우물 안 개구리

9/2/2012

Things I don’t know about Korea, part 3

One of the things that I noticed about the materials I used last time I taught Korean history1 is that the texts I chose for my course did not mention, much less discuss in depth, the recently departed Moon Sun Myung‘s Unification Church. The global reach of this uniquely Korean Christian sect would seem to make it a natural topic for discussion, but even works that look in some detail at the religious changes of modern Korean history didn’t address this sect.

The absence was so striking, that I started to wonder if there was some sort of political minefield or cultural taboo at work, or if I had grossly misunderstood the scale and impact of the movement. I haven’t been looking all that hard for answers one way or the other in the two years since, but I certainly would like to have some better sense going in this time.

  1. and I’m scheduled to teach it again in the Spring, in parallel with my Modern Japan course, so it’s on my mind. I’m thinking of adding some literature to the syllabus []

5/18/2012

Diaspora And Diplomatic Communities Memorialize Conflict

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:47 pm Print

A memorial plaque was dedicated in a park in Palisades Park, New Jersey in 2010 which reads

In Memory
of the more than 200,000
women and girls who were
abducted by the armed forces of
the government of Imperial Japan
1930′s-1945
known as “comfort women,”
they endured human rights
violations that no peoples should
leave unrecognized.
Let us never forget the horrors
of crimes against humanity.

Two things struck me about this article from the NY Times. The first is in the headline: “New Jersey Town’s Korean Monument Irritates Japanese Officials.” There have apparently been two official attempts to convince Palisades Park to remove the monument, presenting two very different approaches. The first emphasized Japan’s past apologies and attempts to stage reparations as justification for de-emphasizing the sexual servitude issue:
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8/7/2011

Politics of Health / Medicine, post 1945

I’ve been thinking again about the broader issue of beginning to approach the South Korean post-colonial state and post-1945 medicine, recognizing the immense problems that this presents.

Even leaving aside lengthy traditons of shamans and religious healers of varying persuasions, if we restrict medicine to two loose clusters–한의학 and biomedicine–then minimally this leaves us with the need to consider at least some of the following:

a) W. Medicine as brought / conveyed by misssionaries;

b) German academic medicine / biosciences of the mid to late 19th century (esp. maybe Virchow?);

c) German academic tradition as conveyed through colonial Japanese medicine, public health, and parasitology (Meiji, Taisho, and Showa);

d) USAMGIK / 미군정 (especially the CATS lectures prepared by Winslow); also here–pre-Korean War visits by Rockefeller in the form of prominent American demographers / social scientists–among them Taeuber, Notestein, Balfour;

e) military medicine and psychiatry (here meaning the ROKA and its own internal public health practice, starts even prior to independence, allegedly);

f) Korean War era aid / efforts–UNKRA, WHO report, NORMASH, MASH, Jutlandia, etc.;

g) post Korean-War medical relief / aid projects / technical assistance: e.g., Minnesota Project, Scandinavian Teaching Hospital, CMB, AKF, KAVA, etc.;

h) Public health efforts tailored to specific endemic diseases;

i) Public health mobilizations of the Park period (FP, KAHP), including assistance from Japan’s OTCA, SIDA, and various university demography centers;

j) Vietnam War and once again ROKA military medicine (esp. 열대의학);

k) The incremental growth / provision of national health insurance (1963-1989).

This is only a partial list, but and within this diversity I have two basic generalizations:

1) Lots of continuity / overlap with previous forms of Japanese practice, especially in public health terms, that is, the large-scale mobilizations of 1960′s and 1970′s (FP, Anti-Parasite eradication).

2) Immense effort to link personal health to national welfare as related themes, especially with international aid in post-Korean War period, but even into the 70′s and 80′s.

More on this later, and for now, just recognizing the immense complexity of one little slice of time on these issues. I don’t work on the colonial period, but I suspect it’s equally complicated on issues of medicine / health, far more complicated than some would have it.

3/17/2011

Nuclear Power in Korea / Domestic and International

Filed under: — John P. DiMoia @ 9:29 pm Print

Just a quick note, even as the Japan situation continues to unfold, to recall that (1) the current ROK government wants to prioritize nuclear exports in the coming years; and that (2) the domestic industry provides a significant portion of the nation’s energy (28 plants either in operation or under construction).

At this point, it would be unfair to make any sweeping generalizations or loose analogies with the Fukushima site, but it is not unfair to recognize similar types of actors (General Electric) and contractors dating to the late 1970′s, in roughly the same part of the world, and to ask some hard questions about those plants and their lifespans.

More on this later, but I have been surprised (although I suppose I should not be) about the press coverage from Japan, much of which has focused on TEPCO, and very little of it looking at the reactor origins and hardware.

