*The New Koreans*

by on April 16, 2017 at 4:57 am in Books, Current Affairs, History, Uncategorized | Permalink

Back in Gyeongju, Kim had the spy arrested, tortured, and executed…The rest of Kim’s story, as far as we know it, is true: He conquered Baekje in 660 and Goguryeo in 668 with the help of the Tang armies, then had to give the Tang the Manchurian half of Goguryeo.

Modern nationalist historians have criticized Silla for relying on China’s help in the first place, saying it set a historical pattern whereby Koreans instinctively call on outside powers to help solve internal problems.

That is from the new book by Michael Breen, The New Koreans: The Story of a Nation, a very good introductory treatment to that part of the world.

1 Steve Sailer April 16, 2017 at 5:26 am

Here’s a question I’ve wondered about: In the late summer of 1945, the United States suddenly occupied Japan and the southern half of Korea.

The U.S. had been preparing for its occupation of Japan for several years: for example, anthropologist Ruth Benedict wrote her famous study of Japan for the Office of War Information. Lots of Americans were trained to speak Japanese.

Before the war, Americans had some familiarity with Japan. For example, Babe Ruth had been there a number of times.

It’s generally thought that the U.S. did a pretty competent job with its occupation of Japan, perhaps because it put a lot of effort into getting ready for it.

On the other hand, the U.S. hegemony over South Korea was a nightmare even before the Korean War broke out. The U.S. underestimated the risk of North Korea starting a war because they were so worried about the ruler they had placed in charge of South Korea, a rare anti-Japanese Korean dissident resident in the U.S., starting the war with the North.

How much did the American government know about Korea in the summer of 1945 (relative to how much it knew about Japan)? How many Americans spoke Korean at that time? How many American college professors in 1945 were specialists in Korean language or culture? How many histories of Korea in English like this were in print in 1945? I can’t think of any anecdotes about Americans in Korea before 1945. I suspect Americans knew more about Tibet than about Korea.

2 Believe it! April 16, 2017 at 6:27 am

There were some American visitors to Korea in the mid 19th century who wound up being executed

3 Taeyoung April 17, 2017 at 5:47 pm

There were also some American visitors to Korea shortly after who ended up bombarding a bunch of forts and killing their garrisons.

4 Hoosier April 16, 2017 at 1:01 pm

Were there no missionaries? I figured the spread of Protestantism was through Americans.

5 Todd K April 16, 2017 at 1:41 pm

My great aunt was a Mennonite missionary who helped establish women’s basketball and volleyball in Korea when there were no uniforms for females who wanted to play on teams then. So there was at least one in the early 20th century.

6 Sfoil April 17, 2017 at 5:08 pm

There were Americans who knew about Korea in 1945, including the language, but they were all missionaries and other religious types. These never cross-pollinated with the US government prior to WW2 as with their Chinese counterparts — probably, because Korea was just too much of a backwater to be more than a niche interest.

7 Steve Sailer April 18, 2017 at 1:03 am


Protestant missionaries in China were highly influential in the U.S. E.g., Time founder Henry Luce was born in China.

FDR paid a lot of attention to the China Lobby (I think he had family ties — the Delanos were in the Opium Trade), which is why Chiang Kai-shek got put on the UN Security Council.

But American missionaires in Korea didn’t swing any weight in the US the way American missionaries in China and in the Levant (the Arabists, like basketball coach Steve Kerr’s martyred dad) did.

8 dearieme April 16, 2017 at 5:33 am

“a very good introductory treatment to that part of the world”: how can you possibly know enough about that part of the world to know whether the book is a very good introductory treatment of it?

9 Todd K April 16, 2017 at 7:35 am

I wondered the same thing. I interpret it to mean that Tyler doesn’t know much about the Koreas but actually read most of the pages and got a lot of information out of them.

I saw this on Amazon (1 out of 5 stars): “But Oberdorfer’s overall knowledge of Korea and Korean history is very shallow. Oberdorfer does not speak or read Korean and he can only use Korean sources that have been translated for him.”


(3 out of 5 stars) “It is true that he does not delve into Korean sources, and that he seems to lack a deep feel for the heartbeat of the culture. This is essentially an American view, the reportage of an outsider. Despite this he has had intimate access to the events he discusses, and he has met most South Korean presidents in person. His personal anecdotes bring an immediacy to the picture.”

10 A April 16, 2017 at 8:02 am

Those are valid observations and overrated criticisms. Anyone who unironically claims to “deeply feel the heartbeat of a culture” is suspect, and probably models the world too simply, while estimating themselves too highly.

