우물 안 개구리

2/15/2010

Generating Power–Electric, hydroelectric, thermal (coal), atomic

I’m back once again to this question of electricity and power in its various forms, as I think the long-term story of generating power in NE Asia (1880′s-present), and specifically on the Korean peninsula, sheds some interesting light on the transnational history of the contested region, this in distinct contrast to the individual national histories of power industries.  I would love to be able to link: (1)  electrification (late 19th century), to (2) the colonial period (especially the hydroelectric power plants in the North along the Yalu and Tumen), to (3) the electrical showdown / cutoff of May 1948 (North stops providing access following UN elections), to (4) the period of the war and reconstruction (temporary barges, and later thermal stations), to the (5) decision to pursue atomic power (late 1950′s, with a commercial industry by the late 1970′s).  For now, though, I’ll just briefly touch on the Bechtel project associated with the mid-1950′s, which covers #4.

I recently managed to get a copy of the Bechtel in-house report on the project, with three major thermal stations, completed between 1954 -1956, at Tangin-Ri, Samchok, and Masan (which was the image from my last post in August).

This map shows that the effort was an attempt to plug into the existing grid at various points in the country (roughly comprising a triangulation) in 1954.  What I don’t know, and would love to know, is how much of this grid predates 1948, as I suspect much of it does.

And below  is a letter of thanks from the Korean side, following completion of the project, although I have not had a chance to look this document over.

For now, this consists of little more than musing on the topic, but in the aftermath of the Recent awarding of the reactor project for the UAE (Korea and Hyundai won the bid as part of a consortium),  and Lee Myung-Bak’s mobilization of the ROK domestic nuclear industry, I really want to put together something more substantive: that is, to take a long look at the history of power from the standpoint of a thorough transnational history (involving the U.S , Korea, Japan, Canada, at the very least).  More on this later~

8/24/2009

Electricity, Infrastucture: “Reconstruction”

Filed under: — John P. DiMoia @ 9:02 pm Print

Pacific Bechtel constructs thermal plant in Masan, mid-1950s, USIS image.
This image comes from a USIS publcity shot taken at Masan in the mid-  1950′s, detailing the work of electrical restoration undertaken prior to,  during, and in the aftermath of the Korean War.   A couple of quick  observations:

(1) The man responsible for putting together a pre-war group (with ECA  funding) looking into the problem, Walker L. Cisler, had also helped  restore the electrical grids of various European nations in conjunction  with the Marshall Plan.  With his connections to Eisenhower, Cisler would pop up again in the mid-1950′s (Summer 1956), this time trying to market the Fermi breeder reactor to South Korea.

(2) The electrical capacity of the South after the “cut-off” of May 1948 by the North was extremely low, as the mid-1950′s restoration work undertaken by Pacific Bechtel allegedly doubled the ROK’s capacity.

(3) The persistence of older models would continue in state  planning well into the late 1950′s, with both hydroelectric (along the Han) and tidal plants investigated as possible options, before settling on primarily thermal plants in the mid and late 1950′s.

All of this goes towards a simple point, that the disentanglement of infrastructure between North and South, a complicated issue in the 1945-1948 period, would continue into the post-war era.  The South would not resolve its electricity shortages until the 1970′s with the availability of commerical electricity from the first nuclear plant.

I would love to know more about the South in terms of the necessary engineering expertise to run this kind of plant (above), and as for the northern case, Aaron S. Moore (ASU) is currently working on Japanese engineers in Manchuria and the North, looking at how they re-invent themselves as development specialists after 1945.

I recongize that none of this pertains directly to the previous two posts, but I think the passing of Kim DaeJung and the North’s presence at his funeral fits with this brief look at the electrical issue, thereby anticipating the nuclear issue.

7/7/2009

North Korean Propoganda Posters

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:44 am Print

Thanks to Adam at Mutantfrog for pointing me to these North Korean Propoganda posters. I think this is my favorite but the whole group is worth a look.

1/22/2009

North Korea’s engagement with the world

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:05 pm Print

I remember the shocked look on my students’ faces fifteen years ago when I told them that we actually had no idea how decisions were made or leaders picked in North Korea, that it was more or less still a “black box.” I find it fascinating that we’re starting to get a better public picture of the internal processes of North Korea.

One of the reasons is the steady stream of refugees. In the Financial Times, Matthew Engel reports on a Korean enclave in the SW London suburb of New Malden. The relatively closed and self-reliant society is mostly middle-class, “bourgeois,” but among “the beginnings of an underclass” are North Koreans. I get the impression from the article that many of them are illegal immigrants, and their “underclass” status comes both from their lack of professional skills and their desire to remain outside of official notice.

