Chae-jin Lee: A Troubled Peace — US Policy and the Two Koreas
Johns Hopkins Univ Press, 2006
A very thorough review of the history of the relations between the US and (the two) Korea(s) over the past hundred or so years. To me, there’s rather too many trees and not enough wood, but I guess you need to start with the former.
There is a couple of amusing snippets — firstly about how Park Chung-hee wanted to ensure that the kimchi logistics were sorted out before he committed any more troops to the Vietnam war:
At a meeting with President Park in Canberra in December 1967, President Johnson, who was facing the worsening situation in Vietnam, hoped for a full additional division from South Korea. Citing the National Assembly’s filibustering on the budget, Park said that it would be easier for him to obtain the National Assembly’s consent for more troops to Vietnam if the United States made a firm financial commitment. Johnson was prepared to accommodate Park’s requests for military and economic assistance and for the timely delivery of a staple of the Korean diet, kimchi, to the troops. Johnson quipped that “the bureacucracy in Washington gave him more hell about the kimchi than it did about the war in Vietnam”, but Johnson did manage to get it. In response, Park said that the kimchi would certainly raise the morale of the South Korean troops in Vietnam. Assistant Sectretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs William Bundy added that “the problem of canning the kimchi had delayed arrival. It was being sent as fast as possible, and the VC [Vietcong] would never be able to hold the Koreans once it arrived”.
And secondly about how Kim Young Sam took rather a fancy to Hillary Clinton at a state dinner in Washington in November 1993.
The book majors on the diplomatic relations between the US and Korea. There’s less on economic relations. Inevitably there’s a lot of focus on the question of the North and nuclear weapons, but there’s also coverage of, for example, the move of the US base from Yongsan to Pyongtaek.
Some of the interesting threads that are drawn out are how domestic politics in the US can constrain or influence foreign policy; how China is now a more important trading partner to South Korea than the US; and the geographical and generational polarisation of political views in South Korea.
This book is a sober factual narrative rather than something which argues a particular neocon or liberal agenda. This means that it’s a useful reference work, but it’s a little dry if read from cover to cover.