Monday, March 02, 2009

My New Favourite Dictator - Park Chung Hee

Just finished reading another book. I'll give you a little bit of time to pick yourself up from the floor. Yes, another book. It's titled "Korean Phoenix - A Nation from the Ashes". It chronicles the rise of Korea and the rise of Park Chung Hee. Mostly.

Korean Phoenix by Michael Keon

Talk about a confusing book. It wasn't in chronological order although most of the time it was. Sometimes you could go for two chapters and it appeared that the storyline was lost. At times it spoke about Park, at other times it was about Korea. Sometimes the two subjects were intermingled.

And then there is the British prime ministerial-waffle. Honestly, it was like listening to Tony Blair. Try this sentence which was actually a paragraph.

"Within the part of the peninsula south of the 38th Parallel, which came to constitute itself the Republic of Korea, the years between 1945 and the early summer of 1961 can answer only to one description: "the mixture as before"-muddier than ever, unremittingly exacerbating, and almost wholly sterile of recovery and growth."

Try reading that whilst walking home from the bus. I did and had to reread a couple of times. It's difficult to enjoy a book when it's written in just such a manner.

The book does detail some of Park Chung Hee's greatest achievements - reconciliation with Japan (made the economy boom), building of the Seoul-Pusan Expressway (only Park made the decision to build it and he stood by it - the expressway was built rapidly and for probably the lowest cost and with the trade that it built up it was a huge success), creation of large worker-friendly industrial complexes, instilling a high regard for education within Korea, creating growth for farmers to build their wealth (providing steel and cement to townships and allowing them to manage their own affairs by empowering themselves) and for opening dialogue with the North.

My favourite quotation in the book - '... material or financial support must not be extended "to those who are not willing to help themselves. Equal distribution of government funds among the diligent and idle alike would be be simply unfair."'

Revisiting the provision of steel and cement to townships Park took notice of how well the township put the materials to use. If they built a wall, roads or a dam to better their economic situtation and for the betterment of their town then they received another government gift the following year. If not, they did not receive any such gift. And the private sector invested about five times as much as the government provided. It worked extremely well.

Park Chung Hee actually took office as a general in the army but then stood for two presidential elections, which he won, prior to having a referendum to rewrite the constitution so that he could run for a third term, which he also won. He was a man of his word and honour who did not act in a corrupt manner. I think that many successful businessmen could take a leaf out of his book. He made Korea what it is today - an economic, first-world powerhouse. He did everything for his country and not for himself.

There is very little in the book to detract from Park Chung Hee. Perhaps this is because the author, an Australian, was living there at the time and had been for a number of years. If Park was a brutal dictator, as others have stated, it isn't mentioned in this book.

Not a bad book for $2 but structurally wanting. And from a reporter no less.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. Annette