Monday, May 23, 2022

22. Understanding Korean Politics: an Introduction edited by Soong Hoom Kil and Chung-in Moon

Shit is getting wild around here at Olman's Fifty!  Not only reading non-fiction but actual academic books.  Crazy.  I grabbed this one after several moments of hesitation from the free little library on Esplanade.  I have a decent understanding of Chinese history and an okay knowledge of most of the rest of Asia, but beyond that Japan was quite horrible to it, my knowledge of Korean history was almost zero.  Like so many others, I have been introduced to Korean culture through movies and food in the last 20 years and I've long felt I should have at least a broad grasp of its history.  This book is more based around political science, but you can't do a survey of the country from the end of WWII to 2000 (when this book was published) without some history and I got what I wanted from this book.

I think it is probably worth studying why Korea has remained so quiet in the west, considering that it's history is quite wild.  Not only did it have a miraculous economic growth, it did so through three dictatorships and some serious political craziness (including the president being assassinated by the head of the Korean CIA in 1987!).  Why does Korea get so little play in the west?  This book did not go into that, but it was a solid and sometimes interesting overview of Korea's political history, coming out of WWII being basically occupied by the US and USSR, getting split after the Korean War and then developing from a US-dependent military dictatorship to an independent, democratic economic powerhouse.

Though a bit dry and basically undergrad poli-sci with some of the nonsense that brings (academics still struggle with arguing over which theoretical lens is best and then concluding oh yeah we can use many), this book was divided into digestible chapters, all of which were really well-researched and directly presented.  What I found particularly interesting is how the dictatorships had such control until, in each case, they went too far and popular protest ended up bringing them down.  I'm over-simplifying but there seems to be something in 20th century Korean history where the people are unified enough (and having the threat of North Korea is a major factor here) that they can exist with a dictatorship and yet also bring it down.  It bums me out that in their last election, they chose a populist asshole (though barely, but isn't that how these fucks get in power everywhere?).  I hope Korean cultural and political unity can withstand the dividing power of today's internet.

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