Academic journal article North Korean Review

War Politics, Visuality and Governmentality in South Korea

Academic journal article North Korean Review

War Politics, Visuality and Governmentality in South Korea

Article excerpt

A patient cannot be cured only by a surgical operation named revolution, I realize, nor is health regained merely by removing the diseased tissue. Permanent hygiene and restoration of a sound physical constitution are required to prevent a relapse.-Park Chung Hee1

[T]here now succeeds this theatrical and tragic harshness of the state that in the name of its always threatened and never certain salvation, requires us to accept acts of violence as the purest form of reason.-Michel Foucault2

Raison d'état is precisely a practice, or rather the rationalization of a given practice, which places itself between a state presented as a given and a state presented as having to be constructed and built.-Michel Foucault

War Politics, Visuality and Governmentality in South Korea3

In what sense, and to what degree, has "the art of government" evolved in a country that is still technically at war with North Korea more than sixty years after the armistice? The mode of inquiry here calls for a study of governmentality historically specific to South Korea, not so much in terms of identifying sets of institutional attributes that characterize regime type-the South Korean state as a garrison state, a developmental state, a neoliberal state-but one that examines the governing rationalities and visual regimes that structured the formulation of not only ideas, practices, and norms, but also the constitution of new subjects, and new ways of being in the world. As a conceptual rather than a research article, it takes as its point of departure the persistence of an intense degree of political polarization within South Korea, while bracketing the many a priori assumptions that usually accompany the statement "South Korea was established in 1948." That is to say, when thinking about the state, sovereign power, and governmentality in South Korea, it has to be remembered that very significant segments of the population south of the 38th parallel, in the American zone, had vehemently opposed the 1948 UN-sponsored elections that created South Korea.4 With land and neighbors further torn apart by the civil war that was the Korean War (1950-1953), and with the two Koreas, kept at arm's length by a heavily militarized DMZ, both claiming sovereignty over the entire peninsula, convincing the South Korean population to obey relied a great deal on coercive power wielded by the South Korean police, military, and intelligence agencies.

Harold Lasswell's description (prediction, in 1941) of the garrison state aptly describes South Korea prior to 1987, particularly during the Yushin period: that is, a place where "specialists on violence are the most powerful group in society ... [and] the duty to obey, to serve the state ... are cardinal virtues."5 When the 1953 armistice brought about a cease fire (but not a peace treaty), even with a mutual defense treaty with the United States and massive economic and military aid, it was not clear if or when South Korea could become a viable state. That is to say, the attributes of the garrison state-centralization of power, manipulation of international crises, and restrictions of civil liberties in the name of security6-were products of Park Chung Hee's rule, rather than an instance of universal development as Lasswell feared. While this paper is a study of governmentality historically specific to South Korea, the problematic is cast in terms of the rationalities and technologies that are arguably universal to modern states.

The specific context of Korea's post-1945 politics had to do with how World War II in the Asia-Pacific ended, how the United States reacted to mass-based anticolonial movements throughout East and Southeast Asia led by the Left, and how the "division system" on the Korean peninsula came to be secured and maintained after the Korean War. Here, the historicizing of the South Korean state and governmentality in South Korea, in very broad strokes, draws on the work of a diverse group of scholars to rethink the history of how "the South Korean state" evolved since the Korean War when the South Korean police and army targeted its own population in the most visible and brutal way, to the present when it aims to exercise sovereignty over the entire peninsula through neo-liberal projects. …

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