Korean Endgame: A Strategy for Reunification and U.S. Disengagement

By Selig S. Harrison | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 19
Japan and Nuclear Weapons

THE MOST astonishing literary phenomenon in the history of South Korea is the popularity of The Rose of Sharon Has Blossomed, a three-volume saga in which North and South cooperate in developing nuclear weapons that save the South in a war with Japan. More than five million copies of the novel have been sold since 1994, in contrast to a peak of 300,000 copies for other best-sellers in recent years. 1

In a plot that mixes elements of historical fact with larger doses of fiction, the novel centers on a Korean-born American nuclear physicist who masterminds a secret South Korean nuclear program during the regime of the late president Park Chung Hee. The CIA, learning of the program, arranges to have the physicist killed in an auto accident. Before his death, using $65 million supplied by Park, he buys 80 kilograms of plutonium from India with the help of an Indian scientist who had been his roommate during U.S. college days. He hides the plutonium in a stone statue of an elephant in the South Korean presidential compound, sharing the secret of its location only with the Indian scientist. There it remains until the Indian reveals the hiding place to a South Korean journalist investigating rumors of a CIA hand in the auto accident.

The journalist, a fervent nationalist who dreams of reviving Park's nuclear program, persuades a fictitious later president that the South and the North must pool their plutonium and missile know-how in order to prepare for an inevitable confrontation with a nuclear-armed Japan. This time, the carefully camouflaged North-South project in the rugged South Korean Taebaek mountain range is not detected by American intelligence. Eventually Japan, alarmed by growing South Korean trade competition, does provoke a war, charging Korean incursions in contested Takeshima Island. As Japanese bombers head toward Pohang, the South's major industrial center, Seoul demonstrates its nuclear capability with a missile attack that obliterates an uninhabited Japanese island. Tokyo ignominiously backs down.

The title of the novel—The Rose of Sharon Has Blossomed—is the code name for the North-South nuclear program. It is also the name of a popular children's refrain celebrating liberation from Japanese colonial-

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