Sunday, August 3, 2008

Korean Update

Cynthia Yoo's latest summary of the week's Korean news is online at OhMyNews International. The Dokdo controversy continues to be a hot item, and President Bush has done his part by flipflopping on it. A Korean swimmer, Jo Oh-ryeun, completed thirty-three (Christ's age at his crucifixion, but in this context it represents the number of Korean "national representatives who signed onto the March 1st Korean Declaration of Independence in 1919") laps around Dokdo on July 31. Since it was Japan that denied Korea its independence, and it's with Japan that Korea is now squabbling over these small islands, the symbolism is clear enough.

Whenever I read about this matter, though, I keep remembering the 1982 war for the Falkland Islands between Argentina and the United Kingdom. So far, at least, Korea and Japan have behaved better than that, but it seems to me that the beleaguered Korean President Lee Myeong-bak and his corporate-media allies have welcomed the controversy as a way to drive US beef imports from the headlines, much as Margaret Thatcher and the Argentine generals used the Falklands to whip up patriotic frenzy and better poll numbers in their respective countries. Swimmer Jo's feat was celebrated by, among others, traditional Korean breakdancers, as you can see in the photo above. (From OhMyNews, of course.)

According to the Korea Times, the Korean Defense Ministry's attempt to keep "subversive" books away from Korean soldiers has backfired. Online sales, at least, of Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang's Bad Samaritans have gone up sharply since it and 22 other books were banned from military bases in July. I've read Bad Samaritans -- it was originally published in English -- and I'm at a loss to see what's subversive about it, even in the most jingoistic Korean terms. (Here's an excerpt.) Chang doesn't have a lot to say about Korea, except some memories of his childhood there, and explaining how it achieved its economic success. But censors never learn; I remember reading that when the British banned Thomas Paine's seditious 1776 pamphlet Common Sense , its sales also soared.