GUEST COMMENTARY: Korea — how we got here and where we are headed

Because of teaching opportunities, I spent more than 24 months of the last eight years in South Korea. While my academic specialty is American politics, I’ve read many books, attended conferences and have had numerous discussions with Koreans about the future of the two nations.

 

First, conflict with North Korea has been the defining issue in the South Korean public arena since 1953. It would surprise most Americans that South Koreans seem able to just go about their lives. Just in the past week, I became aware of three South Koreans who will be visiting their homeland despite the headlines. Apparently, they just don’t believe that Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un would take actions that annihilate the peninsula.

The two most promising opportunities for obtaining a more stable situation on the peninsula were the end of the Clinton Administration 2000 and during the George W. Bush’s 2002 visit to Korea. Bush including North Korea as part of the “Axes of evil” was not helpful. Sadly, not much has changed in the last 15 years between the U.S. and North Korea, except that a young man succeeded his father as Supreme Leader and has chosen to be more brazen and brutal.

The standoff since 1953’s ending of the Korean War without a peace treaty seems bizarre to many Americans, but it has been stable. Support for Korean unification is difficult to ascertain. It is included as a national goal in the South Korean constitution, but few Koreans seem to really want it. Economic and cultural disparities between North and South have grown tremendously since the 1970s. Economic equalization, a goal nearly achieved in East and West Germany’s unification is considered to be unrealistically expensive requiring massive commitment assistance from the United Nations, United States and China.

Perhaps because of concern with Japan and China, Korean problems have not received the attention they should have in Washington, D.C., over the past 50 years. This is partly because there has not been a clear solution. In fact, both the U.S. and China prefer the status quo over an expensive unification that runs the risk of tipping the scales between U.S. and Chinese dominance.

In hindsight, what should have been done is aggressive nation-building with U.N. and U.S. aid flowing into agriculture cooperatives, community schools, health clinics, and information dissemination. Such community-building activities by churches, health agencies, and even environmental organizations are present in North Korea and are slowly increasing. Ultimately, a society collectively determines how long it will accept a non-democratic leader. There are pockets of opposition to Kim Jong-Un, but the price is high. Information technology has been a useful tool for helping North Korea learn about the outside world and to set up meetings with each other.

American leaders seem content to place the full responsibility for solving the Korea problem on China. This is a mistake. China’s South Sea actions, trade practicing, and aggressive patriation in international tribunals suggest that they aspire to be a, if not the, global leader. We need to cooperate with China, letting them take the strategic lead, in resolving North Korea issues, but we need to maintain our economic assistance and political presence.

 

The ultimate goal should be to welcome North Korea into the family of nations so that they have no reason to use their nuclear arsenal. President Trump’s escalating rhetoric is certainly unconventional. Perhaps it will prove productive when Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts Kim and Trump for a weekend visit and they all toast and have a laugh about how “three wild, and crazy, guys” shook up the status quo and scared the pants off half the world.

 

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

https://www.columbiamissourian.com/opinion/guest_commentaries/guest-commentary-korea-how-we-got-here-and-where-we/article_4de93698-8216-11e7-9ec7-cbdc446f5713.html

Focus on Citizens not on Congress

I changed the background of this blog from a panoramic view of the U.S. Capitol to George Caleb Bingham’s County Election painted in 1852. Bingham (1811-1879) is well-known in Missouri for his depictions of ordinary life in the mid-1800. He served in the Missouri House of Representatives in 1848. It is an era piece for it shows only white males participating in elections. If all citizens had been paying attention to their responsibilities the past couple decades maybe we would not be in today’s chaos.

see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Caleb_Bingham

Beyond reasonable doubt is misunderstood

The Pennsylvania jury in the Bill Cosby trial has been deadlocked for five days and asked the judge for the meaning of the term “reasonable doubt” as in “beyond reasonable doubt.”  Based on my service on four juries, I suggest that lawyers and legal observers misunderstand how the typical citizen-juror thinks about the concept. Two years ago while a juror in a “criminally negligent manslaughter” case, a single juror held out over the concept “beyond a reasonable doubt.” He said “I think the defendant is guilty but I always have “reasonable doubt” about serious questions. Therefore, if the test is “beyond that point,” I vote “not guilty.”  To him, the key term seemed to be BEYOND not “reasonable” in the phrase “beyond reasonable doubt.”  Yet, whenever I’ve heard judges and lawyers talk about the concept they focus on “reasonable” not on “beyond.” Continue reading

Earth Day: Effective in promoting environmental protection?

I like nature. I hike and have a garden. I know the Missouri state flower is the hawthorn and the state tree is the flowering dogwood. I like to drink clean water and breathe clean water. I buy dolphin safe tuna.  Call me a crazy environmentalist, if you must. But wait: I  doubt the efficacy of Earth Day.  I’ve been dubious about it since April 22, 1970 despite spending several days with the late-Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, and bringing him to Columbia in 1997. Earth Day did not “start it all.”

Below is my op ed published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch in April 2010. Continue reading

Playgrounds, Federalism, and the future of Public Schools

On Wednesday, the U.S. is set to hear a Trinity Lutheran v Comer, involving a Columbia church but having national and far reaching implications. The tension between religious freedom, the establishment of religion and aid to church-related schools have been simmering in the United States since the 1960s. Organized religions and political interests can shift quickly on this issue. Continue reading