US veterans who have served in the Republic of Korea, and particularly those who served in the hot war, 1950-53, can and do take great pride in Korea today. We do so based on our own personal impressions even though usually somewhat ignorant of the history of modern Korea dating from the Japanese seizure and occupation prior to World War II.
At the time of this review we are hearing up-to-the-minute "breaking news" of revolutions in Africa and the Middle East, the continued threats and rumblings from North Korea (the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea-DPRK, "NK" to most GI's), as well as geopolitical analyses of China's expanded strength from Beijing in all directions, even to Wall Street, USA.
Governments were not created by divine processes--they have been started by diverse peoples in widely differing circumstances, reflecting cultural, military, political, economic, and religious traditions; nation building is a fact whatever name it goes by.
The Republic of Korea is an excellent example of nation building/development. I have written of the role of the ROK armed forces, and their allies in that effort (July 2009, Korea's Growth Seen from Abroad: Successful Nation Building). However, today's ROK is extremely difficult to casually understand, politically--a pervasive national political system which had its roots in the national struggles which began after WW II concluded and really does not appear to have progressed as far politically as it has economically and militarily.
To understand and thus cope with governmental unrest and revolution in any nation , one must first understand their roots, "how we got where we are," from whence the problems developed.
Veteran author, and "dean of the Seoul correspondents," Donald Kirk, recently completed a valuable study of how the current situation developed: "Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine." Based on his excellent sources, documents, research, and over 40 years of personal acquaintances with key Korean leaders and citizens, Kirk has provided valuable insights on "how we got where we are" regarding the Korean Peninsula.
Not incidentally Kirk details the hidden underworld of the Nobel Peace Prize processes, the promotion and the buying and selling of that million (+) dollar prize. The US liberal establishment periodically harbored Kim Dae Jung in American university and political posts during times when he found it "inconvenient" to reside in Korea. That establishment, and in some instances the White House and the CIA, have become proficient in the Nobel buying process subsequent to the early 1960's.
Kirk documents President Kim Dae Jung's hidden transfer of over $500,000,000 to the "beloved" leader of the DPRK, Kim Jong-il, as part of the hidden bartering to get a summit, "sunshine," bi-lateral talks, and, not incidentally, a Nobel Peace Prize.
Like all such funds the DPRK devoted the assistance to an oppressive military establishment, possibly advancing the development of nuclear weapons--as has been the bulk of American aid advanced by administrations since 1995.
Don's book also provides valuable insights into the seemingly omnipresent anti-American manifestations in the Republic of Korea (we already know why NK harbors and conducts viral anti-American policies!)
The inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak in February 2008 has done much to ease anti-American feelings in the Republic of Korea. However, Lee's term will end in less than two years, now, and he cannot seek another term. Some increase in anti-American feelings ought to be anticipated and proactive attitude towards them adopted. It is important that Americans, and their leaders, understand that historically recurring problem.
"Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine" brings documented understanding of America's strongest key ally in the world. Kirk's work is an essential tool in doing so. It is pricey: over $100 a year ago when I purchased my copy. It is now available on Amazon at much lower costs.
Donald Kirk has been a foreign correspondent for the International Herald Tribune and presently reports from Seoul for the Christian Science Monitor and CBS Radio. He has written six books, including two on the Vietnam War, "Tell it to the Dead":" Stories of a War and Wider War: The Struggle for Cambodia, Thailand and Laos"; one on the Philippines, "Looted: The Philippines After the Bases", and two on business in Korea, "Korean Dynasty, Hyundai and Chung Ju Yung" and "Korean Crisis: Unraveling of the Miracle in the IMF Era".
A few personal comments about the author are in order as I close this review. I met Don when I became Chairman of the US-Korea Allies Council in 2006. He covered our activities in DC and Seoul. I learned that he had also covered the Vietnam War and was actually there during my last (fourth) tour of duty in that war. He has covered the insurgency and other events in the Philippines. Donald Kirk is not long on opinion and short on experience and carrying a personal agenda, a seemingly common trait of American media types. His book is a BEST BUY if you seek to know and better understand modern Korea.
Louis T Dechert,President and Chairman of the Board, Korean War Veterans Association of USA, 2004-2008