The inconvenient truth of US suppression of democracy in South Korea
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
The AP is quite proud of itself that it uncovered a breaking story -- 30 years late -- that the dictatorial regime that ran Korea in the 1980s engaged in mass round-up of children, the homeless, and the disabled in the lead-up to their 1988 Olympic Games. Those deemed “unfit” to be seen by foreign visitors to Seoul were sent to several institutions, chief among them Brothers Home, where rapes and beatings were the norm. Brothers Home was the result of a law issued by Korean ruler Park Chung-Hee, who was assassinated in 1979.
From the AP:
In 1975, dictator President Park Chung-hee, father of current President Park Geun-hye, issued a directive to police and local officials to "purify" city streets of vagrants. Police officers, assisted by shop owners, rounded up panhandlers, small-time street merchants selling gum and trinkets, the disabled, lost or unattended children, and dissidents, including a college student who'd been holding anti-government leaflets.
The AP story has led to a new round of Western hand-ringing and moralizing. Yes, what a shock. Western-backed military regimes do horrible things. Alert the media. Oh, wait, the media has been alerted, but leaves out the inconvenient reality that the Korean government of the 1970s and 1980s had the full backing of the United States. This is never mentioned in all of the self-righteous shock and outrage. I would imagine that most Americans have no idea how much active suppression of democracy the United States put into their Asian “success story.” Korea has a long history of US interference, generally leading to results as tragic as those experienced at Brothers Home.
At the No Gun Ri massacre in 1950, about which President Bill Clinton later expressed his “regrets,” US troops fired on Korean refugees who were hiding under a railway bridge. Witnesses to the killing stated the refugees were fired on by US planes.
When the Korean People’s Republic was formed, its structure of committees was deemed too much like the Soviet Union model for the US’s tastes, and so the military outlawed the KPR and threw its leaders in jail. After the war, the Americans placed Japanese colonial collaborators in positions of power.
The first president of the Korea was Syngman Rhee, an authoritarian ruler who ordered the mass arrest of opposing politicians. Widespread protests ended his reign, but he was flown out of the country by CIA Airlines.
Dictator Park Chung-Hee, who took power in a 1961 coup, oversaw the trial and execution of students charged with being Communists. Park was an ally of the US during Vietnam, sending 320,000 Korean troops to serve in the conflict, in exchange for American military and economic aid. He is considered the architect of the Korean economic success story, but he also introduced the chaebol corporation system (large family-owned conglomerates that own the vast majority of the market share in the Korean economy). Park was honored and welcomed by Richard Nixon during the former’s visit to San Francisco.
Ronald Reagan later greeted Chun at a White House reception.
I know it’s all the rage now to start trashing a country in the lead-up to their hosting the Olympics or another international athletic spectacle. Let’s just hope that other countries don’t do likewise when it’s America’s turn to host events. Because, you know, Gitmo. But, we know that the Western media machine only does that to countries the elites don’t happen to like? Right? It’s only fair that we critique our allies, too, right? Right?
Why is little Korea taking heat? Sure, alcoholism is rampant. People work too much. Kids have to study until midnight because the pressure to nab one of the coveted spots at Seoul National University is just that intense. (Yes, Korean students are tops in world rankings, but that is because most students study after their regular school at hagwons, private programs that cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.)
All of that studying doesn’t even guarantee a cushy job at a chaebol-run company. College graduates can’t find jobs. Plastic surgery is almost mandatory to get hired even in the most prosaic of professions, not to mention its desirability in the marriage market. The materialism and superficial nature of modern Korean society was lampooned brilliantly by Psy’s Gagnam Style, but nothing has really changed in Korea since the 2012 international megahit. Korea continues to be a bastion of unfettered capitalism run amok. Ever heard of “Hell Korea”? Korea, like every country, has problems, but what does dragging up the atrocities of a dictator -- atrocities most Koreans are well aware of -- during the lead-up to their 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyongchang achieve?
