- Park Chung Hee and Modern Korea: The Roots of Militarism 1866–1945 by Carter J. Eckert
Compression of time invested in professional training, the rise of accounting cultures across multiple national academic systems, and perhaps the innate desire of authors to be published quickly, regardless of quality, have combined to birth a social sciences and humanities landscape teeming with increasing numbers of books and articles undermined by malformed prose, superficial empirical research, and votarist incantations of names in lieu of theoretical engagement. Publications in English on Korea’s colonial period ostensibly aimed at specialists have not been exempt from this trend. Too many titles have been more enthusiastic regurgitations and emphatic repetitions of the entirely familiar, less extended tangos with difficult sources and elusive concepts. Carter J. Eckert’s Park Chung Hee and Modern Korea stands outside such specious spaces and tremulous times, landing at a weighty and dense 512 pages, infused with limpid prose, based on consistently robust and occasionally even sublime empirical research, and propelled by a clear argument.
Composed of an introduction, conclusion, copious notes, extensive glossary, lengthy bibliography, and body chapters spanning two parts—“Contexts” and “Academy Culture and Practice”—the book covers the years 1866 to 1945 to explain how Korean elites and society became militarized. These years, Eckert argues, form the first two of a three-wave process of militarization that explains 1960s industrialization, with the crucial third wave to be covered separately in a second volume. The introduction highlights the lacuna of historical studies of [End Page 203] the military in Korean history and differentiates the book from existing social science approaches to civil-military relations and biographies of Park in concise fashion.
Each of the eight body chapters begins with an ingenious triptych of epigraphs—the first from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and the last courtesy of Park, sandwiching a second from different Korean historical sources for part 1 and from Japanese ones for part 2. Part 1’s chapters establish the historical precedents and the background. “Militarizing Time” overviews Chosŏn dynasty attempts to reorganize and strengthen the military; “Militarizing Minds” outlines discourses on the national and the martial from the 1890s through the 1930s; and “Militarizing Places and Persons” examines the impact of the education system in general and military academies in particular in driving the transformative militarization of society during the colonial period.
The five chapters that form part 2 dive into unprecedented levels of detail about the ideas, curriculum, and life at two key military academies: the Japanese Military Academy (JMA), which opened a new campus for army trainees in Zama City in 1937, and the Manchurian Military Academy (MMA) that opened in Lalatun in 1939. Park himself graduated from the MMA in 1942 and the JMA in 1944, along with other Korean cadets who would rise to positions of power in postliberation South Korea, such as Chŏng Ilgwŏn. The focus of the chapter “Politics and Status” is the various core routines, some borderline traumatizing, that infused everyday life, while that of “Politics and Power” is the political views that allowed for the coexistence of political mutiny and loyalty within the army and its academies. “State and Society” describes views of capitalism that were directly taught within and indirectly influenced the curriculum; “Tactics and Spirit” depicts the “risk taking” or “can-do” spirit instilled in the cadets; and “Order and Discipline” delineates the core disciplinary values propagated within the MMA and the JMA.
The book’s argument might be summed up via a dictum attributed to Park, one not used as a chapter epigraph: “A people who love war are bound to be ruined, but a people who forget war are also dangerous.” Rather than view South Korea’s industrialization as simply the product of generalized military-society dynamics analyzed in political science or as one more example of a teleological diffusion of state power per Michel Foucault, Eckert argues that South Korea’s intensive industrialization...