Nation Building in South Korea: Koreans, Americans, and the Making of a Democracy

Nation Building in South Korea: Koreans, Americans, and the Making of a Democracy

Nation Building in South Korea: Koreans, Americans, and the Making of a Democracy

Nation Building in South Korea: Koreans, Americans, and the Making of a Democracy

Synopsis

Brazinsky explains why South Korea was one of the few postcolonial nations that achieved rapid economic development and democratization by the end of the twentieth century. He contends that a distinctive combination of American initiatives and Korean agency enabled South Korea's stunning transformation. Expanding the framework of traditional diplomatic history, Brazinsky examines not only state-to-state relations, but also the social and cultural interactions between Americans and South Koreans. He shows how Koreans adapted, resisted, and transformed American influence and promoted socioeconomic change that suited their own aspirations.

Excerpt

Nation building has been a ubiquitous component of American foreign policy during the last century. The United States has attempted to create and sustain nation-states that advance its interests and embody its ideals in places ranging from the Philippines to Vietnam to Iraq. At no time did Washington engage in nation building more intensively than during the Cold War. The United States deemed capturing the loyalties of the vast regions of the globe emerging from colonialism as crucial to the struggle against Communism. To achieve this end it launched vast efforts to carve diverse parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America into reliable “Free World” allies. U.S. officials believed that, by providing the right kinds of resources, they could stimulate economic development and democratization in regions where neither of these phenomena had made significant inroads. This book examines one of the most extensive, costly, and arguably successful of these efforts—South Korea. Of the numerous places where nation building was attempted, South Korea was one of the few to emerge as a wealthy democracy at the end of the twentieth century.

Yet when Americans first occupied the southern half of Korea in 1945, the prospects for establishing stable, democratic institutions did not look bright. In previous centuries Korea had been governed by emperors who remained formally subordinate to China as part of a tributary system. The system endured until the country was colonized by Japan in 1910. The subsequent thirty-five years of Japanese imperialism had left the country’s population polarized into extreme right and extreme left factions that drowned out the voices of the few moderate democrats. Moreover, the demise of Japan’s Pacific empire shattered the Korean economy, which had been tightly integrated with Japan’s during the colonial period. The decision made jointly by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1945 to divide the peninsula into northern and southern occupation zones exacerbated both the economic hardships and the political divisions. It cut off the South’s agricultural economy from the industries of the North while enabling political extremists on both sides to gain support from Great Power patrons.

Between 1945 and 1953 American policymakers made a series of decisions that would commit them to the task of nation building in this deeply troubled country. Unable to compromise with the Soviet Union on the . . .

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