South Korea, Censorship, and the Legacy of the Vietnam War in South East Asia

By Danielle Williamson

In 2001, a series of articles published in Hankyoreh Sinmuh, a South Korean magazine, featured eyewitness accounts of Korean involvement in the Vietnamese war. They detailed Korean atrocities in a manner unprecedented in Korean society. Hankyoreh is a cry against the status quo of the cloud of silence surrounding the over 300,000 South Korean troops who fought in the Vietnam War, known as the “forgotten soldiers” of a forgotten war. This silence has been intentional, the result of concentrated efforts by both the Korean and Vietnamese governments to consolidate power as well as integrate their countries into the global economic sphere. Official commentary on the war has been limited to subtle recognitions and slight gestures of regret in the name of economic progress for the region, leaving the history of Korean involvement in the Vietnam War obscured behind a curtain of fabricated history.

The seeds for the silence can be found in the conclusion of the Korean War. Left governing an unstable infant of a nation thrown into the context of the Cold War and facing not only forming an entirely new government, but also maneuvering within the context of complex and charged geopolitics, South Korea’s leaders turned to autocratic rule, censorship, and a chain of diplomatic decisions that often came at the expense of the country’s citizens. This was done in order to consolidate power and solidify Korea’s place on the world stage.

Syngman Rhee took the lead in establishing a precedent for censorship, enacting the National Security Law in 1949. This gave the government the authority to punish citizens for thoughts, specifically those that aimed to undermine the state and private property, by “preventatively detaining” individuals suspect of “being dangerous and processing unsound thought (Lim 85). In 1950, the Joint Investigations Committee was established with the directive of scouring the countryside for communists and Northern spies. With “no clear legal basis” (Kim Ji 30), the committee prosecuted, and, in extreme cases, executed these suspects. Though the JIC was shut down after the war, it, in addition to the National Security Law, preceded a general trend in Korean politics to use the fear of the public to alter legislative and judicial processes to strengthen leaders’ grips on power in a tumultuous political environment.

Such censorship laws—what many scholars refer to as “thought-control laws” in the context of Korea—picked up in velocity and frequency after Paris Peace Accords, especially during the reign of Chung-Hee. Upon assumption of power in 1961, Chung-Hee immediately added to the canon of thought-control legislation by passing the Korean Central Intelligence Agency Law and the Anticommunist Law (Lim 88). The phrasing of these laws was even more easily abused than their predecessors’ language. They allowed for the prosecution for not only those suspected of conspiring against the state, but also any suspected collaborators or associates—even membership in the conservative party made one vulnerable to being prosecuted under the laws (Lim 85).

Censorship solved the issue of maintaining a leader’s hold on power. An entirely different issue—and perhaps a more pressing one—was how to maintain South Korea’s sovereignty in the shadow of hostile neighbors.  This issue was dependent primarily upon the support of the United States, one half of a peculiarly codependent relationship that ultimately led to Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War. In American eyes, South Korea remaining capitalist was key to preserving the United States’ legitimacy in Southeast Asia. Note that the United States’ Cold War foreign policy prioritized economic freedoms, not social freedoms. This distinction was evident in post-war Korea’s development into a society that deeply distrusted communism—but lacked the concept of freedom of thought and speech existing as a fundamental right to be guaranteed by the government. By the time South Korea entered the Vietnam War in 1963, it had been an independent country for a mere 18 years, 14 of which had included thought-control laws as a part of normal government legislation.

And South Korea was dependent on the United States not only to maintain a military presence in the region, but also to maintain a viable economy. The war left South Korea poverty stricken, dependent on American aid to survive. Good economic conditions were not just a matter of higher standards of living, they were a matter of national security—in the Cold War era, an unstable economy was considered a breeding ground of Communism (Choi 338). Critical analysts argue that the United States, well-aware of this fact, forced Korea into entering the war by cutting back on South Korea’s desperately-needed financial aid in 1960 and then offering substantially increased foreign aid with the precondition of Korea becoming involved in America’s next front against communism. For this reason, said critical analysts have taken to calling Korean soldiers in Vietnam “mercenaries” (Kim 634).

