…So I published it myself, in Medium.
People power, not the U.S. military, created South Korea’s vibrant democracy
As millions of South Koreans filled their streets in the weeks leading up to last week’s impeachment of their beleagured president, Park Guen-hye, I was reminded of a political refrain we often hear from U.S. political leaders about Korea.
It goes like this: by intervening in 1950 to prevent a communist takeover and then stationing thousand of U.S. soldiers at the border with North Korea, the United States provided the security that allowed South Korea to become the vibrant democracy it is today. The pride was typified by George W. Bush in a 2005 visit to U.S. troops.
“Five decades of sacrifice by the men and women of our Armed Forces secured peace and democracy on this peninsula,” Bush declared. Hillary Clinton echoed that sentiment in a 2013 speech to bankers later obtained by Wikileaks. South Korea, she said, became a “functional democracy” because “we had troops there, we had aid there, we had a presence of American business there. We were there for the long run.”
There’s a bit of hubris in these sentiments. While there is no doubt that American policy has had a positive influence on South Korea, it was the Koreans themselves who created their own democracy. Moreover, at several critical junctures in South Korea’s turbulent history, U.S. actions and miscalculations led to serious setbacks to their progress. Sometimes America was on their side; other times, not.
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