Why it is glib to judge South Korea's new president-elect on account of her father's authoritarian reign in the 1960's and 1970's.
South Korea's new President 60-year-old Park Geun-hye announced her priorities today after emerging victorious in last Wednesday's election. Pledging to “open a new era” on the troubled and divided Korean Peninsula, her victory may prove to have a positive effect on the troubled region.
Ms Park is not only South Korea's first female president but she is also the daughter of the much loathed Park Chung-hee who ruled South Korea for 18 years and utilized ruthless means to deal with dissidents. His rule was only brought to an end when his spy chief assassinated him in 1979. Soon thereafter the southern part of the Korean Peninsula became a democracy.
Up until that point North Korean propaganda often portrayed South Korea, quite correctly, as a military dictatorship. An impoverished “Yankee colony” that was occupied by American soldiers who routinely slaughtered innocent Koreans. When the military dictatorship mantra could no longer be sustained due to the evident evolution of South Korea into a rich and successful democracy North Korean propaganda portrayed citizens of the Korean republic as 'whores' of the Americans who had sold their souls for the shallowness that comes with opulent lifestyles.
Whilst North Korean propaganda will always come up with ways in which to slander their more successful southern counterparts the south has certainly prospered as a result of becoming more open and democratic. The 'Realpolitik' view of the 1970's simply saw the military junta of South Korea as the lesser of two evils that was a pawn in containing the communistic threat of the north (which in turn was an early version of Jeane Kirkpatrick's contention that dictatorship was a tenable form of opposing totalitarianism wherever it springs up). When those dark days of South Korea's history came to an end into fruition came a hi-tech economy that rapidly developed the country into the rich, emancipated and sophisticated society it is today. This furthermore served to deepen the divide that existed on both sides of the 38th Parallel.
The Park years were certainly regressive times for the south of the country. Nevertheless this doesn't mean that South Korea's president should be in any way jaded by those who jibe that she is “daughter of a dictator.” She has recently made apologies for the human rights violations her father committed during his rule of the country. Furthermore her stated goals are very encouraging, especially when one looks at the situation of the wider region around South Korea's borders. Her election campaign calls “to open a new era on the Korean peninsula, based on strong security and trust-based diplomacy,” are certainly attitudes one would like to see prevail. Instead of confrontational rhetoric that would instead serve to ratchet up tensions between north and south.
Although she and her party recognize the potential threat that North Korea poses to the country, when it fiddles with missiles in order to increase tensions, they also grasp that war is against everybody's interests. The South Korean military is much more advanced and capable than the North Korean one and can confront it if the need arises. However that would be against everyone's interests. It would likely see to the North Korean state completely collapsing, possibly plunging into another destructive famine if such a war is prolonged, and the south's economy and stock exchange would be affected by the hostilities, as well as the more tangible effects of artillery and other unguided ordnance being flung at its population centers.
Nearby Japan following the tsunami of 2011 serves as a perfect example of how a democracy has the resolve to get back on its feet and quickly rebuild serves as a model for how South Korea would recover after another war (or the continuation of the last war that ended with a 'ceasefire' in 1953 if you want to get technical) with its northern neighbour quite efficiently. One doesn't even want to speculate about how badly North Korean citizenry would suffer from such a war, not only at the hands of the superior military force they will be engaging, but at the hands of the oppressive regime that keeps them caged in and impoverished.
Park's political party is detested by the north which contends that the Saenuri “has become more undisguised in its moves to escalate the confrontation with compatriots in the north.” Park however hasn't taken a highly confrontational and outspoken view against the north, which would serve the interests of the Kim regime there (now into its third generation) and preaches reconciliation. Apart from actually apologizing for the wrongs of her father she has also repudiated the mindset in which his dictatorial reign was sustained, that of a military strongman that must suppress and crush his domestic enemies in order to keep the state safe from the outsider. That is the mentality that prevails in the north today. But Park has accordingly ensured it won't again be the case in the south. A successful democracy like South Korea is built on consensus. A real emancipated republic. Worth fighting in defense of.
With perspectives like that in play one can see how resorting to making banal comments about her family background is at this stage wholly regressive and incendiary. Her fathers rule, whilst it was brutal and a dark period in South Korea's history did in turn serve to show how authoritarianism, even if utilized as the 'lesser of two evils' against totalitarian entities, is anything but a forward-looking or progressive form of government.
We shouldn't forget South Korea's dark past, but we should learn from it and applaud Park in her calls for not only internal reforms, but reconciliation with a hostile neighbour. This shows the dynamic nature and diplomatic capabilities of the Republic as opposed to the so-called “Democratic Peoples Republic” residing on the northern half of the Korean peninsula. The starved and impoverished beggar nation that can only muster up occasional threats and spiteful remarks about the progress of its southern nation, while it continues to sink further into a palpably regressive and oppressive state. Whilst South Korea on the other hand is showing no let up in its head forward progression into the 21st century, where it will serve as an exemplary success model for other peoples of the world who are struggling to throw off the shackles of state oppression and erect societies that will serve to reflect their ability to thrive.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com