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Nation Building in South Korea

Koreans, Americans, and the Making of a Democracy

Gregg A. Brazinsky

Publication Year: 2007

In this ambitious and innovative study Gregg Brazinsky examines American nation building in South Korea during the Cold War. Marshaling a vast array of new American and Korean sources, he 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. Brazinsky contends that a distinctive combination of American initiatives and Korean agency enabled South Korea's stunning transformation. On one hand, Americans supported the emergence of a developmental autocracy that spurred economic growth in a highly authoritarian manner. On the other hand, Americans sought to encourage democratization from the bottom up by fashioning new institutions and promoting a dialogue about modernization and development. 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. Ultimately, Brazinsky argues, Koreans' capacity to tailor American institutions and ideas to their own purposes was the most important factor in the making of a democratic South Korea. In this first English-language analysis of U.S.-Korean relations after the Korean War using primary sources in both languages, Brazinsky examines the U.S.role in reconstructing South Korea: building a national army, launching economic development programs in the 1960s, and fostering, through exchange programs and building schools, new modes of thinking among intellectuals and students. The American commitment to South Korea extended far behond defending the country against Communist invasion, he argues. It served as a vital proving ground for the superiority of free enterprise and political democracy to contrast with the Communist North. Brazinksky shows that American ambitions were met with a great deal of ambivalence by South Koreans, who, after 35 years of Japanese colonialism, were anxious about new forms of domination by foreign powers. Brazinsky demonstrates how South Koreans adapted, resisted, and transformed American influence and fostered socio-economic change that suited their own aspirations. In leading the country from a poor autocratic society in the 1940s to a prosperous democracy by the 1990s, South Koreans went through a phase of developmental autocracy in the 1960s that paved the way for a sustainable democracy. 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. In this ambitious and innovative study Gregg Brazinsky examines American nation building in South Korea during the Cold War. Marshaling a vast array of new American and Korean sources, he 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. Brazinsky contends that a distinctive combination of American initiatives and Korean agency enabled South Korea's stunning transformation. On one hand, Americans supported the emergence of a developmental autocracy that spurred economic growth in a highly authoritarian manner. On the other hand, Americans sought to encourage democratization from the bottom up by fashioning new institutions and promoting a dialogue about modernization and development. 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. Ultimately, Brazinsky argues, Koreans' capacity to tailor American institutions and ideas to their own purposes was the most important factor in the making of a democratic South Korea.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. 8-11

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

...In the years that I have spent working on this book I have acquired a great number of intellectual, economic, and personal debts. I first became interested in American diplomatic history as an undergraduate at Amherst College, where I had the good fortune to study with Gordy Levin, who set an example as a teacher and scholar that I have long sought to emulate. At...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-12

...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...

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1. Security over Democracy

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pp. 13-40

...The South Korean state would never have come into existence in 1948 without American intervention. Nor would it have survived the hardships brought on by national division and the horrific war that followed without vast U.S. military and economic assistance. For the United States, building and stabilizing South Korea came at an enormous cost in terms of both material resources and human lives. But the state that Americans made such great sacrifices to support was a highly autocratic one that frustrated their ambitions to spread democracy...

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2. Institution Building: Civil Society

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pp. 41-70

...By the end of the Korean War, Syngman Rhee had trapped the United States into supporting his government despite its blatant disregard for U.S. economic and political objectives. But American policymakers did not intend that South Korea be governed by such a regime perpetually. They sought to use their vast influence over South Korean society to make its future more democratic...

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3. Institution Building: The Military

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pp. 71-100

...Before 1945 few Koreans would have predicted that the political leaders who proved most successful at guiding South Korea’s emergence as a modern, industrialized nation would come from the the military. The prestige of the military had declined throughout the nineteenth century, and no national armed forces had existed on the peninsula during the three and a half decades of Japanese colonialism. So how did South Korean military elites acquire the power, competence...

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4. Toward Developmental Autocracy

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pp. 101-126

...Between 1948 and 1960 the United States supported Syngman Rhee’s highly autocratic regime despite its minimal commitment to economic progress. At the same time, however, the Americans had done much to foster demand for modernization and democracy among different groups in South Korean society. By the late fifties the results of these policies were readily apparent. Conflicts between the South Korean state and elites who called for socio-economic change were shaking the very foundations of Rhee’s rule...

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5. Development over Democracy

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pp. 127-162

...When South Korea’s brief, undistinguished first experiment with democracy ended in 1961, a new consensus on the need for a strong government that could forge ahead with economic development quickly formed in Washington and Seoul. Americans and South Koreans agreed that improving the country’s economic situation was so crucial that it needed to be...

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6. Engaging South Korean Intellectuals

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pp. 163-188

...Although the United States formally supported what could at best be called a quasi-democratic system of government between 1961 and 1972 and even helped derail its opposition on key issues, Americans working on the ground in the Republic of Korea (ROK) still hoped to broaden the scope of participation in national politics and pave the way for more genuine democracy...

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7 Molding South Korean Youth

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pp. 189-222

...To succeed at nation building in the Republic of Korea (ROK), Washington tried to shape not only the country’s present but also its future. And it was clearly the younger generation of South Koreans that held the key to the nation’s economic and political evolution. The increasing proportion of youth in the ROK population, combined with the continuing influence of...

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8 Toward Democracy

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pp. 223-250

...When and how do developmental autocracies become democracies? History provides no obvious answer to this question. It is clear, however, that if an autocratic government succeeds in promoting rapid economic development, it will eventually encounter new socioeconomic groups that demand greater autonomy from the state and more freedom of action. These groups...

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Conclusion

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pp. 251-260

...The transformation that occurred in South Korea during the three and a half decades after the Korean War was stunning and unpredictable. Among the dozens of nations to emerge from formal colonialism following World War II, South Korea was one of the select few to achieve economic prosperity and political democracy. Once deemed an economic basket case, the...

Notes

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pp. 261-290

Bibliography

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pp. 291-302

Index

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pp. 303-312


E-ISBN-13: 9781469604862
E-ISBN-10: 1469604868
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807831205
Print-ISBN-10: 0807831204

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 6 illus.
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: The New Cold War History