11 Anonymous April 16, 2017 at 9:46 am

There was a time when our cable company ran Korean soap operas with English subtitles. With that imperfect lense: Korean family live is still very multigenerational. The work ethic is extreme. The food obsession is pervasive. All in all, competitive advantages.

You know, Twitter dissolved yesterday into knee jerk set pieces on Andrew Sullivan’s “Asians” essay, but there is a truth beneath the shouting. If you are going to assimilate pieces of culture, choose wisely.

12 Art Deco April 16, 2017 at 11:51 am

Per the World Bank, the employment-to-population ratio in South Korea is 0.59, similar to that of the United States. The OECD reports that mean annual working hours for employed Koreans are just north of 2,100, or about 20% above OECD averages. Their total fertility rate is wretched – 1.3 children per woman per lifetime. The country is in certain respects one of the world’s most accomplished, but it looks more like they are moderately industrious, not extremely industrious.

13 Anonymous April 16, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Interesting, Mexico is #1 in working hours per worker, and Korea is #2.

14 Anon_senpai April 16, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Greece is #4 in hours worked per year at 2042. Wait, what?

15 Taeyoung April 17, 2017 at 5:45 pm

Re: Art Deco:

Also, the suicide rate is the highest in the industrialised world. It’s just incredibly high.

16 dearieme April 16, 2017 at 9:13 am

“Tyler … actually read most of the pages”: harsh!

17 Todd K April 16, 2017 at 9:33 am

Not harsh, just how he says he reads, which makes sense: if he already has read several books on a topic than it is easy to skim. He implied he didn’t know much about the Koreas, relative to other areas, so I bet he read most of the pages.

18 prior_test2 April 16, 2017 at 11:50 am

‘so I bet he read most of the pages’

Such a fitting bit of praise for a leading light of the GMU econ dept.

19 Troll Me April 17, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Sometimes that outside view can be useful. He might notice things that someone deeply involved in the culture might be unable to see for some reason or another.

20 Taeyoung April 17, 2017 at 5:23 pm

“He might notice things that someone deeply involved in the culture might be unable to see for some reason or another.”

In a place like Korea, I feel like the real advantage is that he could *say* things that someone deeply involved in the culture would be unable to say. No idea whether he does or not.

21 Art Deco April 16, 2017 at 6:14 am

Is anyone else here turned on by lawn gnomes

22 msgkings April 16, 2017 at 11:37 am

Anyone else here an intern employed by the Mercatus Center and taking a psychotropic cocktail?

23 The Other Jim April 16, 2017 at 12:11 pm

Does anyone here easily fall for posts made under fake pseudonyms?

24 DJF April 16, 2017 at 12:25 pm

No, but I have heard that if you collect gnome underpants you can get a profit.

25 Art Deco April 16, 2017 at 4:08 pm

But how exactly?

26 msgkings April 16, 2017 at 4:16 pm

The Mercatus Center expects their interns to supplement their income by selling things on eBay

27 Jim April 16, 2017 at 6:51 am

They knew that Corea was an unwilling colony/ally of Japan (or part of the Empire, albeit involuntarily), and treated it as such.
Japan was well known before the War (the one with the Americans and its allies). Thousands of Westerners visited and wrote books. A few went to Corea and included chapters, or even entire books. It was generally regarded as being in urgent need of Japanese enlightenment. (Some Coreans felt the same).
The Bogardus Social Distance scale was used to assess Americans’ perceptions of various countries, among them “Korea” (there weren’t two of them at the time). Korea came in as the most negatively viewed (but possibly because no one new where or what it was, I suspect). This study, to the best of my memory, was conducted prior to or around the time of the outbreak (June 25, 1950) of the Korean War. (I will check later but this is my recollection)
So whatever American Occupiers knew, which wasn’t much, was mostly based on some impressions of very early visitors for whom Corea was a side trip, or detour. Of course, there were also the missionaries (it was Christianity that Koreans needed, in their case).

28 dearieme April 16, 2017 at 9:14 am

“possibly because no one new where or what it was, I suspect”: that leaves it in the same boat as most countries, then.

29 Troll Me April 17, 2017 at 2:07 pm

The ones who shared the belief that Japanese enlightenment was needed …

… mostly officials under the of employ of the Japanese emperor, right?

30 Jim April 16, 2017 at 6:53 am

Correction: It was 1933.