Korea, of course, took the United States up on its offer, sending the afore-mentioned 300,000 troops abroad, a portion of its population comparable to the American force. Yet the experiences of these two forces was fundamentally different, primarily due to the culture of censorship in South Korea, which drastically altered the domestic reception to and perception of the war.

Korean veterans’ problems stemmed from not societal disgust, but rather governmental negligence—their pain, both mental (post-traumatic stress disorder was common in Korean veterans) and physical, was a dirty stain on the clean image the Chung-hee regime wanted to project. Their stories were casualties of this image, as Hwang Myung Chul, Vice President of Vietnam Veteran’s Association in South Korea, recounts: “We wanted the media to relate our pain and difficulties, but they were told not to. The Government virtually ignored our problems” (qtd. in Sterngold). This included exclusion from a 1984 court decision that guaranteed compensation for Agent Orange-inflicted damage to American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand veterans.  The government responded to the veterans’ pleas for representation with a flat denial (Sterngold).

Though Chung-Hee was eventually deposed and assassinated in a 1979 coup, discussion of Korean involvement in the Vietnam War remained muffled until the late 1990s (Sterngold).  While the continued existence of censorship laws plays some role in this phenomenon—the National Security Law remains on the books to this day (Lim 99)—it is also due in part to a widespread perception in Southeast Asia that Vietnam has “forgotten about the war” (Kim 627). In order to facilitate the friendly diplomatic relations with neighboring countries essential to modernization, Vietnam has adopted an official policy of “closing the past” (Kim 627).

Doi Moi, the Vietnam government’s economic policy that aims to integrate Vietnam into the world market and facilitate economic growth, has accompanied this. South Korea is among the governments Vietnam has reached out to—and South Korea has reached back, actively pursuing an economic partnership with Vietnam to facilitate mutual economic growth. Open discussion of the dark past of Vietnam and South Korea’s relationship is seen as an unnecessary hindrance to this economic development—a figment of the past that would only hamper the potential of the future. Thus, the Vietnamese Ideological and Cultural Commission ordered the Vietnamese press to “not draw attention to the war atrocities on the Korean troops” (Kim 631). On South Korea’s end, a Korean official recently declared “the massacres by the Korean soldiers of Vietnamese civilians should not arise as an issue” (Kim 631).

The end result of these economic policies and half-hearted attempts at reconciliation is the downplaying of the suffering that occurred during the Vietnam War, both as a result of the atrocities committed by South Korean troops and the sacrifices that South Korean “mercenaries” were obligated to make by their government.

The cloud of silence pervades.

Yet Hankoreh stands strong, joined in its mission by the Korean Truth Commission, a grassroots organization, which went so far as to sponsor the authorship of “Forgive us, Vietnam,” a song they proceeded to present as an unofficial apology to the Vietnamese, featuring lyrics such as “We as perpetrators, and you as injured victims/ Tomorrow’s dreams were thrown into the shadows of history” and “Forgive us, Vietnam/ For the tears that you shed in the darkness,/ For the shame that we left in the darkness” (Kim 632).

Until the culture of censorship in South Korea changes, shame of all sorts will continue to be left in the darkness. The government must remember that pushing things under the rug can only go so far—because, as Hankoreh and the Korean Truth Commission prove, people are bound to point out the lump in the carpet eventually. And when they do, they will uncover the discontent of a neglected people.

Lim, Chae-Hong. “The National Security Law And Anticommunist Ideology in Korean Society.” Korea Journal 46.3 (2006): 80-102. Historical Abstracts. Web. 31

Kim Ji, Hyung. “Political Dynamics in The Execution of Suspected Collaborators during the Korean War.” Korea Journal 52.2 (2012): 30-61. Historical Abstracts. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

Sterngold, James. “South Korea’s Vietnam Veterans Begin to Be Heard.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 May 1992. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.


