Letters to the Editor
South Korea is vigorous, vibrant
Kathryn Allbrecht’s column appearing in the March 31, 2012, edition of El Defensor Chieftain contains some distortions of fact and outright errors that beg correction. As a guest of the Korean people for the last 10 years, I feel a responsibility to present a more accurate picture of the state of democracy in the Republic of Korea (South Korea).
Jeju is indeed a large, beautiful island located off the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula. Ms. Albrecht’s reference to the “natives” there might leave the impression that they are quaint, backward, farmers and fisher folk, being run-over by the Western military-industrial complex. The image of a “sacred coast” conjures dawn and full-moon rituals to propitiate angry sea gods. The people of Jeju and all South Korea are thoroughly modern, sophisticated world citizens.
Many publications have noted that South Korea is the “most-wired” country in the world, with virtually everyone owning a computer with high speed internet, multiple “smart” phones and enjoying an extensive electronic and print free press. South Korea is truly an economic and technological marvel in the world. As one of the poorest countries on the planet in the wake of a Japanese colonial occupation that spanned 40 years (basically 1905 to 1945 — officially from 1910 to 1945) and the aftermath of the North Korean/Soviet/Communist Chinese invasion of the South in 1950, South Korea is one of the 20 leading world economies. This was accomplished through hard work and an indomitable spirit. Over the last 30 years it has been nourished by a vigorous, vibrant democracy. Ms. Albrecht seems to be confusing the two Koreas — the North, which is arguably the most repressive society in the world — and the South, which represents every goal America has ever stood for — freedom of worship, expression, assembly. Her portrait of South Korea is badly flawed.
She characterizes South Korea as “a recently progressive nation.” During the presidencies of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, both democratically elected “liberal” governments, South Korea employed the “Sunshine Policy” of rapprochement with the North. The result of that policy was the creation of nuclear weapons by the North and their testing, as well as significant advancement of ballistic missile technology. Meanwhile, literally millions of North Koreans starved to death, at least a whole generation of children has been malnourished, and an extensive system of concentration camps tortures and kills untold thousands of people every year. The absolutely stark contrast between the two Koreas could not be clearer. Somehow, Ms. Albrecht manages to completely ignore the unbelievable tragedy that occurs daily about 200 miles north of where I write this letter.
There are other glaring errors in Ms. Albrecht’s description of current events on the Korean Peninsula, but the column has only limited space. Two that must be corrected, however, are these: South Koreans went to the polls on April 11 in free elections for the National Assembly (parliament).
Those elections were very vigorously contested, and media reports of polling (yes, we have a very extensive polling apparatus in place) indicated that the races were too close to call.
Does this sound like “long-dormant authoritarianism” at work? Doesn’t to me. President Lee, the “right-wing industrialist” could not succeed himself, and, thus, was not a candidate for re-election. The voters of South Korea will determine their own national course over the next few months in the way that America has advanced for well over 200 years. I’d call that a huge success.
Ms. Albrecht seems well-intentioned if badly misinformed. North Korea and Iran are two rogue states that totally detest everything America stands for and believes in. Personally, I would be a lot happier if they were not armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles having nuclear warheads attached. Call me old-fashioned.
John P. Viebranz