12/10/2010

The North Flank Guard: A Military Exercise Escalated into Artillery Exchange

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 2:26 pm Print

This is the second of a three part series. Read the first posting here.

On November 28, a South Korean artilleryman mistakenly fired a single 155mm shell north into the Demilitarized Zone during a drill. Although the defense ministry notified its counterparts in North Korea of the mistake some two hours after the incident, it was all too late. North Korean artillery forces, fearing that the attack was the prelude to a full scale invasion, responded by firing over a hundred shells into the south, pounding a South Korean military base but also a nearby village community, resulting in four deaths, including two civilians.

This is how a military exercise can escalate into an artillery exchange. It reveals the dangers of having two bitter opponents, armed and opposing each other on opposite sides of a thin stretch of land with nothing but a fragile armistice preventing the continuation of a war that still awaits its peace treaty. While each side must keep their front line forces prepared for an outbreak in hostilities by means of military exercises, even the smallest mistake like this can result in tragedy.

Of course, this is not what happened. There was an artillery shell mistakenly fired into the demilitarized zone on November 28, and it did reportedly take two hours for the North to be informed of the mistake, but this is not the incident that recently resulted in a deadly North Korean artillery attack on a South Korean military base and a nearby village.

Instead, the island of Yeonpyeong, one of a small collection of islands which hug the North Korean coast but which, under the terms of the 1953 armistice, remain under South Korean control, came under artillery attack from the North on November 23, in the first such incident since the end of major hostilities over fifty years ago. Four people died, many were injured, and an entire community was evacuated while the village on this heavily militarized island shared the fate of the nearby bases.

That morning South Korean forces had conducted an artillery training drill but no shells struck on or near North Korean shores before the North launched its attack. Southern forces shot their shells to the southwest, in order to avoid crossing the Northern Limit Line (NLL) which has, rightly or wrongly, served as the maritime border between the two sides for decades.1 Nor was this exercise some irregular or sudden move to threaten the North, being part of a monthly drill not associated with any larger joint US-Korean military exercises. That morning North Korean forces demanded a halt to the drill, but this too was anything but new. North Korean forces regularly demand a halt to such exercises in the South, including those in the contested maritime territory around the NLL.

As far as I can tell, we are left with a picture of a morning that was business as usual: North Korea protesting South Korean drills, whether or not those are connected to the larger joint exercises, North Korea contesting the Northern Limit Line, and South Korean forces conducting their monthly drills, firing to the southwest into the sea, an act that North Koreans nearby have surely seen them do many times before. Is there a casus belli here? I fail to see it. At the very least (and I still don’t think this would be enough), the North would need to offer some clear and public indication that they will no longer tolerate any further artillery fire into the contested seas and that further exercises will result in a military response. The problem, of course, is that it is difficult for the North to make any such warning credible when they threaten not just military force, but the complete destruction of its enemies on a fairly regular basis. Even if North Korea was trying to make a unique and credible threat in its messages on November 23, what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate that North Korea must itself take responsibility for.

So how has the North Flank Guard responded to this incident? Let me offer two examples: The statement recently issued by the Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea2 and the Factsheet: West Sea Crisis In Korea by Nan Kim, posted with an introduction by John McGlynn at Japan Focus and also available as a PDF directly from the National Campaign to End the Korean War.
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  1. The Northern Limit Line, established unilaterally by the United Nations Command in 1953, without consultation with North Korea, cuts to the north of the islands left in South Korean control. While it aimed originally to prevent southern ships from going north and serves a useful security purpose to protect the islands, North Korea has contested the line since the 1970s. It also violates the 1982 UN Law of the Sea Convention provisions for a 12 nautical mile coastal limit. The maintenance of the line is an important part of the unfair economic environment for northern fisherman in the area, as well as blocking direct egress of ships from the North Korean coast there. The North Koreans claim a line much farther to the south, the acceptance of which would surround South Korean islands, barring a small corridor, with North Korean military waters, an untenable arrangement. I’m very much in favor of adjustments in the line, fair coastal access for North Korea, and a fair division of the economic bounty of the region, all to be accomplished through negotiations between North and South Korea, but the reality today is that the security tensions in the region, and the fact that the region around the NLL has become a graveyard for those who died in so many conflicts in the waters will make it difficult or not impossible to make any changes while tensions are so high. The more blood is spilled in the region, the more each side will harden their views. For helpful background see John Barry Kotch and Michael Abbey “Ending Naval Clashes on the Northern Limit Line and the Quest for a West Sea Peace Regime” Asian Perspective 27.2 (2003). []
  2. They do not give the statement a separate page so I unfortunately cannot offer a permanent link to it. []

12/9/2010

The North Flank Guard

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:40 pm Print

In politics, a direct attack is not always the most effective. One way to proceed is to target someone or something that is seen to represent a more extreme, a more pure representation of your opponent’s ideas and concentrate at least some of your efforts here. Let us call this the “politics of envelopment.” One of the most misguided responses to such a threat of a politics of envelopment, however, is what I will call a “flank guard” form of active defense. Alas, on the political left, and especially among those who, including myself, might be described as democratic socialists, this approach is all too common. The “left flank guard” often takes the form of a spirited defense of even the most indefensible extremes on our flank. The most common ways this is actually carried out is by means of evasion (of accusations), dramatic reversals (“On the contrary, you are the terrorist!”), distraction (“Look at those literacy rates!”), and good old fashioned omission of inconvenient truths.