Quantitative Easing and the European Central Bank: A Primer

By Andrew Abell

The European Central Bank’s quantitative easing (QE) program has it buying up 60 billion euros of assets every month, and they are likely to continue to do so until 2017. The U.S. Federal Reserve has employed several rounds of QE in the years since the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Talk of QE is everywhere in the news, but an adequate explanation of what it is seems harder to find. What is QE? Why are central banks turning to is for answers to lagging growth? Where is the money coming from?

Quantitative easing is a process by which central banks hope to stimulate economic growth by swapping assets banks hold for cash.

For credit markets to work, money has to flow freely between banks and from banks out into the economy. Citizens need access to money to expand their businesses, start new ones, buy homes, buy cars, etc. When access to money dries up, this economic activity goes with it and the economy and its financial markets contract.

Typically a central bank can keep banks lending by lowering interest rates. If you slash interest rates, it makes it cheaper for banks to lend between each other and get that capital to the citizens looking to grow their businesses, etc. In the wake of the recent financial crisis central banks did just that: slashed rates. But what they found was that near-zero rates were still not enough to encourage banks to keep lending. Banks had so little faith that they would get their money back from loaning to businesses and citizens in the weak global economy that they began taking that money that they could get at a near-zero rate and putting it in low-risk treasury bonds. In a tough economy it’s attractive to take a huge chunk of money at 0.25% and get something like a guaranteed 3% return.

Money can’t get cheaper than 0%, so central banks had to come up with something over and above low interest rates to keep banks lending out into the economy. Quantitative easing suggests that there is an answer in that central banks also control the supply of money. If central banks simply pump cash into the banks, those banks are going to have to make a new round of investments, hopefully this time giving it to those money-hungry businesses and individuals out in the economy. Central banks are getting this cash out there simply by buying up assets that the banks own like those 3% bonds. But why won’t the banks just buy more bonds like they did before? The hypothesis is that when the central banks are buying up the bonds, they are taking them out of the market and reducing supply. Reduced supply will drive demand up which drives interest rates on those bonds down, making bonds a less attractive investment. This time maybe banks will invest in the wider market through something like regular business loans.

How is somewhere like the European Central Bank coming up with sums like 60 billion euros a month? The answer is that they aren’t in a traditional sense, they’re simply creating it. What they are doing is swapping new money for an equal value in assets, so the net change in financial assets out in the economy is actually zero. All that is happening is that the value of these assets that are tied up are being ‘swapped’ for highly liquid assets (cash). No matter how the banks spend the cash, they will be replacing their old assets by buying new ones which will boost stock prices and keep interest rates low, all feeding into a macro-scale boost in investment.

There are two problems here, however. First, if QE doesn’t work then the central banks are left with a situation where they have pumped a ton of money into the economy that no one wants. A big cash influx like this devalues the currency (which admittedly can spur growth by making it cheaper for consumers to buy your products abroad). But if the value of say the euro is dropping, people begin to lose confidence in having euros because that money is just evaporating if the value continues to fall. In this situation central banks have served only to lose investor confidence with a program designed to do exactly the opposite—encourage investment. The second problem is that in buying up these assets central banks have developed rather fat balance sheets. Several rounds of QE in America, for example, has increased the Fed’s balance sheet from less than $1 trillion in 2007 to more than $4 trillion today. Eventually central banks are going to have to off these assets they’ve acquired, and it’s unclear what effect it will have when they do. It would seem like that process will drive interest rates through the roof, making lending difficult and leaving central banks back where they started, or perhaps even deeper in the quicksand. For now its effects are unclear, but a layman like myself can’t help but look at this non-traditional strategy with a hint of skepticism.

Europe’s Other Migration Problem

By Christopher Zhang

Imagine a place where you can travel between almost two dozen countries with no visa requirements and no passport and find work in any of them with minimal regulations. This dream is the reality in the European Union’s Schengen Area, a place that values the principle of “free movement of peoples”. Recently, however, the economic crisis and illegal immigration are turning that dream into a nightmare.