Mitchell Lerner, at Ohio State University, believes that he’s found the key to understanding the Kim dynasty of North Korea: juche. And when “self-reliance” is slipping, domestically, they bluster internationally to bolster their credentials as strong and independent leaders. It’s counterintuitive: when they need help the most, they can’t get it. But their legitimacy as rulers is based on juche. He writes

In the political realm, it called for chaju (independence), in which North Korean leaders governed without constraint from outside pressure or internal challenge. Economically, juche called for charip (self-sustenance), which required a largely self-contained economy based on domestic workers using domestic resources to satisfy domestic needs. In international relations, juche advocated chawi (self-defense), a foreign policy based on complete equality and mutual respect between nations as well as the right of self-determination and independent policymaking.

Juche, simply, demanded the people subordinate themselves to the state, and the state in turn would advance their collective interests in accordance with the uniqueness and majesty of Korea, and always in pursuit of greater economic, political, and international independence.

By justifying the position of the suryong (single leader) and uniting the people behind him, juche successfully advanced Kim’s interests.

I’d call that a fairly textbook kind of fascism: emphasizing the independence of the nation, the subordination of the people to the nation, and the fuhrerprincip — the leader who embodies sovereignty. Even the reliance on the US as a hobgoblin echoes the “we have been denied our rightful place in the world” rhetoric of the early 20c fascist regimes. The only thing that distinguishes North Korea from them, really, is the longevity of the Kim dynasty. The Kim refered to in the above excerpt is Kim Il Sung, the founder of the DPRK; his son, Kim Jong Il, is one of the only examples I can think of of a successful fascist succession.

However, by closely associating the government’s legitimacy with its successful pursuit of juche, Kim had opened the door to potential disaster. When he triumphantly achieved juche, North Koreans would perpetuate and even embrace his rule. But if the pursuit was unsuccessful, the most fundamental justification for the regime would appear violated.

Legitimation of a government is always a double-edged sword. Some forms of legitimation have a sharper back edge than others: the Confucian Mandate of Heaven is like this, as well.

When considered within this framework, Kim’s tendency to behave more aggressively when he seemed to be at his weakest makes sense. Unable to deny economic and political instability that suggested his government was not acting in accordance with juche principles, Kim redoubled his efforts to demonstrate his strength and independence in the third juche realm, foreign policy.

He does a nice job fitting the periods of economic trouble with the eras of international tension. He also does a good job illustrating the claustrophobic environment — the limited, controlled media, the cradle-to-grave indoctrination, the purges, etc — which makes North Korea such a surreal place.

Update: Speaking of Surreal, Curzon has a post on Reverend Billy Graham’s relationship with North Korea, starting with his missionary ancestors. [via

9/14/2008

BAKS 2008

Filed under: — John P. DiMoia @ 9:07 pm Print

     I just returned to SG this past weekend from BAKS (British Association Korean Studies) 2008, and wanted to post as the film panel in particular intersects nicely with something posted earlier this summer.  For those interested in a brief summary of the conference as a whole, please see Philip Gowman’s take at: http://londonkoreanlinks.net/2008/09/12/baks-conference-report-looking-forward-looking-back/.

     To return to the issue of film, the Tuesday afternoon panel (9 / 9) offered a number of interesting film clips, one of which featured two scenes from “Homeless Angels” /  집없는 천사.   To be fair, I would have to see the entire film to say more; but for now, I agree with a basic reading of the film which reads the placement of these Korean orphans in terms of a paternalistic Japanese state and ithe attempted formation of new imperial subjects through tutelage.  The scene I’m referring to specifically in making this claim comes near the close of the film, and features one of the characters saluting / reciting while the Japanese flag is being raised: in effect, the perfomative force of the scene is roughly equivalent to a recruitment pitch.

     The speaker / presenter also raised an interesting point in conjunction with this film–and I want to be careful, as I’m operating here on jet lag, and may be conflating points made across the entire panel–pointing to the recurring popularity of the trope of the displaced orphan, with (1) “Boys Town” featured as one of the earliest films approved and shown by USAMGIK, and with the subsequent appearance of (2) Douglas Sirk’s (1957) “Battle Hymn.” 

     While I’m not comfortable with making sweeping juxtapositions from the standpoint of history–would want to know much more about the circumstances underlying each of the three films before making any links–the loose observation in the previous paragraph does lend itself to some interesting comparative questions.  Namely, what were the economic / social / political / communitarian ideals informing the practice of dealing with refugees (particular orphans) during and in the aftermath of the Korean War?  I’m familiar with an overall take that places New Deal reformers, broadly construed, in Japan and Korea for the respective occupations, but does this suggest potentially that 1930′s American-style social welfare practices were simply mapped onto the issue of dealing with refugees and orphans?  Can we complicate this further with the recognition (see Dan Rodgers and Atlantic Crossings)  that much of the New Deal was informed by an eclectic set of borrowed practices from earlier European practices related to social welfare?

