Howard Covitz – McCain, Iraq and South Korea

Reader Howard Covitz sends me this e-mail:

Given McCain’s comparison of Iraq to Korea, I think it would be prudent for voters to familiarize themselves with the 20th century history of that country. I only recently realized how shallow my own conception of Korean history was, and can only imagine that most Americans are, too. I would expect that most Americans nowadays consider South Korea a success story, given the mainstream image we generally get of it, and the American focus on economic/material success at the cost of democratic/political success. The image is all the more rosy when contrasted to the mainstream conception of North Korea as an economic wasteland let by a caricatured madman. But apparently for most of its history, the rule has been a bit tyrannical, autocratic, and perhaps very similar to Chile. Are there any lessons to be drawn?

I would welcome Angry Bear commentators to chime in and help illuminate readers on the post-1953 history of South Korea.

Update from PGL: Thanks to Fermi Pyle who suggested that we check this and this out. Syngman Rhee was a dictator known for conducting several massacres, letting his own citizens be trapped in Seoul as the Communists marched in, and vetoing any peace plan to further his own ambitions. Park Chung-hee took advantage of the following to lead a coup:

the new government was caught between an economy that was suffering from a decade of mismanagement and corruption by the Rhee presidency and the students who had led to Rhee’s ouster. The students were regularly filling the streets, making numerous and wide-ranging demands for political and economic reforms. Law and order could not be maintained because the police, long an instrument of the Rhee government, were demoralized and had been completely discredited by the public. Continued factional wrangling caused the public to turn away from the party.

But rightwingers seem to love Rhee as he was an anti-Communist. While the Park regime saw South Korea’s economy grow, he also clamped down on personal freedoms. He allowed Korea’s CIA broad powers to arrest and detain citizens and his political opponents were not only arrested but also tortured. Yes, voting was allowed but:

The electoral system was also heavily rigged in favor of Park’s Democratic Republican Party, which routinely won large majorities in the National Assembly. Opposition parties and leaders were subjected to varying degrees of official harassment. In spite of this, Park was narrowly reelected in 1967 against Yoon.