By Ted Engelmann, Photographer and Independent Scholar

Greetings, and I am pleased to be here today.

It is our misfortune that I am alone in presenting the title: The Impact of the Vietnam War on South Korean Culture and Economic Development. The man who wrote the book, and the man you came to hear, Dr. Choi Dong-ju, was suddenly taken ill a few days ago and unfortunately could not attend the Symposium. In his place, I will do my best and offer a simple rendition of Dr. Choi’s work in the time available. What I can provide is something like an abstract, rather than the fine details and tremendous depth of knowledge Dr. Choi would bring to this presentation. I beg for mercy.

First, I think it is interesting and important to recognize how history plays a role in these games of economy and conflict between one country and another, and soon to be allies for different reasons.

At the end of WWII, Japan was defeated in many ways. Certainly, their economic future was bleak. Yet, in 1950, because of the onslaught from the North Koreans and communist Chinese, the UN and its allies mobilized Japan’s industrial and manufacturing programs to develop the war materiel so badly needed to defend South Korea a few hundred kilometers away. The turn of events gave freedom to the South Korean, and a new-found economic program in Japan, which then went on to become the first of the Asian economic Tigers.

Less than a decade later, South Korea invoked a neo-mercantilistic policy by President Park Chung-Hee. The idea of South Korea, a “developmental state,” of following the Japanese model, found the venue in Viet Nam as a participant in President Johnson’s “more flags program.”

From the early 1960s, it was the plan and desire of the South Korean government to engage and profit from the duration and amount of supplies offered to the American government to withstand the communist North Vietnamese advances. There was never a threat to S. Korea security. Merely a well thought out economic and military policy that provided the United States with more than 300,000 South Korean soldiers, and thousands of civilian South Korean employees in South Viet Nam.

The Korean government regarded Viet Nam merely as a market which would resolve its domestic economic and social constraints, such as an immobilized industry, unemployment problems, and an insecure market to export Korean manufactured goods. The South Korean government was most willing and eager to see the war in Viet Nam carried on for as long as possible. The economic gains for South Korea would only grow larger, while the internal security of South Korea was being looked after by American forces. It was the best of both worlds. Further, this solidified the political regime of Park Chung-Hee, who was able to implement a hard-line and state-controlled domestic policy for many years.

In terms of immediate and long-term effects on both the economic and cultural of South Korea, the Viet Nam conflict provided a watershed of growth and development which followed the Japanese model of nearly a generation before. As a result, the South Korean people have experienced a great rise in their quality of life, and their economy has reached the status of one of the four Asian Tigers economically. This was a direct result of their participation in the war in Viet Nam.

For the next few moments I will share with you some slide images that give an indication of the economic and cultural development brought about in South Korea by their involvement in the war in Viet Nam. I will conclude after the end of these images, and will thank you at this time for your kind attention. If there are any questions, I will be happy to address them as best I can when the presentation is over.

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