Bogardus, E. S. (1933). A social distance scale. Sociology & Social Research.

31 spandrell April 16, 2017 at 7:46 am

Nobody knows anything about Korea because Korea was small poor and completely inconsequential. China is hard enough to understand, but it’s kinda worth the effort. That Korea even exists at all as a nation should tell you something about the value of the place.

32 AJ April 16, 2017 at 8:23 am

Actually, Korea is a linchpin in modern Northeast Asian geopolitics. A hostile fleet in Busan is a dagger pointed at the Japanese home island. That Russia does not dominate Korea is the primary reason Russia is not a two ocean power and the dominant force in Asian politics, going all the way back to the Russo-Japanese War. A hostile army along the Yalu River is a gun pointed at the vital organs of China. The Japanese have already proved how quickly China could lose its industrial cities.

And you have the paradox that the conflict between North and South Korea is the only way the area could survive roiling postwar politics. Nobody can fight the big war and explain to citizens at home that soldiers are dying by the tens of thousands and risking nuclear war for geopolitical advantage, since the world wars ended the age of negotiating indemnities to restore the antebellum. I don’t think anyone can credibly say they would be fighting to help or save the Korean people from themselves either.

33 Believe it! April 16, 2017 at 8:43 am

Shenzhen is nowhere near Korea dude this isn’t 1911 anymore.

34 Harun April 16, 2017 at 1:30 pm

Shenzhen is light industry. Heavy industry is up north. Also Shenzhen isn’t really that industrial anymore

35 Troll Me April 17, 2017 at 2:10 pm

The northern bias in industrial development is probably overstated by this stage. Probably because it’s less important to locate heavy industry beside the resources when transportation is cheaper.

36 dearieme April 16, 2017 at 9:18 am

“Korea is a linchpin in modern Northeast Asian geopolitics.” As a general rule, any country that the US is about to invade or bomb is said to be strategically vital, or a lynchpin, or a keystone, or the like. It’s not an accolade that a country is wise to seek.

37 Art Deco April 16, 2017 at 11:40 am

We haven’t invaded or bombed many places since 1945 and countries generally benefit when we do.

How’d the partition of India work out for you all?

38 prior_test2 April 16, 2017 at 11:48 am

It probably worked out better than the delayed reunification of Vietnam.

39 Art Deco April 16, 2017 at 11:54 am

The delayed unification of Germany worked out well for the world. The place provides a nice dumping ground for clods as well.

40 prior_test2 April 16, 2017 at 12:18 pm

‘The delayed unification of Germany worked out well for the world.’

Well, the delayed part only, if one listens to the sort of people that support UKIP or the Front National.

But since then, Europe has been going to hell in a handbasket with all that EU nonsense.

41 Art Deco April 16, 2017 at 1:53 pm

But since then, Europe has been going to hell in a handbasket with all that EU nonsense.

The nonsense in question would be a common currency (est. 1999), progressive extensions of sovereignty to unnacountable institutions in Brussels (various dates, but 1992 the most salient), and importing masses of incompatible foreigners in lieu of fixing your housing markets, then putting masses of them on the dole (various dates, point of origin around 1962).

42 Troll Me April 17, 2017 at 2:14 pm

The stats to back you up are mostly fraudulent.

Do you know what the growth rate in post-war Vietnam has been?

It’s looks pretty good if you ignore that they destroyed everything first. And, for that matter, the development lessons are likely to be few, and involving very biased data. It’s easier to build something the second time around, right? So … what do we really have to learn from the Vietnam growth success story?

When you got all blowed up, the growth will be high after you can stop killing each other, and building it all the second time around will be easier than the first time.

43 spandrell April 16, 2017 at 5:23 pm

Russia just didn’t have the logistical ability to dominate Korea long term; certainly not without dominating the whole of Manchuria. The Far Eastern part of Russia is too thinly populated for that.

So yeah, Korea is only important because it’s in the middle of big countries. Which means that long term it will ceased being an independent entity.

44 Art Deco April 16, 2017 at 5:51 pm

You’ve mixed up your tenses.

45 spandrell April 17, 2017 at 11:29 am

That’s a typo. You should stop being a literal Grammar Nazi and be nicer to non-native speakers.

46 AJ April 17, 2017 at 10:28 pm

No, he’s right. You mixed the tenses up so much that it’s not possible to decipher your point.

47 Art Deco April 16, 2017 at 11:44 am

Poor, yes, small, no. The population in 1945 (27 million) was about that of Spain.