Their current president, Park Geun-Hye, is indeed the daughter of assassinated strongman Park Chun-hee, but most Koreans are disappointed in her tenure as president, finding her to be ineffectual and lazy, and some Koreans are becoming turned off by her hawkish position toward North Korea. Park, to be sure, is not exactly a proponent of unfettered democracy. Protesters demanding a government inquiry into the Sewol ferry disaster (a tale of corruption, cronyism, and incompetence that left 300 teenagers, on their way to a school trip to Jeju Island, dead) were met with police wielding firehoses. Park is increasingly cracking down on free speech, and it is an open secret in Korea that television comedians aren’t allowed to tell jokes at politicians’ expense. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have inveigled themselves into the Korean political situation. Articles about Park violating Koreans’ civil rights have appeared in the left-leaning Western press, and it goes without saying that while Park isn’t a democratic leader, it is beyond hypocritical for the United States to critique Park, since they supported her father (who was much, much worse).
Now, I am not a conspiracy theorist, but if I were, I would hazard a guess that the US’s “pivot to Asia” strategy has got something in the works that involves throwing South Korea under the bus in order to curry favor with the Japanese, a country which, despite a breakdown in relations and a dispute over the Kuril Islands, Russia is also courting. Japan is one of the top Asian investors in Russia. Japan’s new ambassador to Russia, Toyohisa Kozuki, wishes to strengthen cooperation between the two nations. Isolated Putin ™ will be meeting with and accepting the credentials of new Asian ambassadors from Japan, India, Mongolia, Thailand, and Pakistan. Abe has been working hard throughout his term to strengthen Japan’s ties with Russia, despite US insistence on Japan severing ties with its neighbor.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is not exactly a human rights champion himself, plans to visit Russia and meet with Vladimir Putin to discuss energy resources in spite of the Obama administration’s admonitions against said visit. Now, how could America sweeten the pot a little more for Japan?
Korea has got some geopolitical beefs with Japan as well, and it just so happens that Japan has been defying its marching orders from Washington to isolate Russia. The Takeshima/Dokdo islands are still an object of contention between Korea and Japan. Looking at the State Department MO, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that the US could, at some point, use the Brothers Home story as part of an overall propaganda campaign against Korea to justify siding with Japan. It is easy to back Japan over the Senkaku Islands dispute, because they are in contention with the demonized China. But what does the US do when two “allies” are fighting over the same bone? Well, you figure out on what side your bread is buttered, that’s what you do.
The US already brokered an agreement between the two nations on Japanese “comfort women” -- women forced into sexual slavery in Japan’s pre-WWII colonial holdings -- in which the Americans and Japanese came out on top, and Korea got the short end of the stick. And they can do all of this while continuing to keep the Koreans under the U.S. boot by maintaining a military presence and by trying to keep the population terrified of the North Korean boogeyman.
Now comes a story in the Anglo press that is critical of Korea’s human rights record. We all know “human rights” are the US’s weapon of choice when they want to score some geopolitical points against another nation. By playing the human rights card, it’s then easier to manipulate the public into supporting foreign policy that counters the targeted country. With their human rights record excoriated in the press, it would open the door for the United States to have the “moral authority” to take a position on some of these territorial disputes Korea is having with its neighbor. How could we curry favor with the Japanese, a lynchpin of the “pivot to Asia” strategy? Maybe by siding with them on Dokdo? Mightn’t it be hard for the Japanese to refuse an offer from the United States to help them regain Dokdo, and all the oil and fishing rights entailed thereof? Just some food for thought.
Doing so might sweeten the deal for the Japanese, weary of hosting American military apparati and personnel. The US military has 32 military bases on the island of Okinawa alone. That’s 32 military bases on an island that is 466 square miles. They also have 20 and 28 water training areas, and the island hosts 26,000 U.S. troops. However, the U.S. military presence is not popular at all with the local residents.
According to TruthOut:
Japan has increased military spending since 2012 to counter China's rising power. This year, Japan's defense budget is expected to exceed 5 trillion yen (around $42 billion). Japan also plans to purchase new and advanced military equipment, such as a new destroyer and submarine, surveillance aircraft, helicopters, F-35 fighter jets, Osprey aircraft and amphibious vehicles.
Is this the Grand Chessboard? Or is it middle school? I need an adult.
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