So, you think I’m crazy. Or, you think I’m a Korean hyper-nationalist. Or, you just don’t understand because you have no idea who Park Chung Hee is. In any of those cases, I shall explain to you what I mean.
I recently finished a semester long project as a senior capstone for my East Asian Studies minor. In this project, each student may focus on one aspect of the region that they find interesting. Most people in the class, having studied in either China or Japan during their semester abroad, chose to study those places. As I studied in Korea, I figured I’d write about Korea. With me so far?
Now, the topics can range anywhere from Japanese films to Chinese cuisine to Korean convenience stores. As a government major, I chose Korean politics. And not just any Korean politics, but one of the most controversial periods in Korea history: the 60’s and 70’s.
Here’s a run down of basic Korean modern history:
- 1870’s: Korean peninsula’s ports open up to foreign powers.
- 1890’s: China recognized Korea’s independence. Queen Min is assassinated by Japanese agents.
- 1910-1945: Korea is annexed by Japan.
- 1948: Korea is divided. Elections are held in the north and south, separately.
- 1950-1953: Korean War occurs.
- 1948-1961: Korea is ruled by Rhee Syngman, a US-backed nationalist with strong ties to the US and its interests.
This brings us to 1961, the year that Rhee was forced into exile and also the year that General Park Chung Hee staged a coup d’etat and overthrew the interim government that had replaced Rhee. Though he took control of the government through the military, Park eventually ran for president in the 1963 presidential elections and won (but only by a slim 1.5% of the total votes). This sparked his 18 year reign over South Korea.
And while he was elected democratically as the president of the country, he took steps to give himself nearly limitless powers in the Yushin (“Revitalizing”) Constitutional Amendments. This step was key in weighing his rule as not merely a presidential term, but an actual military dictatorship. There is no question in the minds of Koreans today that Park was a dictator (독재자, 獨裁者).
Park Chung Hee giving a speech.
What’s so controversial about this, you ask? Sure, he’s a bad guy, but what does that have to do with Starcraft, you question? All in good time, my friend.
Park Chung Hee was a simple man; he didn’t do anything extravagantly and his regular barber told stories of a man who could have been a normal next-door-neighbor having stepped into the highest office in the country. He was focused (I argue in my paper) on one thing and only that one thing: raising Korea out of the slums and bringing the country onto the world stage.
In order to do this, he created development projects to industrialize the country with five-year plans. During these phases, workers were not allowed to create unions or demand better workers’ rights or go on strike. Everyone worked for the same dirt poor salary. Newspapers, along with schools, were shut down if they spoke out against the government and its policies. There were gross human rights abuses that were flagrantly ignored because the US “needed” an anti-communist in power in South Korea to combat the growing power of Kim Il-Sung in North Korea. [There were issues with Park’s background because he had started his military career with the Japanese army in Manchuria and trained at the Japanese Military Academy in Tokyo, but that’s a different story.]
Park Chung Hee changed the country of Korea from a Third-World, back-water slum to one of the top 20 economies in the world (they hosted the G20 Summit in Seoul in Nov, 2010). Many people rightly attribute the country’s success to Park’s plans, even with the abuses of power that he created for himself. The controversy stands in the question of his legacy and how people should think of him in today’s society: should Koreans judge him harshly for his wrongdoings or praise his good deeds? What does Korean nationalism look like in today’s society and why? That’s what my paper was on.
What I realized, about 53 pages into my paper, was that Park Chung Hee was the original master of Starcraft. In order to modernize Korea, he had to manage both micro (mining minerals/domestic policies) while also holding onto the macro (what the enemy is doing/how to compete in the world market). His management of the economy and workings within Korea through the government and the military is clearly a sign that, had Blizzard made Starcraft as a board game 60 years ago, Park Chung Hee would be the world champion.
Park Chung Hee (right) with his wife, Yuk Young Soo.
TL;DR Koreans will always be good at Starcraft.