Saturday, December 5, 2009

[DeCal] *DRAFT* Review - ASAMST 98/198 Section 2, Fall 2009 Semester

Breaking Down Borders: Korea, ASAMST 98/198 Section 2, Fall 2009 Semester

It seems like it's been forever since I posted something. but I guess I've been working on other things lately that put this site lower on my list of priorities.

And, similarly, what you as an individual took away from this class is, I guess, equal to how much time and effort you put into it. And, as is customary, the conculsions given below all come from the very same sources that are either listed on the syllabus or on this website, where we can come to an informed opinion together. The list below is not meant to either comprehensive or representative of all the topics covered; it's just what I'm typing as I look at our syllabus and the group presentations. However, all numbers and claims can be cited with the exception of Korea's population right before the Civil War.

Breaking Down Borders: Korea, ASAMST 98/198 Section 2, Fall 2009 Semester Review

Why Should I care? (Why a class on Korea?)
It's the very same question that former U.S. president George W. Bush asked Prince Bandar. And, since (I claim) that former U.S. president George W. Bush was elected because he was viewed by Americans as having an image close to the ordinary American, I suppose it's a question that most Americans may also have.

While the current U.S. committment in its deployment of U.S. troops along the DMZ might be a vestige of the Cold War, the fact that a North Korean invasion off South Korea would still immediately kill about 20,000 Americans and put the U.S. really at war, automatically makes North Korea relevant. Talks of it attacking South Korean naval ships or to disrupt passenger airlines or sell nuclear technology all seem to be attempts by North Korea to grab attention (and aid) from her neighbors and the United States. In other words, North Korea mentions what can happen if they really started a war and the rest of the world fears this potential outcome so much that it is willing to aid in the existence of a state like North Korea. This is one aspect that might draw some people to this topic.

In addition, the strange peculariaties in the Korean people are interesting in their own right; for example, the demonstration at Seoul City Hall by people all dressed up as cows. We talked about how a peninsula that has had the same borders with the same people for so long can and have created these pecularities.

Why History Matters?
We came to see that there is a historical reason for why Korea has had probably the same homogenous group of people for such a long time and we discussed its relevance in this presentation as well (and again, when we looked at modern Korean institutions).

Korea has a long history as one nation that dates back to at least 664 C.E. This could be interpreted to mean that the current division of the peninsula or the existence of two rival, Korean states is an aberration as both North and South Korea have a the same, linked, and unique history. I compared the year Silla unified the peninsula (664 C.E.) with those years when European nations were unified, such as Germany and Italy were first unified (1870), Spain (1492), and France (not sure, but I think except for Brittany, perhaps 1503?). We discussed how this long period could have led to a single, common Korean culture, language, and people.

We also discussed how Korea existed in a tributary system of relations up until 1876 (while not directly mentioning that it was a tributary system) as whenever Korea was invaded (by the Manchurians, Mongols, etc), the invaders did not come to settle Korea or to extract a large tax from Korean farmers; they came for the most part just to hear the acknowledgement that their king was the king of kings (emperor) (there are minor counter examples as the northeastern Hamgyeong provinces were ceded to the Mongols in the 13th century). But, by and large, there was no migration of new people to the peninsula.  This would suggest that the people living on the peninsula today are probably the very same people that lived there a millenia ago.

End of History
We discussed how this all changed when Japan came to colonize Korea and its ramifications on the psyche and collective consciousness of Koreans. This is illustrated by the peak number of Japanese people living in Korea (246,000) to Korea's population at that time: 20,000,000, which makes for roughly a 1:100 ratio. So, most Koreans probably saw not a Japanese face, but a Korean one whenever they were forced to, say, pray at a Shinto shrine to the Japanese emperor. We spoke of how devastating and how traumatic this was to the Korean people as Japanese institutions were not created where none existed before, but simply replaced the Korean institutions that were already there. In the process, discarded Korean institutions were seen to be culturally backwards and inferior, which went against everything the Koreans had believed for a millenia. A homogenous society being dominated by another culture with the new culture trying to supplant the older one created many fissures.