Three main problems have risen out of Schengen. The first deals with its basic economics. Eastern Europe and Portugal poorer than Western Europe, and visa-free travel and work opportunities have resulted in richer countries being swarmed with immigrations. This is only intensified by the ease EU residents not in the Schengen area – a handful of poorer countries like Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania – can obtain visas. Only one country has to give a visa for a migrant to be able to travel in all countries in the Schengen area. With the average Norwegian making fifteen times the average Bulgarian, the incentive is powerful for Eastern Europeans to leave their homes and go West, creating an influx of legal immigrants.

An even greater problem deals with illegal immigrants. With open borders, controls are at a minimum, and it is difficult to catch migrants when they have entered the area of “free movement”. The situation has become so desperate that Hungary, receiving a stream of migrants from non-Schengen countries in the Balkans, has erected an electric fence across its Southern border, complete with “attack dogs” and “watchmen”, mainly to keep Syrian refugees out of Schengen. Meanwhile, the strategy of getting a visa from a poorer Schengen country, then overstaying that visa in a richer country, has become a common route to illegally immigrating to Germany, the UK, and Norway. Since policing is minimal and visas from any single Schengen country apply to all of them, the free movement zone is a drawback in the fight against illegal migration.

The third and final problem is that Schengen is being used as a bargaining chip by desperate politicians. Unlike more contentious political environments such as the United States, the EU functions on a principle of consensus. This means there are few defined checks and balances rogue countries with radical governments can use the threat of their control over regulations to damage others. For example, any country in the EU can grant illegal migrants Schengen visas, and the recently deposed Greek SYRIZA government even threatened to make “members of ISIS” Greek nationals, giving them full rights to go anywhere in the European Union.

Due to these problems, Schengen is under attack all through the EU; many countries are defying the protocol, while others are using it as a bargaining chip. “Austria and Hungary are threatening to close their borders to migrants, and France and Switzerland are refusing them entry from Italy. Police are patrolling international rail traffic, flouting the passport-free travel rules governing Europe’s Schengen area.” The French government defended its conduct by claiming that if it followed the Schengen area’s rules, it would be a “victory for ISIS”. Worse yet are the threats that some leaders might exploit Schengen for leverage. Italian Prime Minister Renzi threatened that “Rome would start issuing migrants with temporary visas allowing them to travel elsewhere in Europe” if Northern Europeans refused to help Italy block Mediterranean migration. With leaders taking advantage of Schengen or shielding themselves from those who do by leaving the protocol in all but name, free movement seems to be collapsing.

That perception, however, is deceiving, as the defenders of the Schengen Area have stood strong. A large majority of EU parliament reaffirmed the principle, and German Chancellor Merkel, widely viewed as the EU’s powerbroker, has declared the principle as important above all others. They have clear reasons: intra-EU migration helps European economies far more than it hurts: “Recent studies by the European Commission and University College London show that intra-EU migrants are in fact net-contributors to their new places of residence. There is thus currently no evidence that intra-EU migrants are disproportionate users of the welfare systems in their countries of residence, let alone that they are ‘welfare tourists’”. Economically, Schengen helps.

The issue then lies in solving the immigration problems. One Irish paper states, “In particular, the migration crisis has exposed the flawed logic of setting up a common travel area without a functioning common asylum and immigration policy”. The root cause of these also has to do with Schengen, but in its asylum policy, not in its movement policy. Currently, the so-called “Dublin Convention”, which allows the EU to decide which countries should take refugees, is no longer respected as a convention. Ironically, it is not Greece and Italy, the worst affected countries by illegal immigration, who are breaking free, but better off countries such as Germany. To prevent countries like Italy threatening to give visas to illegal immigrants, and to open the door to legal immigration, will require a fairer asylum policy.