     What I’m fumbling at here, in a none too articulate fashion, are ways of comparing the social welfare practices adopted under USAMGIK (and during the subsequent Korean War), and the comparable practices mobilized under Japanese Imperial authority only a decade or two earlier.  In what ways were Americans attempting to form new subjects of Korean orphans (perhaps new “South Korean” subjects?)–if we put this to the same litmus test as the Japanese Imperium–and how were  American practices distinct / different?  My recollection of images of orphans from the Holt folks (see the historical introduction at the Holt International website, which links the 1955 founding of the organization to Holt’s viewing of a film about Korea) is that they were generally designated as “Korean,” but is this an innocent designation or does it assume a case where half of the peninsula subsumes the whole? 

I’m trying to do this kind of work for medicine now (looking at material and pedagogical changes in medical education pre and post war), and wondering what this might look like in a similar  context.  I also recognize that the question of distingiushing between categories and attributing sources of authority becomes almost hopelessly muddled, as what’s “Japanese” and “American” is rarely clear, and there’s a signficant difference between the offical rhetoric and on the ground practice.

8/15/2008

The Sideshow in Korea?

Yet the costly Iraq war must also be recognised as a sideshow in the Bush global counteroffensive against Islamist militancy, just as the far more costly Korean war was a sideshow to global cold war containment.

So says Edward Luttwak, in an extensive attempt to speed up the process by which History justifies and valorizes the policies of this administration. [via] He’s mostly engaged in a bit of dramatic post hoc, ergo propter hoc whereby a shift in government policies towards extremist Islamic groups is the result of Pres. Bush’s Trumanesque firmness, but the damage done to the success — military and diplomatic — of the initial Afghanistan campaign by the Iraq campaign isn’t taken into account at all.1 The Korean war — which I have a lot of trouble seeing as a “sideshow,” given the direct involvement of Chinese and Russian forces and a lot more actual shooting than in Europe — advanced the cause of anti-communism. It was a success, in the sense that it preserved South Korea as a non-communist state and it was the last full-scale conflict between the great powers for some time. The only sense in which Korea could be called a “sideshow” is that Truman’s containment policy engaged a lot of other parts of the world as well.

He then goes on to mangle Chinese history — Tang, Song and Ming dynasties never conquered anyone, right? — and to cast the future of Asia in binaries (China: convergence or communist collapse? India: corruption stagnation or “traditional” good Brahmin governance?), as well as giving the administration credit for North Korean disarmament instead of noting their years of footdragging on same which have exacerbated the proliferation problem.

Truman deserves better.

  1. He’s also assuming that al Qaeda’s “call to action” attacks were likely to inspire imitators rather than revulsion in the short run, which seems like he’s taking their own rhetoric way too seriously. Romantic nihilists have been claiming that “the masses are on the brink of revolution” and “dramatic action will awaken them” for over two centuries now. []

1/13/2008

Korea: Better than Vietnam, anyway

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:58 pm Print

Thomas C. Reeves, perhaps my least favorite HNN blogger, is arguing that the success of South Korea justifies our Middle East policies, especially Iraq. The comparison of Bush to Truman is nothing new, nor is the analogy of Iraq and Korea. But this particular one is quite egregious, and I can’t let it pass without comment. Reeves’ main point — that South Korea is better off than North Korea and that the US had a hand in that — is true, but in such a shallow manner as to be empty rhetoric. His larger theme — that the support for freedom and opposition to tyranny are worthwhile even when unpopular — is also true, but the use of the Korea and Truman raise serious questions.

First, of course, is the sheer hubris of attributing the difference solely to “American influence and protection.” The Korean War was initiated by North Korea in direct action against US/UN troops, not by a US invasion. The US was already in Korea, for good reason, but ham-handedly refusing — as was the Soviet Union — to allow Koreans to determine their own post-colonial path. US involvement in South Korean politics over the quarter-century after the Korean War delayed progress towards democracy, did nothing in particular to promote religious tolerance (unless you count supporting Christian missionaries, which seems a bit self-serving), and I’ve never seen anyone argue that US involvement was particularly good for the Korean economy, either.

The attempt to tar opponents of Bush Administration policy as new McCarthyites — well-intentioned, perhaps, but short-sighted, partisan and hypocritical — ignores literally years of critics saying “it would be good for everyone if we could proceed in a responsible and effective manner.”1 Instead, Reeves pulls out the middle ground, leaving only support for the Administration (who are, according to Reeves, more Trumanesque than Johnsonesque or Kennedyesque or Rooseveltian or Wilsonian….) or “appeasement and retreat for mere political gain.” It’s a short step from this kind of manicheanism to “stabbed in the back” revisionism.

