was urgent. He began by banninglarge numbers of pop songs and kayo and then moved on to a crackdown on marijuana. On December 2nd, 1975 a huge number of entertainers were banned completely from working in the so-called ‘marijuana crisis’ (대마초 파동). [한국대중음악사, p86]

The book goes on to quote Park Chung-hee himself on the marijuana problem:

“At this grave juncture that will settle the matter of life and death in our one-on-one [struggle] with the Communist Party, the smoking of marijuana by the youth is something that will bring ruin to our country… You must pull up by the roots the problem of marijuana smoking and similar activities by applying the maximum penalties currently available under the law.” [Chosun Ilbo, 3 February 1976, quoted in above book, p88]

There was a little bit more to this story, because the president’s own son, Park Ji-man, had smoked marijuana and been influenced by hippy culture. As the authors of the book point out, this was possibly further motivation for Park’s crackdown.

Of course there exist semi-conspiracy theories as to why marijuana is prohibited throughout the world and how it came to be prohibited in the first place. We can also ask the broader questions about why states would want to outlaw commodities for which there is a clear market and which could be so lucrative to both capitalist entrepreneurs and government tax revenues (David Harvey has some good passages on the limits of commoditisation in his recent book on neoliberalism).

This is probably not the place to get into all the historical reasons why this particular commodity happens to be prohibited. But the history of controlled drugs all over the world shows that social control is often one aspect in the calculations of governments enforcing prohibition laws. Korea was and continues to be a good example of this. The fact that illegal drug use is very low in Korea by world standards did not and does not stop the authorities from stamping down on the merest hint of usage, particularly when it comes to people in the public eye. As I’ve mentioned in a post before at my blog, there continue to be periodic scandals with prominent Korean entertainers being busted and sometimes having their careers ruined. And this is not confined to the world of pop singers or TV hosts – one of Korea’s most talented traditional musicians, percussionist and dancer Yi Kwangsu, has been in and out of jail a number of times as a result of his fondness for the odd reefer.

Of course, as a fibre crop hemp was crucial to the economies of both Korea and Japan for hundreds of years. But that’s another story…

2 Responses to “The Marijuana Crisis of ’75”

  1. [...] Our first encounter with the past is in South Korea in the mid-1970s, where we learn of the reasons for a dictatorship’s intolerance of popular narcotics. Otherwise, we quickly pass through the late 20th century, hoping to avoid the shoals of Franco-German anti-Americanism, but instead are drawn into the complex timestreams of the Middle-East. We observe the difficulties of Arab liberalism, but find cause for hope. Trying to skirt the clouded issue of the relative importance of realism and idealism in the US recognition of Israel, however, only leads us into one of the key topographical features of the 20th century timescape, anti-Semitism. Indeed, it appears to be a recurring feature at this time, in both Germany and the Arab world. We observe the death of the individual most responsible for this, Adolf Hitler but also note the strange post-1945 rumours of his survival, as though his death was somehow insufficient in light of his effect upon history. Lingering in 1943, we examine the evidence for one of his extermination units (and it is amazing that there are those who can deny the reality of such evil, even those with no apparent ideological axe to grind), when our attention is diverted by a somehow airminded flavour to the time continuum: it appears that there is to be a cinematographical remake of the story of the RAF’s breaching of the Rhine dams. (We earnestly hope that Mr Jackson retains the music of the original.) But perhaps Guy Gibson et al not need have done it all, were it not for the support of German nobility for the Nazis from the 1920s onwards. [...]

  2. [...] as opposed to the binge eating and sleeping that are more likely. This sort of misunderstanding is magnified by newspaper coverage of drug busts and crimes, journalist here take a great joy in telling their [...]

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