Emerging Powers: Defense and Security in the Third World

By Rodney W. Jones; Steven A. Hildreth | Go to book overview

3

Republic of Korea: The Peninsular Overachiever

Edward A. Olsen


NATIONAL AMBITIONS

The Republic of Korea (ROK) was created in the aftermath of World War II by the actions of the United States, which found itself the ill-prepared patron of half a country newly freed from the Japanese colonial occupation. This colonial experience intensified the Korean people's strong nationalistic drive 1 for the recreation of their own nation-state. Prior to the Japanese takeover in 1905, followed by annexation in 1910, the Koreans had managed to wend their way through the intricacies of a China- focused East Asian system of international relations for over 2,000 years. Though often a tributary state of China, Korea survived as a separate cultural and political entity whose people took great pride in their separate identity and great material, spiritual, and intellectual accomplishments. Only the Japanese, who the Koreans looked down on as imitators, had the gall (and the power) to subjugate them in recent times.

In 1945, the United States inherited Korea as a by- product of defeating Japan. Few Americans knew or cared much about Korea. U.S. plans for postwar Korea were framed in the context of eradicating Japanese influences. Korea was simply one of several Asian countries that were to be set free.

To many Koreans, however, the United States represented much that was good in the world--exemplified by freedom, democracy, progress, and religious morality--and

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