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Archive for March 20th, 2007

Builders or Fighters?

Posted by Brian on March 20, 2007

There’s an interesting discussion going on around the Korean blogosphere about the value of the contributions made by Korean troops in Iraq. To kick it off, Andy at the Marmot’s Hole linked to a piece of online journalism that looks at the rapid development of Northern Iraq, of which the Korean Zaytun Unit is playing a part. Andy makes the point that the Korean troops are there to “aid development,” and they are doing a good job it. GI Korea responds by pointing out just how very little the Korean troops have actually done, saying that a good amount of the development that is going on would proceed as planned with or without a Korean troop presence in the area. Josh at One Free Korea chimes in as well.

I happen to agree with GI Korea’s take on the matter: Korea’s contribution to stability in Iraq has been minimal at best and their deployment there was motivated by political concerns rather than humanitarian or security issues. It was a quid pro quo agreement between America and South Korea, with SK tying a troop dispatch to Iraq with American concessions to North Korea. And this wasn’t the only case of a “coalition” “partner” receiving certain goodies in exchange for giving the Bush administration’s efforts a veneer of multi-lateralism as they pushed for an attack on Iraq. Korea may have the third largest contingent among the “coalition” “partners,” but they are still turtled up in a relatively peaceful part of the country and can’t even guard South Korean aid convoys. Nor can they patrol their own perimeter; the Kurdish Peshmerga do it for them! Meanwhile, the rest of the country continues to suffer from out-of-control violence and dozens of American soldiers are dying every month along the way.

As GI Korea said, if Korea wants to help in development then some sort of Peace Corp outfit can be put together with a much better skill set than the current soldiers have. As it is, they are doing the Iraqi people and themselves a disservice by having the men, training, and means to make a real difference in the security situation there but refusing to do so.

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Just work harder…

Posted by Brian on March 20, 2007

There was a tragic story in the Korean news a few days ago about a young boy who was kidnapped and killed as part of a plot to get his wealthy parents to hand over 130 million won to the kidnapper. While it is an indefensible action, I do take issue with one facet of the Korea Herald’s criticism of his behavior:

The motive for the kidnapping and killing is inexcusable. He had a debt of 130 million won. Instead of working extra hard to repay his debt, the kidnapper, in his 20s, chose what he thought was an easy way out. Kidnap a rich boy, get a ransom, and pay back the debt. The boy would be killed so as to make it a perfect crime. It is unbelievable that such a plan was conceived by a physically fit young man with a son of his own.

One hundred and thirty million won comes to about $138,000 in US dollars. Now, according to the World Bank, Korea’s average national income is about $15,000 US dollars per person. Doing the math, assuming an average salary, he would have to work 9 straight years and turn over every penny of his income to the bank in order to pay off that debt. Saving half of his income, it would take 18 years to pay off that debt. With a son of his own, saving a quarter of his income might be possible, but then he would be paying off his debt for 30+ years. With such a bleak future, it’s no wonder he saw his kidnapping scheme to be the easy way out.

I’m not defending his actions, of course, but the KH editorial strikes me as quite insensitive to the realities of the working class in Korea. A 130,000,000W debt is a huge debt to pay off… it’s not simply a matter of clocking in a few hours of overtime each week and clipping a few more coupons for a few years until the debt is settled. I can only imagine the pressure this guy was under… and that’s the kind of pressure that would drive a man to murder.

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