Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Foreign Policy

Wow, what a thrilling topic! For those of us who are "of a certain age," it has a little more significance because of our exposure to Viet Nam and a tendency of the US to support regimes around the world who were no more "valid" or "decent" than the opposition. Friends of my generation died in Viet Nam supporting a corrupt administration that was not supported by the people, and so many of us resisted that.

This continues to this day, and while the US has successfully exerted its power and its restraint to virtually end war in the part of the world that interests us, war remains an everyday experience in many other parts of the world. It doesn't result in "world war" and the casualties, all of which are tragic, have continued to decline by orders of magnitude--500,000 US dead in WWII, 50,000 in Viet Nam, 5,000 in Iraq/Afghanistan. Let's keep improving on that as the US leads the way to a world that lives in peace.

My friend, Joohoon Kim, an outstanding career officer in the Army of South Korea, who is so well-informed on matters of the outside world, really opened my eyes when we talked about his native Korea and the controversial regime of President Park Chung-hee who ruled South Korea from 1961 until his assassination in 1979. Some called him an "experienced president," but in many ways, he was not the same kind of president as we expect in the US. His "term" was for 18 years. Laws were sometimes edicts.

The US strongly supported him, and opposed North Korea. Something completely unknown to me, North Korea was the "strong" part of the country and was richer than the South until about 1970. The North has all the natural resources, the rivers, mines, farm land and factories.Besides, the South was a complete wasteland when the fighting stopped in 1953, and it took a while to clear the devastation. The Japanese invested heavily in industry in the north, but the managed economy squandered that wealth and now it is one of the poorest places on earth, a rogue nation whose populace starves.

Once the South got rolling, the so-called Miracle of the Han River has exploded, vastly improving the economic and social well-being of South Korea and South Koreans.

Where did that "Miracle" come from? During the 1960's, the US needed an ally in Viet Nam and enlisted the aid of President Park. The US paid well for the help and President Park, unlike so many other rulers we have supported, took the money and invested in his country's infrastructure, not in Swiss bank accounts and huge family trusts. The ship building, steel, auto and other basic industries owe much of their success to the entrepreneurial actions of President Park Chung-hee. Their cause was, of course, greatly aided by the culture of the Koreans who prized education, family and hard work above all else.

Not every administration in every country adheres to the same set of rules and type of culture as we do, and sometimes the result is exceptionally good. Like in Korea where there is now another President Park--the daughter of the former President Park. May wisdom find her as a friend.

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