[commentary] Korea's Great Leap Forward


[commentary] Korea's Great Leap Forward in the 60's

July 2016

I find it amazing that Park Chung Hee was able to build Korea’s steel, commercial vessel, chemical, and auto industries without falling into the binds of foreign investment. Jumping into these secondary industries requires massive capital. 

If he were to have taken Western investment, the nation would surely have been shackled to foreign corporate biddings. To avoid this, President Park deployed diplomatic genius, securing Japanese reparations and using this as one of the primary sources of funds. Another difficult decision was to send Korean troops into the Vietnam War. Many might understand Korean participation in the American war effort to be a commitment to the defense of freedom and democracy- yet to be sure this ideological showdown was in many ways a facade. Economic interests were at stake for both the Americans and the Koreans. The Americans sought to secure their geopolitical power in the Pacific. The Koreans sought to find some way to finance their critical development projects.

Young Korean men dropped into the jungles of Vietnam only because a check from the Americans was forthcoming. This check would be critical to a nation poised to leap out of the confines of an agrarian economy. But it was an expensive check indeed, secured through the exchange of countless pints of blood and broken families.