Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas in the 1960s-70s and a review of David Fields' 'Foreign Friends'

As a sequel to last year's Korea Times article about Christmas in Korea in the early 1960s, I wrote a follow-up last week about Christmas in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

As well, a few weeks ago I wrote a review of David Fields' excellent book Foreign Friends: Syngman Rhee, American Exceptionalism, and the Division of Korea. It's a very readable book; Fields impressed me with his ability to balance depth and concision in his writing. I didn’t have much time, in 800 words, to do justice to his examination of the concept of the “American mission” that Rhee made use of rhetorically other than in a single sentence which was subsequently cut for space. Here’s how the review as I wrote it begins; the first sentence of the third paragraph was excised, (while the last sentence of that paragraph was altered somewhat).
As the title of David P. Fields’ book “Foreign Friends: Syngman Rhee, American Exceptionalism, and the Division of Korea” suggests, it offers a new interpretation of one of the most controversial topics in the study of modern Korean history: the division of Korea in 1945.

In addition to serving as a biography of Syngman Rhee before 1945 and narrating a history of the Korean independence movement in the US, the book also highlights the way in which Rhee invoked the idea of the American mission before American audiences in order to gain their support.

In the late 1800s this belief that Providence set before Americans a special mission to the world compelled hundreds young Americans to sail abroad with the belief that it was their responsibility to spread Christianity, modern medicine, and democratic ideals. Rhee himself was a beneficiary of missionary work. He was saved from blindness as a child by Western medicine and educated at the missionary-run Pai Chai Mission School. There he was converted to political liberalism which led him to participate in a campaign to reform the monarchy as a leader of the Independence Club. As a result of this agitation he was arrested, and after months of torture he converted to Christianity.
As noted above, the rest can be found here.

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