This was followed not by a period of national reconciliation as had occurred in other nations in the old China-based World Order, but rather a civil war that was never really concluded as the war ended with about a loss of 2,000,000 Korean lives (about 1 in 10) and both competing Korean states intact. The armistic was never signed by South Korea as Rhee Syng Man was vehemently against the division of the Korean peninsula (he also absurdly asked for Tsushima(대마도) when speaking of normalizing ties with Japan). This later had ramifications on peace treaty talks since South Korea never signed the armistice.

Post Korean War

We spoke about how each half of the peninsula competed for legitimacy and we even examined the new constitution of the DPRK. We examined the new constitution solely to get a feeling of how asinine their constitution truly was and to contrast this feeling with the beginnings of the two Koreas when North Korea was basically led by a (minor) war hero and as South Korea's leader was basically installed by the United States -- early on there were even large numbers of Koreans that actually, voluntarily moved to the DPRK. So, it was not always the case that North Korean attempts or threats to unify Korea either by force or ideology was viewed as laughable. We talked at great length about why South Korea grew rich, but North Korea did not and how much of this could be explained by historical, characteristics of the Koreas - by historical I am referring to the long history of a homogenous people and very strong Confucian influence. We also discussed how peculiar it was that democratic institutions came to exist on the southern half of the peninsula.

Post Kim Il Sung Era/Famine
We discussed that by this point the economic differences were vastly different; we went over how North Korea's famine was caused not just by natural disasters, but as a direct result of North Korea mechanizing their agricultural economy so much that when Soviet aid in the form of oil came to a halt, so did the capacity of the DPRK to feed her people. We also touched upon the fantasy that North Korea undertook reforms willingly -- this was a fantasy by South Korean and Western media alike when the Sunshine Policy still seemed relevant. But, we discussed how these reforms were actually signs of the DPRK's food rationing system breaking down. We can see this today as North Korea recently closed their largest wholesale market, which I believe was claimed by some to be much larger than either the Dongdaemun or Namdaemun markets in Seoul, and efforts to marginalize the growing merchant class (such as the new currency) as continual attempts by the North Korean government to try and re-assert state control. It is this context that is usually absent when examining North Korea in mass media; however, while putting a historical bent on why North Korea does the things they do, there is a difference between understanding their behavior and condoning it. Even as North Korea's approach towards the United States is so belligerent, the DPRK is really, primarily concerned with its survival. Talks of it attacking South Korean naval ships or to disrupt passenger airlines or sell nuclear technology all seem to be attempts by North Korea to grab attention (and aid) from her neighbors and the United States.

We also briefly talked about how recent promises of Chinese aid in effect negated the sanctions put forth a few months back. In other words, North Korea mentions what can happen if they really started a war and the rest of the world fears this potential outcome so much that it is willing to aid in the existence of a state like North Korea. They can get away with this because of the 20,000 Americans stationed near the DMZ and the twenty million South Koreans living in Seoul and neighboring Gyeonggi Province. We also talked about why North Korea would want nuclear weapons and how North Korea could have a separate, parallel nuclear program (based on highly enriched uraninum).

The national consciousness of Koreans never fully recovered from the thirty six years of colonization and a devastating civil war as Korea remains divided today. Much of this, as discussed in class, stems from fractures incurred by Korean society under colonial rule. Koreans were pitted against each other and Japanese institutions replaced already existing Korean ones during the colonial period.

While not all of you may have come to these conclusions, I hope that at the very least the DeCal lent a better understanding or perhaps a solid introduction to Korea. This post is just what I'm thinking should have been the main points of the discussions we have had. It is regrettable that most of the lectures towards the end of the semester were so focused on North Korea as topics on South Korea, such as Anti-Americanism, the election of Roh Moo Hyun and what it promised for many South Koreans, and, of course, how his suicide was taken by his supporters could also have been very interesting topics to explore.

No comments:

Post a Comment