tv AHA Interview - U.S.- Korea public affairs version CSPAN January 7, 2018 3:50pm-4:08pm EST
c-span two. >> north korea and south korea plan to meet for the first time in years ahead of the winter olympics. we recently spoke with a historian about the background of that relationship and the involvement of the united states. annualattending the meeting of the american historical association in washington. this is just under 20 minutes. david is a historian at the university of wisconsin, madison, who specializes in u.s./korea relations. what is the most important thing that anyone watching the news and worrying about the state of things should know about korea and u.s./korea relations. ? >> this was never supposed to be
permanent. there is no doubt whose idea that was -- the reason this matters is because the koreans see themselves as one people, one nation, and one race and would like to be reunified, especially the elder generation of koreans who still have family in the north, some of whom have not spoken in decades. this matters because in many ways koreans hold the united states responsible for that decision. there is a latent stream of anti-americanism running through korean society that does not manifest itself, but could manifest itself in a strong way under the right circumstances. >> the perplexing thing about them sing themselves as one nation's they have two different governing systems. how would that rectify itself in their minds? at the deprivation
people have in north korea versus the south, how does that fit? >> it fits by looking backwards rather than looking at the present. the koreans like to claim they have 7000 years of history on the korean peninsula as a korean nation. that is not true, but they have a very long history as one united people. they have become very divergent but that has been a recent development in the last 50 years. they look at the very long past they have had together as proof that in the future we can reunified. how exactly would that happen? that remains to be seen. it is not clear how that would happen. the official plan is for a loose confederation between the north while they try to work out the sticky details of how you would reunify the state. practically, it is impossible as long as the kim regime is in power in the north, but that
does not stop koreans from wishing that it would happen. >> to protect the partition, the united states has had troops there since the end of the conflict. from a troops are on the ground and how many are from the south? >> i believe there are 28 thousand troops on the korean peninsula right now spread and bases throughout korea. they are under a base rate concentration program right now. they will be re-concentrated to a really large base south of seoul. previously they were stationed around the dmz which means they were a trip wire force. any invasion of the south by the north would mean the immediate shedding of american blood which would guarantee american entrance into the war. that would still happen, but the dynamics have changed. they want to narrow the american footprint in south korea, concentrate the americans into one zone and get them out of the center of seoul.
previously the largest base has ended up being right in the middle of seoul. when it was originally constructed it was outside, but seoul has grown so rapidly that the base is now in the center. and fora minor curator the koreans to have a large garrison of foreign troops stationed in your capital. >> does the south korean government support the u.s. presence? >> it certainly does. in a perfect world, the koreans would wish the united states was not there. they would wish they could manage their own security on their own. view thatdely held the u.s. presence is needed but now the competing interests of china and north korea, formerly of the soviet union. the koreans would certainly like to live in a world where the americans could be gone. there is that tension of meeting the americans but not necessarily wanting them.
said it is impossible as long as the kim regime is in power. give us a history of the kim regime. leader is kim il-sung who was a guerrilla fighter against the japanese. he was an officer in the red army, he was brought into north korea by the soviet union to establish him as a puppet leader. they weredid that, probably thinking they could exert more influence on him than they could. maintainedm il-sung an independent line, both from the soviet union and from the chinese communist party. after he consolidated power in north korea. theolled north korea until early 90's, at which point his son kim jong-il took over and then with his death i believe in -- with his death in the early teens, kim jong-un, his grandson, took over. when you're watching news
reports and other ways you get information on kim jong-un, how do you see his leadership style comparing with his predecessors, the father and grandfather? >> it is a bit hard to tell. it is still a bit early. to credit a lot of the news reports that come out of north korea. it is opaque, what goes on. there are tales of extreme violence which may or may not be true. it is true that he has definitely purged some of the holdover leadership from his father's regime, including his uncle. that his stylely of leadership is going to end up and results that are all that different from what his father and grandfather pursued. should the american public know about the everyday koreans life and how it has changed in the years since the conflict? >> it is important understand
that north koreans lives very tremendously by what class they are a part of. there is the class that lives in pyongyang which has a fairly good life by north korean standards. an excellent life by north korean standards. it would not compare much to the life of a high-level bureaucrat in the west, but these people do not get hungry, they live in buildings that have heat, they have privilege. there are millions of other north koreans in what is referred to as the wavering crash -- the wavering class who live in immense deprivation and a daily struggle for subsistence. there is not a lot of starvation, but there was a time when north koreans in these wavering classes were starving by the hundreds of thousands. it is important understand that the cam regime -- that the kim regime uses under development a way of maintaining its power. this is what makes it different
from the soviet regimes. to make a mistake if we still think of north korea as a communist regime. they modified their constitution in the early 2000's to remove all references of communism. this is not a state interested in developing its people. it is interested in keeping them on developed. -- in keeping them under developed. a people that is trying to meet their own subsistence will not be a threat to the regime. >> we occasionally see these dramatic bids for a state, most recently a soldier from north korea that crossed the lines. our policy is based on the fact that we assume the north koreans wish for a better life and for some supplements -- for some semblance of a democratic process -- is that the case? >> i'm not sure that is. if you would ask north koreans, they would see the 1960's and the 1970's under kim il-sung as a golden era. they would prefer to go back to
that rather than life in the west >>. >> what is the golden era? they had economically secure lives. north korea had a robust ration system, nobody went hungry. they were developing quickly. north koreans lived in apartment. their lives were fairly good, compared to what they had under the japanese. there is an ideological element to it. any north korean defectors who live in the south find south korean existence empty because their lives are about nothing from their perspective besides the pursuit of profits, which they are taught to disparage. life in north korea's about something, it is about maintaining the north korean , about maintaining the north korean revolution and every north korean has a purpose in that struggle.