With the end of the cold war, the “left flank guard” has mostly been deployed in the defense of authoritarian leaders who emit that nostalgic socialist scent (e.g. Venezuela), historical figures who are seen as worthy leaders of revolution but who lost in their struggle for power (e.g. Trotsky), or any resistance or liberation movement that is seen as the best current option for opposing some hated regime (e.g. Hamas). The important point to make here is that few of those in the left flank guard really believe that freedom of expression should be curtailed as it is in Venezuela, that enemies of the revolution should be mercilessly slaughtered, as did Trotsky, or that theocracy is a good supplement to generous social policies. Yet, for some reason, their defenders believe that the survival of our political cause requires us to take a stand and vigorously defend those whose oppressive policies and brutal violence often far outmatch those of our current opponents. I, on the other hand, find this tendency nothing short of repulsive, but more importantly, of no benefit to the cause of social justice.

In the academic world of Korean studies, we might call this phenomenon the “North flank guard,” because the form it takes is:

1) A mobilization of scholarly efforts against opposition to the North Korean regime or those who highlight its human rights issues.

2) A refusal to clearly acknowledge North Korean responsibility for the escalation of tensions at numerous points in the last few years. This treats North Korea as a passive force, reacting only to provocation, rather than as an active composite subject which carefully calculates the potential domestic and international gains to be made from any new crisis.

3) The minimization or sometimes omission of any mention or substantive detail of the oppressive characteristics of the North Korean regime.

4) The fallacious pursuit of a historical argument which seeks to trace all contemporary woes back to the sins of Japanese colonialism, or to US and Soviet military occupations. Let’s call this, “The argument of original imperial sin.”

In the next two postings, I want to introduce a few of the most recent examples of the “North flank guard” in action and why I find it deeply troubling.

The second and third postings:

The North Flank Guard: A Military Exercise Escalated into Artillery Exchange
The North Flank Guard: Everyday Life in North Korea

11/2/2010

Cultural Consumption and Comprehension

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:39 pm Print

There’s an interesting article up at Japan Focus this week, “Disarming Japan’s Cannons with Hollywood’s Cameras: Cinema in Korea Under U.S. Occupation, 1945-1948” by Brian Yecies and Ae-Gyung Shim. For the most part, it’s a pretty conventional occupation history, done with official USAMGIK sources, Korean newspapers, plus some secondary sources on the early occupation period, and reveals that USAMGIK used cinema, especially Hollywood imports, as a way to reeducate the formerly colonial subject population. Nothing too surprising there: US efforts to use American media to engineer democratic and capitalist cultures is pretty much a universal story in the post-war.

The twist here: a steady theme running through the article highlighting the disconnect between the values depicted on screen (intentionally or unintentionally) and the culture of the audience. Again, there’s nothing terribly new there: if the Koreans were already democratic pro-American capitalists, then the program wouldn’t exist in the first place. But the authors offer no obvious evidence either regarding audiences’ comprehension or tension with the material presented and make claims for the effects of the program which boggle the mind. This seems to be the result of conflating vocal conservative voices with popular reception. For example, this early passage sets the stage for a lot of the rest of the article:

Generally speaking, Koreans had had long-standing Confucian traditions that required physical separation between noblemen and commoners on the one hand, and men and women on the other hand. Confucianism provided the foundational social, moral and legal guidelines and customs between people of all ages. Not only did cinema-going in this era enable all walks of life to mingle together in ways that were different from traditional Korean moral values, but the images, themes and motifs presented in the onslaught of spectacle Hollywood films, which was not a new phenomenon, did continually present ‘American’ situations that shook the roots of traditions and worried traditionalists.

This rings rather false to me. First, the conflation of social customs with Confucianism and the conflation of conservatives with tradition, but more the idea that modern egalitarian ideas were new to most Koreans in the post-colonial age, after a third of a century of Japanese modernization – industrialization, migration, education and other changes. There is some discussion of “a formal survey of local attitudes in Korea” but it’s not clear to me that an American survey of attitudes at that point would produce results other than confirmation of American attitudes.