Ultimately, this is a classic case of the political rhetorical use of historical analogies: pick the one which has the most obvious parallel for the result you want to see, and ignore differences.2 It’s irresponsible for a historian to trade in these facile arguments.

  1. e. g. []
  2. Reeves waves it away with “Yes, of course, there are many differences between Iraq and the Middle East today and the Korean peninsula of more than a half century ago.” My students wouldn’t be allowed to get away with that! []

10/30/2007

Disparity Studies

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:57 am Print

In my discussion of the job market I said “I only saw two Korea positions, which seems about par for previous years: at some point, though, Korea positions should catch up with Japan ones.” Morgan Pitelka took exception, noting (correctly) that

Other than UCLA, which continues to have one of the most productive Korean studies programs outside of Korea, and perhaps Harvard and Columbia, how many grad schools are cranking out Korean studies PhDs? I also know of only a handful of liberal arts colleges with any substantial Korean studies, and rarely language. Very few regional/MA-granting universities have substantial Korean studies. Almost all have some Japanese studies. Also, as far as I know, few colleges or universities DON’T have access to study abroad in Japan. On the other hand, most colleges and universities don’t have study abroad options in Korea.

He’s absolutely right, of course: Korean studies doesn’t have the infrastructure Japanese studies does in the US1 and that means that — like the painfully slow growth of MidEast studies and Islamic history after 9/11 — it will take real time and effort to build. But that’s a symptom, I think, not the root of the issue. As I said, “Korean history is no less interesting than Japanese history, and the US is no less involved in Korean affairs than it is in Japanese affairs.”

Another commenter, “Overthinker” offered a cultural explanation:

There seem to be three fundamental reasons why Japanese Studies is “bigger” than Korean. One is that WW2 was more significant that the Korean War, and has given us longer-lasting imagery; household words like Pearl Harbour and Hiroshima that everyone knows about, whereas to most people the Korean War is basically Klinger in a dress. Second is the dominance of Japanese products in the marketplace: while LG and Samsung etc are strong players, they have not yet achieved the dominance of Toyota, Sony, and Nintendo. Third is the generally “cooler” images of Japan. Think of Korea, and most Americans would be hard-pressed to think beyond the aforementioned M*A*S*H and perhaps Kim Il Jung singing “I’m so ronery”. Mention Japan and people think of samurai and geisha and ninja, plus robots and giant rubber monsters stomping Tokyo on a regular basis. All these three factors would seem to indicate a greater interest in Japan at the BA level, which translates to bigger graduate programs, and more PhDs in the area. To become bigger, Korea needs to become more popular – more people at the undergrad level need to be curious about the place.

This is closer, I think: I definitely agree that Japan’s lead in economic and cultural production is a part of the puzzle. The relationship between pop culture images and student demand is not always straightforward, but it is true that there is more Japanalia in American culture than Koreania2 and more interest in the cultural roots of its economic success3 because that success was so striking in the 80s.

But, as I’ve said before, “there’s no question that a historian can’t complicate by talking about what led up to it” and I think the key to this puzzle is earlier. Much earlier: I think it starts in 1853.

(more…)

  1. or anywhere in the West, I think, but I’m just going to go with what I know []
  2. No, I don’t know that “Koreania” is a word: would “Koreanalia” be closer? []
  3. I just had a discussion with my World History students about Musashi’s Book of Five Rings…. []

5/31/2007

Analogy Alert: Iraq/Korea

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:00 am Print

this via:

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush would like to see a U.S. role in Iraq ultimately similar to that in South Korea.

“The Korean model is one in which the United States provides a security presence, but you’ve had the development of a successful democracy in South Korea over a period of years, and, therefore, the United States is there as a force of stability,” Snow told reporters.

and this via

Missing from much of the current discussion is talk about the success of democracy in Iraq, officials say, or even of the passage of reconciliation measures that Mr. Bush said in January that the troop increase would allow to take place. In interviews, many senior administration and military officials said they now doubted that those political gains, even if achieved, would significantly reduce the violence.

The officials cautioned that no firm plans have emerged from the discussions. But they said the proposals being developed envision a far smaller but long-term American presence, centering on three or four large bases around Iraq. Mr. Bush has told recent visitors to the White House that he was seeking a model similar to the American presence in South Korea.

Discuss.

3/26/2007

Asian History News Dump, March 2007

This is a “dump”: all the Asia related stuff I’ve saved over the last…. two months? Anyway, nobody else has blogged about it, so I thought I’d toss it out there. I hope to resume more … measured blogging soon.
[Crossposted at all three Frog Blogs; sorry about the irrelevant stuff.]
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