Fortunately for European leaders, fairer asylum policy may be coming. Recently, Angela Merkel said: “If we don’t arrive at a fair distribution then the issue of Schengen will arise – we do not want that”, and announced that Germany will receive 800,000 refugees in 2015, four times the number of 2014. Despite German prejudice against migrants and Islam, Germany is taking the lead in lifting the pressure off Greece, Hungary and Italy. Gradually, European leaders are coming to realize that illegal immigration is not just a Greek and Italian problem, but a problem for all of Europe:  only by stopping the flow of migrants into all countries can any of them have peace.

In this regard, Hungary’s border wall has an ironic element to it. European leaders may have condemned the structure, with Romania’s Prime Minister equating it to “the 1930s”. But the wall has totally stopped the flow” of migrants, admits one journalist writing against it. It is growing increasingly difficult to control migration once someone has penetrated the border defenses of the Schengen Area of the EU. In the future, EU leaders may be faced with the need to build walls around the EU, so that they do not need to build walls inside.

Evelyn, Ersanalli. “Mass-migration Fears in Europe: Some Facts about Intra-EU Mobility.” May 22, 2014.

“EU Scorns British PM over Bulgarian Migrants ‘Xenophobia'” Sofia News Agency, March 31, 2013. Accessed September 17, 2015.

“France Says Taking All Refugees Would Be Victory for Islamic State.” Cyprus Mail, September 8, 2015. Accessed September 17, 2015.

“Hungarian Police Clash with Migrants at Serbian Border.” AP Online, September 16, 2015. Accessed September 17, 2015.

Kureková, L. (2011) The effects of structural factors in origin countries on migration. The case of Central and Eastern Europe, IMI working paper WP-45-2011,

Kureková, L. (2011) ‘The role of welfare systems in affecting out-migration: the case of Central and Eastern Europe’, IMI working paper WP-46-2011, “Migrants Defy Hungary and Cross the Border; Hundreds of Refugees, Many from Syria, Stream to the EU on Foot.” The Saturday Star, September 5, 2015. Accessed September 17, 2015.

Suzanne, Lynch. “Schengen Area: History and Significance of the Border-free Zone.” Irish Times.

Op-Ed: In Defense of the Iran Deal

By Gregory Bernstein

Is the world any safer? This question is at the heart of the debate over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the Iran deal. Proponents of the deal argue that yes, the agreement which was reached between the United States and Iran will make the world safer because it contains the unprecedented level of monitoring and verification necessary to achieve the long sought after goal of ensuring that Iran cannot develop a nuclear arsenal. Those who oppose the deal argue that easing sanctions will only serve to reward and embolden Iran in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. One element which has been relatively absent from the discussion over the Iran deal is serious consideration about what other courses of action are available to the United States if the Iran deal falls through due to Congressional opposition.

The course of action concerning Iran’s unrepentant pursuit of nuclear weapons can be broken down into three broad categories: 1) a negotiated agreement such as the one reached last week by Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif, 2) the continuation or expansion of existing national and international sanctions, or 3) some form of military action. Since each course of action is designed to achieve the same end, they can all be evaluated using the same metric – how feasible and effective they would be at preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons in the near future. When evaluated using this metric, it’s clear that the first option, and the current deal in particular, is far and away the most likely course of action to yield a successful outcome.

Those who advocate for continued or expanded sanctions do so in the hope that increased pressure will weaken Iran’s negotiating position and enable the United States to reach a more favorable agreement sometime down the road. The logic used to support this line of reasoning is tenuous at best and dangerous to America’s national security interests at worst. Even if one were to assume that there is a positive correlation between international sanctions and a willingness on the part of Iran to concede to U.S. negotiating demands, there’s little evidence to suggest that the United States could have any success in expanding the existing sanctions regime. This May, Peter Wesmacott, the British Ambassador to the United States, told journalists that sanctions against Iran had reached their “high water mark” and that if the United States and Iran couldn’t reach an agreement by their self-imposed deadline, it was likely that there would be “sanctions erosion”. These sentiments were echoed by Peter Wittig, the German Ambassador to the United States who claimed that “sanctions might unravel” if diplomacy were to fail.

