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The Legacies of Korean Participation in the Vietnam War: The Rise of Formal Dictatorship

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Abstract:

The contemporary features of the Republic of Korea were forged in its most formative years in the anvil of war, financed by Americans, in the jungles of Vietnam. Adjusted for population, a greater number of Koreans fought in the Vietnam War as their American counterparts. 312,853 Koreans were dispatched as combatants and another 100,000 Koreans resided in Vietnam during the war involved in various civilian enterprises. 4,687 Koreans died in that war according to the Korean Ministry of Defense. But no official casualty figures including the total number of Koreans missing and wounded have ever been released.

Park Chung Hee was eager to send Korean troops to Southeast Asia in the 1960s, as his predecessor Syngman Rhee had been in the 1950s. South Koreans were deployed in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in grants, loans, subsidies, technology transfers, and preferential markets, all provided by the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Contrary to American interests, Park vigorously campaigned for prolongation and wider escalation at crucial junctures of the Vietnam War. South Korea ultimately emerged from the war as a rich nation with a strong army. But a decade of unsurpassed economic growth was not the only legacy of Korean participation in the Vietnam War. The consequences were far further reaching. Other legacies include political authoritarianism, a hardening of the North-South division, and a peninsular arms race in both conventional and nuclear weapons. The destabilization of global security and the establishment of dictatorship in Korea, was ultimately a result of how Americans prosecuted the Vietnam War and not a result of the outcome of that war.

There has been no systematic study, in any language, of Korean participation in the Vietnam War. Therefore the bulk of the research for this dissertation has been drawn from formerly controlled and recently declassified primary sources from both the United States (the Foreign Relations of the United States series, relevant Presidential Libraries, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Security Archives) as well as South Korea (the National Assembly Library, the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Archives, and Government Archives and Records Service). The story of Korean participation in the Vietnam War is complex and has been too long neglected; but it is my hope that both Americans and Koreans may find this study relevant to their own understanding of the present world.
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MLA Citation:

Kwak, Tae. "The Legacies of Korean Participation in the Vietnam War: The Rise of Formal Dictatorship" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association, <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p113675_index.html>

APA Citation:

Kwak, T. Y. "The Legacies of Korean Participation in the Vietnam War: The Rise of Formal Dictatorship" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p113675_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: The contemporary features of the Republic of Korea were forged in its most formative years in the anvil of war, financed by Americans, in the jungles of Vietnam. Adjusted for population, a greater number of Koreans fought in the Vietnam War as their American counterparts. 312,853 Koreans were dispatched as combatants and another 100,000 Koreans resided in Vietnam during the war involved in various civilian enterprises. 4,687 Koreans died in that war according to the Korean Ministry of Defense. But no official casualty figures including the total number of Koreans missing and wounded have ever been released.

Park Chung Hee was eager to send Korean troops to Southeast Asia in the 1960s, as his predecessor Syngman Rhee had been in the 1950s. South Koreans were deployed in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in grants, loans, subsidies, technology transfers, and preferential markets, all provided by the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Contrary to American interests, Park vigorously campaigned for prolongation and wider escalation at crucial junctures of the Vietnam War. South Korea ultimately emerged from the war as a rich nation with a strong army. But a decade of unsurpassed economic growth was not the only legacy of Korean participation in the Vietnam War. The consequences were far further reaching. Other legacies include political authoritarianism, a hardening of the North-South division, and a peninsular arms race in both conventional and nuclear weapons. The destabilization of global security and the establishment of dictatorship in Korea, was ultimately a result of how Americans prosecuted the Vietnam War and not a result of the outcome of that war.

There has been no systematic study, in any language, of Korean participation in the Vietnam War. Therefore the bulk of the research for this dissertation has been drawn from formerly controlled and recently declassified primary sources from both the United States (the Foreign Relations of the United States series, relevant Presidential Libraries, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Security Archives) as well as South Korea (the National Assembly Library, the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Archives, and Government Archives and Records Service). The story of Korean participation in the Vietnam War is complex and has been too long neglected; but it is my hope that both Americans and Koreans may find this study relevant to their own understanding of the present world.

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