Due November 9th, 2009
We have seen over the course of the past few weeks, how Koreans have had a common, shared heritage and lived in states with the same borders for more than a millenia. When foreigners came and invaded Korea, up until 1910, we have seen that they came primarily to exact a tribute. But, this tribute was really nothing more than asking the Korean kingdoms to acknowledge the supremacy of their ruler as the king of kings. Outside the devastation caused during the wars, particularly the Imjin Wars, they did not come to settle the land or to extract a tribute in the form of extracting a large share of, say, rice produced by farmers on the peninsula.
However, this changed dramatically under Japanese occupation and, as we have seen, this caused widespread displacement and trauma for the national consciousness of the Korean people. Rather than recover from this period through a time of national reconciliation, this period gave way to a war fought between two competing states that despite the widespread destruction, death, and carnage caused by the war, the war culminated in a stalemate, leaving two Korean states on the peninsula. Although it was argued that the northern state was seen to be more legitimate, these two Korean states shared the same culture and heritage that dates back to at least 664 AD, when Silla unified the peninsula.
Initially both states implemented policies that looked for national self-sufficiency, particularly in heavy industries, such as steel.
Sixty years later, we now look at North Korea's constitution with much ridicule and we arguably look at North Korea as a dysfunctional state that resorts to extortion from its people, its neighbors, and the United States. South Korea has hosted the Olympics, the World Cup (with Japan), and in general has become a model nation in showing how economic development can go right. A South Korean national even currently serves as the UN Security General. But, more importantly, and, perhaps, most interestingly, South Korea has seen the development of nascent democratic institutions.
Sixty years ago, would you have expected this to have happened or thought that this would have even been remotely possible? So, what happened? You have the same people with the same shared heritage, who speak the same language. How could you explain the separate histories of the two states, perhaps a divergence like none other in the history of the world? How important do you feel the difference in institutions played between the two countries? Or, the different policies? How about the access or denail to outside capital, technology, and a huge market willing to buy all of a country's exports? How about an alliance with a superpower that allowed the country, at the superpower's insistence, to become rich and fast and democratic as soon as possible?