a lot of them, especially the defectors, say terrible things about kim jong-un. there are less likely to say those things about kim jong-il and you'll never hear them say anything about kim il-sung. even defectors see kim il-sung as a visionary leader and a >> what should the everyday american know about the current south korean government attitudes toward the united states and the west? >> it's important to understand south koreans have a sense of grievance against the united states. not because of the division, we divide them and establish a separate state. then we left korea in 1949. against the wishes of the south korean government, who begged us to stay. they said if we leave, the north americans will invade. then there were concrete guarantees, in the event of a
northern invasion, we would come back. those guarantees were never given. this was part of the reason joseph stalin gave kim il-sung permission. factor, itt the only was an important factor. it's one that the south koreans have not forgotten. if you go to war memorial museum in seoul, you see it laid out clearly that it was the lack of american security that encouraged the north to invade. this underlined sense of distrust against the americans. when our president does things like call and threatened to terror the u.s. korea free trade agreement, these are very upsetting to them. when he referred to the sea between them as the sea of japan , it makes south korean blood boil. i think there is a possibility a preemptive, or presented it
strike against -- pre-tentative strike against south korea could lead to a backlash against the american president. -- american presence in south korea that could have unforeseen consequences as far as our position in east asia. >> this is the historians lesson for the day, we don't understand we have a rockhard ally in south korea. moment, thathe could change drastically. it could change with a rash american decision. it andssible we can do get away with it, but nobody knows. ofeel like there is a subset possibilities as to how this can play out. we think if we strike the north first, south koreans are going to die, which is not a conclusion. i think it would make more sense from the north korean perspective to attack them not
to level so, korea, but the americans had rolled the dice with tens of millions of korean lives thinking in balance, which is what we would be doing. ask the south koreans, do you think you need the americans on the peninsula for your security? they are the greatest threat to security on the korean peninsula. >> we have referenced china a few times in the conversation. what is the current influence that china can exert on north korea? we always see from policymakers that we are looking to them to have a bigger footprint, to help stabilize the regime. what kind of influence do they have? tremendousese have influence, but it is a blunt weapon. the chinese can put pressure on the korean regime, they could cut oil exports, imports into china. theoing so, they will risk
collapse of the north korean regime. if it collapses, most of those people are not going to go south, they will go north into china. the border between china and north korea is not militarized. it is not even marked. that is the chosen route by detectors. this is not what the chinese want. they could lose a buffer between themselves and the americans in the south. on the other hand, there is a tremendous number of ethnic koreans who are chinese citizens, who live in that region and this is one of the minority populations in china that has had no problems with nationalism. the koreans are extreme and ardent nationalists and you would be inviting tens of millions of them into your country which has problems with minorities in other places. this is not at all what the chinese want. the chinese want the north koreans to behave, they want them to stop doing missile tests, but they do not have a way of forcing them to do it.
they have one button they can push and the repercussions from pushing that button could be much more severe than they want. >> let's spend a minute on japan. what are their concerns and how they matured or changed? >> the effect of this crisis on japan is alarming and one of the bigger stories that is not being told. for the first time in decades the japanese are talking about rearmament. japan has an explicitly pacifist constitution. they have no armed forces, they do not possess the right to wage war, to wage offensive or outside of japan, all of that is changing now because of the north korean threat and the japanese are beginning to discuss revising their constitution. relations between the south koreans and the japanese are not good. japanese militarism causes further mistrust among the south koreans. one way of viewing what the north koreans are doing is
forcing all of the nations involved -- south korea, the united states, and japan, to ask fundamental questions about the relationship with each other and the security of northeast asia. the answer to those questions will not be agreeable to all parties. >> in closing, as a historian, is there a metaphor you can use to describe the current situation as you're looking at it? i am thinking -- is it a tinderbox waiting for a spark or something other than that? >> a better metaphor might be some sort of precarious tower that is fairly strong but brittle, something made of iron. it is strong, but it cannot stand a lot of shocks. it can look strong and collapse suddenly. our alliances with south korea, with japan are fairly strong and
robust, but that does not mean that certain actions, particularly preventative strikes against north korea, could cause this edifice to come down with shocking speed. >> a very timely subject for historians. thank you so much for your time. >> thank you very much. >> tomorrow, we look at the results of a public opinion surveys on all americans and japanese view north korea. diplomaticssion on and military options concerning north korea's nuclear program. that is live at 7:00 a.m. eastern on c-span. sunday, mike pompeo was asked about recent developments, including scheduled talks between north and south korea. the nuclear threat, and the trump administration's response. >>
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