By Andy Jackson
In the February 1988 issue of Rolling Stone, humorist P.J. O'Rourke wrote of a rally during the 1987 Korean presidential campaign, ``When the kid in the front row at the rally bit off the tip of his little finger and wrote KIM DAE JUNG, in blood on his fancy white ski jacket ― I think that was the first time I ever felt like a foreign correspondent. I mean here was something "really" foreign.”
Korea: Land of creative rioting, finger chopping, floor fights in the National Assembly and the ever-present threat of annihilation at the hands of a million-man army of paranoid idol-worshiping robots. For most people in the West, a surface glimpse of Korea can look foreign indeed. A casual reader of the local newspaper in Auckland or Manchester could be forgiven for thinking that is all there is to this country.
There is much more to Korea than that of course. The good news is that more information on the country and its history, culture and ways of doing business is out there than ever before for those who seek it.
That is a relatively recent phenomenon. Colonial empires and several centuries of wars did little to spread knowledge of Korea and the rest of Asia in the West beyond the realm of a relative few ``old hands." The Joseon Kingdom's isolationist policies, followed by a generation spent as a Japanese colony and another spend as an economic backwater hardly helped matters.
Language was also long a great barrier to the better understanding of Korea for outsiders. Relatively few non-Koreans beside a handful of businesspeople, diplomats, missionaries and area studies specialists who were fluent in Korean could hope to learn much about the nation.
The rise in the economic importance of Korea helped break that stranglehold on information as more outsiders sought to learn about the country in the hope of capitalizing on its success.
Even more importantly, the growing number of Koreans who could communicate in English over the past couple of decades meant that the Korean people were increasingly able to speak for themselves on the world stage.
When The Korea Times started publishing in November of 1950, it was the only local media source in English. The Times was joined by other private and government-supported publications over the years as Korea developed and the advent of the Internet caused an explosion in the number of English-language sources of information on the nation. There are at least six Korean newspapers that have online English additions today, along with several TV, radio and Internet sources.
While there is still a need for Korean-language specialists (and a market for translators), the increase in information and opinion on Korean issues available in English means that broader groups of business, political and diplomatic specialists around the world can study and intelligently discuss the nation and how it impacts the rest of the world, with both Koreans and foreigners benefitting from that greater understanding.
I would like to think that this column has contributed to that greater understanding in some small way.
While at The Korea Times, I have had the opportunity to research and write about a variety of topics and issues; from international trade, to Taliban attacks on Koreans in Afghanistan, to the effects of Chinese pollution on the health of Koreans.
I have also written more than a few times on the need for South Korea and the United States to pay more attention to human rights issues in its dealings with North Korea.
However, the bread and butter of Great and Simple Things has always been Korean politics. From my first article in June of 2007, this column has focused on the important people and issues that make Korea's politics so interesting. In sharing my findings in The Korea Times, I hope I have succeeded in making Korea's dynamic democracy a little less foreign to international readers and perhaps a few Korean readers as well.
In any case, it has been a fun ride.
That is why I am saddened that today's article will mark the end of this column's run. I will soon be moving back to the United States with my family to begin the next part of our lives.
I would like to thank the editors at The Korea Times for their support in working with me over the past three years and look forward to working with them again in the future if the situation permits.
Finally, and in case you have ever wondered, the title of this column comes from a quote by Winston Churchill that is as apt as ever.
``All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in single words: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope."
Andy Jackson has taught courses on American government and has been writing on Korean politics and other issues for five years. He is the former chairman of Republicans Abroad-Korea. He can be reached at email@example.com.