Worse, the evidence offered in the article about the surprising popularity of movies with untraditional and complex moral presentation suggests that the movies weren’t disturbing their audiences at all. They write “Almost immediately, these first Hollywood films made a splash in the marketplace as audiences lapped them up with enthusiasm,” but they can’t stop there. They finish that sentence with an unsourced and unsupported, “whether of not they understood them or appreciated the cultural values they contained.”

In the conclusion, Yecies and Shim suggest that the success of Hollywood and other movies in the 60s is a result of the acculturation to such fare in the ’40s. In fact, they credit the movie program with success beyond any reasonable expectation: “USAMGIK’s aim of reorientating Koreans away from the legacies of the former Japanese colonial regime was achieved with surprising ease by allowing hundreds of Hollywood spectacle films back into the region.” If the USAMGIK program was a success, then it couldn’t have been too far out of the mainstream. They discuss the pre-’45 movie scene, which sounds quite lively until the wartime rationing kicked it, but seem to dismiss it as a factor in their post-war discussion. It’s as though pre-liberation Koreans were nothing more than pre-colonial traditionalists with an overlay of colonial ideology, reeducated with great discomfort through the power of Humphrey Bogart and Roy Rogers. I suppose there must be more to this story, but the evidence presented here is grossly inadequate to prove the rather astonishing assertions being made.

On the plus side, one of the other articles at Japan Focus this week is Mark Caprio’s expanded version of the talk he gave at the AAS Conroy panel, in which he takes a contemporary right-wing revisionist discourse on Korean annexation and exposes the ahistoricity of it in great detail.

10/27/2010

Candy and School Lunches

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:31 pm Print

In the New York Times yesterday there was an interesting article entitled, “Is Candy Evil or Just Misunderstood?” In particular it discussed the relationship between candy and children, their concerned parents, and schools with some reference to the work of candy historian Samira Kawash.

I thought of this article when I came across a rather different attitude taken to candy by the US forces running Korea just after the collapse of the Japanese empire. In the October 1946 summary report put out by the military government, we find the following little nugget:

The Department of Education received an allocation of 669,269 pounds of candy which will be sold at cost to all the elementary schools of South Korea with the suggestion that it be utilized to supplement school lunches. Distribution of the candy was begun in late October.1

  1. U.S. Army Military Government Activities in Korea 13 (October, 1946), 78. []

5/18/2010

South Korea and Thailand–(Comparative) Developmental Contexts

Filed under: — John P. DiMoia @ 7:53 pm Print

I’ve been playing with this image for quite some time now, and am still trying to build a “thick” context around it for a piece that should  (finally!) get submitted sometime later this summer.  Okay, so what do Thailand and South Korea–more specifically, Hyundai Construction–have to do with each other?

I’m interested in this more as a broad question of emerging diplomatic and economic relations between NE and SE Asia during the early Cold War, or to put it in other terms, new opportunities enabled by the passing from Japanese Empire to American Empire.

(1) This image, from the early 1960′s, displays a welcome banner put out for Mr. Pakorn Angsusingha (I’ve also seen a transliteration of his name as Pakon Angsusing), a Thai academic and bureaucrat, by Hyundai Construction, presumably outside their Bangkok offices, circa 1965.  He’s (Angsusingha)  involved in a lot of social work and community development projects for Thailand, with community development being a Thai priority (1958-1961), prior to the nation-wide focus on ARD (Accelerated Rural Development) in the mid-1960′s.  Essentially these are large nation-buidling projects, getting villages to identify with Bangkok, and they have a strong anti-Communist component.

(2) When Hyundai begins to bid for road projects in Thailand, there are not yet strong relations between the two countries, but Thailand also has a strong military government, and was one of the first to support the ROK during the Korean War, even sending its troops.

(3) Both countries had ICA-funded projects in Public Administration, with the University of Indiana helping to build building the field in Thailand (at Thammasat University) and the University of Minnesota doing comparable work at Seoul National University.  These projects would not have been exactly the same, of course, but emerging Thai and South Korean elites were both learning a similar language of development and administration in the late 1950′s, early 1960′s.

So this sign, which precedes the Pattani-Naratiwat project (1965-1968), and which precedes Hyundai getting the bid (sometime in late 1965), does not place me in the context of the negotiations between Hyundai and IBRD / World Bank, but it does indicate that it should not be surprising that these two actors would meet each other: one with aid dollars to spend on building anti-Communist roads, and another with new expertise and American patronage interested in gaining more experience.  There are lots of interesting things going on with South Korea in SE Asia even prior to formal involvement with Vietnam, after all.

5/12/2010

AAS 2010 Blogging: Annexation Centennial

Final exams crash onto my desk tomorrow, but I’m as organized as I can be in advance, so I thought I’d do a little belated AAS blogging, especially about the pair of panels on Saturday commemorating the centennial of Japan’s annexation of Korea and the 50th anniversary of Hilary Conroy’s groundbreaking study of same.
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