As the support of America’s European allies for the existing sanctions becomes ever more tenuous, the number of countries which are exempted from having to comply with U.S. sanctions regarding Iran continues to grow. In March of 2012, ten European Union countries (including France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom) as well as Japan were given six month waivers from U.S. financial sanctions which target countries that trade with Iran. Similar waivers were also given to South Korea, China, India, and Turkey and were reissued in December 2012 and June 2013. These waivers are intended to recognize that many European and Asian economies covet Iranian crude oil and are unwilling to fully halt their importations. It’s no coincidence that Iran’s largest trading partners – China, India, Turkey, and South Korea – all appear on the list of countries which have been able to continue trading with and importing from Iran. Their presence seems to suggest that sanctions, no matter how vigorously they are enforced by the United States and its European allies, are unlikely to have the full effect that many had hoped for when the United States first announced new sanctions in 2010 and 2013.

Another alternative to the negotiated agreement is some form of military action or, at the very least, the “credible threat of force”. This is the course of action most frequently preferred by hawkish conservatives who believe that President Obama has signaled weakness to the Iranians by agreeing to the terms set forth in the deal. This, of course, is not a particularly novel idea. The centerpiece of Mitt Romney’s Iran policy when he was running for president was his criticism that President Obama had yet to establish a credible threat of force and his promise to do so. Military action is also a possibility which has been implicitly endorsed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, after this deal was announced, reiterated his willingness to defend Israel at any cost – including the use of Israeli special forces to carry out an aerial attack of suspected nuclear sites in Iran. While military force or the threat of military force is an oft-talked about solution, is it a realistic one?  Most likely not. Jeffrey Goldberg, an American-Israeli journalist writing for The Atlantic opined that in a best case scenario, a successful military attack along the lines of a “surgical strike” would only serve to delay the amount of time until Iran can obtain a nuclear weapon. He writes “three things would happen in the event of an American military strike: sanctions would crumble; Russia would become Iran’s partner; and the ayatollahs would have their predicate to justify a rush to the bomb.” At that point, only a sustained military campaign would be sufficient to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and such a campaign would result in an all-out regional war which would promise to cause the Middle East to descend into chaos.

The evidence makes it overwhelmingly clear that the two most highly touted alternatives to the current Iran deal are impractical to say the least, but what about the deal itself? In the same way that detractors of the deal bear the burden of proposing alternatives, the deals proponents surely bear the burden of enumerating and defending the specific elements of the deal which will lead to a marked improvement of the current state of regional and global security as well as nuclear non-proliferation. There might be no better person to accomplish this task then Ernest Moniz, the current Secretary of the Department of Energy and former head of the Department of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Secretary Moniz, one of the nation’s foremost experts on nuclear technology, not only played a hands-on role by negotiating directly with Iranian atomic energy minister, but he has offered, in multiple statements, complete assurances that the negotiated agreement blocks every possible path by which Iran could obtain the nuclear fissile material necessary to create a nuclear weapon. His reassurances carry more than just the weight of his own word, however – twenty-nine of the most preeminent nuclear scientists have signaled their support for Secretary Moniz’s detailed claims regarding the more technical aspects of the agreement. Negotiating a peaceful solution to Iran’s nuclear aspirations didn’t require a rocket scientist. But it did require a nuclear scientist. A nuclear scientist who was able to help the United States reach an agreement which has the wholehearted support of his most well-respect peers.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is far from a perfect deal and it would be disingenuous for anyone to describe it as such. Negotiating with the leaders of a country which has spent much of the previous four decades cursing the United States is far from palatable. But it’s necessary. It’s more necessary now than it has been at any point in the past. As Iran inches closer and closer to achieving the deadliest invention in human history, we’ve crossed the Rubicon and reached the point where inaction will no longer suffice. The United States must act to prevent a nuclear Iran. If not this deal, then what?