Eye on Korea: An Insider Account of Korean-American Relations

Eye on Korea: An Insider Account of Korean-American Relations

Eye on Korea: An Insider Account of Korean-American Relations

Eye on Korea: An Insider Account of Korean-American Relations


Col. James V. Young spent almost twenty years in Asia, including fourteen in Korea. Here, he writes with the expertise of an old Korea hand about a period that saw South Korea develop from an agrarian economy to a modern industrial state.

Young volunteered in 1969 for a new program aimed at creating area specialists within the military. In 1975, after four years of training in Korean language and culture, he witnessed how American diplomats convinced Park ChungHee, the South Korean president, not to develop his own nuclear weapons.

Later, from the perspective of a military attaché, Young saw the mistrust that characterized U.S.Korean relations during the 1970s. He provides new insights into the behindthescenes efforts to derail President Jimmy Carter's troop withdrawal policies and argues that the United States was caught flatfooted by such crucial episodes as the coup of 1979 and the 12/12 Incident.

Young's memoir straddles the line between military and diplomatic history and offers entertaining and often humorous stories. Those interested in the region, the issues, and military life off the battlefield will value this book.


This story almost was never written. Following my retirement from the U.S. Army in 1990, I began a second career as an international business development consultant and had intended to work equally hard at improving my golf game. Business often took me back to Korea, however, and invariably into frequent contact with old friends in the army and U.S. State Department, and especially with my many Korean friends and associates from days gone by. Inevitably the talk would turn to our previous experiences in Korea, our affection for and interest in the country and the Korean people, and my own somewhat unique career and perspective as the U.S. Army’s first fully trained and experienced Korea specialist. Friends often urged me to write a short review of my thirty years of experience in Korea, including the historic events in which I personally participated. After some thought and considerable procrastination, in 1994 I agreed to undertake this project for the Korean magazine Wolgan Chosen.

I wrote primarily out of a sense of history. Much had been written and published in Korea about such incidents as the assassination of Pres. Park Chung Hee in October, 1979, Chun Doo Hwan’s seizure of control of the army the following December and the subsequent imposition of martial law, and the tragic events at Kwangju of May, 1980, but almost all of the published record was from the Korean perspective. in fact, when this memoir was published in Korea during 1994, there was no accurate account by any responsible American officer or individual who actually participated in these events.

Since then, Ambassador William H. Gleysteen Jr. and Gen. John A. Wickham have published in the United States their recollections of experiences in Korea during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Yet these men served at the very top of the U.S. country team in Korea, and they did so over a short period of time. Neither was a Korea specialist. the recounting for an American audience of my lengthy experiences at the lower and middle levels—in Korea and in the United States—still seems useful for two reasons: first, my perspective on the events of 1979–80 are sometimes different than those of Gleysteen and Wickham; second, the transitional nature of the current . . .

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