48 spandrell April 16, 2017 at 5:21 pm

Another poor and inconsequential country that skipped all the European wars and nobody missed it for it.

49 Art Deco April 16, 2017 at 5:49 pm

Prior to the Depression and Civil War, it was as affluent as northern Italy, about 1/3 lower than Sweden. Spanish output was behind that of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Soviet Russia, Japan, China, and British India. Not any other place.

50 dearieme April 17, 2017 at 6:04 am

Spain missed all the European wars? You don’t know much history, then?

51 spandrell April 17, 2017 at 8:57 am

Excuse me? When did Spanish troops ever go north besides the token fascist volunteers sent by Franco to the USSR?

52 Art Deco April 17, 2017 at 9:04 am

They missed the wars occurring after 1875. Not before.

53 Thiago Ribeiro April 16, 2017 at 8:59 am

As soon as the American and the Chinese regimes fall, their Korean puppets will fall.

54 The Other Jim April 16, 2017 at 12:12 pm

So, never. Thanks big guy! You are usually not this helpful.

55 Thiago Ribeiro April 16, 2017 at 7:29 pm

Yes, they will fall.

56 Anon_senpai April 16, 2017 at 12:37 pm

Or they will become the puppets of the new hegemon, namely Brazil.

57 Thiago Ribeiro April 16, 2017 at 7:31 pm

Brazil has been chosen to unite the world.

58 Thor April 17, 2017 at 2:53 am

Well, I demand a recount!

59 Harun April 16, 2017 at 1:32 pm

Korea was poorer than Bangladesh after world war 2. People forget this and this puzzle why it was a backwater.

Taiwan used to send laborers to the Philippines too rather than vice versa.

60 Troll Me April 17, 2017 at 2:20 pm

It might have been related to the bombs.

It’s hard to make stuff when everything is blown up. There weren’t a lot of bombs in Bangladesh.

But they had already industrialized before, so obviously they could do so faster the second time around.

61 Barkley Rosser April 17, 2017 at 12:40 pm

While it is true that the US was ill-prepared to take control of South Korea in 1945, not on its agenda, prior to 1905 when the Japanese took over, there was a lot of US presence, with the Protestant missionaries part of that. The US established relations in 1882 with the Schufeldt Treaty, and the US was a main backer of Korean independence. Seoul had one of the first tram systems and also street lighting in Asia due to US influence. Of course, T. Roosevett got a Nobel Peace prize for negotiating the end of the Russo-Japanese war in 1905, largely fought over Korea, which the Japanese won and took control after that.

A good older book on Korean culture by an American is by Cornelius Osgood in 1951, The Koreans and their Cutture, a classic. There were people in the US who knew quite a bit about Korea, despite a lot of bungling there in the late 1940s.

62 Taeyoung April 17, 2017 at 5:41 pm

Re: Barkley Rosser:
” the US was a main backer of Korean independence.”

Wait, whaat? After we mediated the Treaty of Portsmouth that gave Korea to the Empire of Japan? Are you talking back in the 1880s?

63 Barkley Rosser April 17, 2017 at 7:20 pm

Thought I was clear that I was talking about prior to 1905

64 Ricky Tylor April 17, 2017 at 4:48 pm

It’s interesting reading this but I guess the current political situation is far more interesting, so it will be interesting to see how it all works out. I always keep close watch on these things which is only got easier having broker of OctaFX standard. They have amazing by all measurements to do with lowest possible spreads at 0.1 pips, over 70 instruments, fast execution, deposit bonus of 50%, instant payments without commissions and plenty more, it’s all simply fascinating.

65 Sfoil April 17, 2017 at 5:14 pm

Why wouldn’t I read Korea’s Place in the Sun instead? Even if he is an old pinko, Cumings has actually bothered to learn the language.

66 Barkley Rosser April 17, 2017 at 5:33 pm

I have not read this new book, but there is no doubt that Cumings is by far the leading scholar on Korea in the US. However, he is very controversial, and given the sharp political splits with the old Cold War still going on there, this is understandable.

I have had to deal with this professionally in that I and my wife have published several papers on economy and society in both of the Koreas. Aware of his biases and limitations we have drawn on some of his ideas, only to find that referees for journals would sometimes just go ape shit bananas denouncing him as a no good rotten commie, blah blah blah. These papers have been some of the hardest to publish I have ever written, largely because so many involved in the scholarship, both in the US and Korea are just completely gonzo ideological lunatics on one side or the other.

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