BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Michael Shapiro, author of the book "The Shadow In The Sun." What's the main difference between the image that the American people have of the Korean people and the actuality of what they're really like?
MICHAEL SHAPIRO, AUTHOR, "IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN: A KOREAN YEAR OF LOVE & SORROW": Interesting question. I think that Americans, by and large, have very little knowledge of Koreans. I mean, Korea, for a long time, has existed, if it's existed at all in the American imagination, as someplace sort of out there and someplace between Japan and China. In that sense, the country really doesn't have much of a personality, at least hasn't really for the past generation, since the end of the Korean War. It's a country in which "M*A*S*H" was based, but which never sort of really appeared. It's the country, more recently, of Hyundai cars; it's the country of the 1988 Olympics; and it's the country of Samsung and VCRs and things like that.
But the image of Korea is of a hard-working, industrious, but seemingly unknown people. Now there are cities in the United States -- primarily Los Angeles, Chicago and New York -- which have large census of Korean immigrants. And people in those cities -- myself included, being a New Yorker -- see Koreans as very, very hard-working, very industrious, putting in six days a week -- 15, 16-hour days. Hard-working, but seemingly humorless, seemingly not at all like the Japanese and Chinese who they have come to know over the course of several decades and several generations in the United States. Koreans are different, and they can't quite get a handle on what these people are about and who they are. So I think this -- what you're talking about is almost no knowledge, as compared to only scant knowledge. And someplace beyond that there isn't really an understanding of who the Korean people are and what they're about.
LAMB: How much time have you spent there?
SHAPIRO: I've spent, on and off -- let's see .... over the course of a year and a half, probably about 20 visits. I was based in Tokyo, and we'd commute back and forth between Tokyo and Seoul, spending three weeks or so in Tokyo and then a month in Seoul and then it was a back and forth sort of thing. And so I've spent the better part -- close to a year in Korea -- a long year. The year of 1988, which was a seminal year for Korea. The world saw Korea really for the first time in 1988 with the Olympics. But there was a lot more going on there and a lot more that reveals itself about Korea. And it was for me a wonderful education in Korea and Koreans.
LAMB: What were you doing in Tokyo?
SHAPIRO: Well, I was over there because my wife is Susan Scher, who was The New York Times' Tokyo correspondent. And so we were there from 1984 to 1989. And I had written a book about Japan. And when that was done, Korea was beginning to become a big story, especially after June of 1987, when for about a month, the world got to watch Korea revolt in the streets, in a sense. And as soon as the Japan book was done, I started to work on a book about Korea and we just shuttled back and forth, often with my wife, which made the research much more fun.
LAMB: Why did you come back to New York?
SHAPIRO: Her assignment ended. There's a length of time in which an assignment goes on for. We also wanted to come back to the States. There was a feeling of -- we'd been away for almost five years, and I really felt out of touch with America. In fact, I mean, one of the real shocks was coming back to America and discovering things that in 1984 didn't exist, and in 1989, people were talking about as if it was the most familiar thing in the world.
LAMB: One statistic that's been stuck in my mind ever since I learned it a couple of years ago was that there are 330,000 Koreans that live in Los Angeles. How come so many? What brought them to this country?
SHAPIRO: I think, for a lot of Koreans, various waves, beginning in the '70s and then in the early '80s and even now, there's a sense of -- it was a poor country; there was money to be made in another country. And they could, somehow if they could put together enough money, they could move to LA or to New York and to a lesser extent to Chicago and work very hard and do well. I mean, I see it -- there are about 200,000, 250,000 Koreans in New York, and you see -- I'm more familiar with seeing them. Los Angeles has a neighborhood called Koreatown; I mean, Koreans are much more established in Los Angeles than they are in New York. But the attraction, as it has been for immigrants for a very long time has been, this is where the opportunity exists.
The interesting thing, of course, is that 20 years ago, the per capita GNP for South Korea was $75. And by the time I left, it was $3,000. So it's no longer just a situation where there is no hope in Korea and only hope in America. There's perhaps greater hope in America, but Korea is by no means a country that is sort of an economic backwater. Far from it.
LAMB: Have you ever been in North Korea?
SHAPIRO: Never been to North Korea. Never been able to get into North Korea.
LAMB: Where did the Hyundai automobile come from? All of a sudden one day -- Boom! -- there it was on the highways, and now you see more and more of them.
SHAPIRO: I think the Hyundai automobile is in a sense almost a metaphor for: Where did Korea come from? That for years, Koreans were working hard and building cars and in such industries as petrochemicals and steel, and all of a sudden one day the world began to notice that the Koreans were overtaking the Japanese, that they were overtaking the Americans, they were overtaking a lot of people. You know, they had the fastest-growing economy in the world.
And the Hyundai car was just another part of that. I mean, this is a classic Korean story. Hyundai is built by a man who was a refugee after the Korean War who started a machine shop and began by repairing US Army Jeeps. And now he is the chairman -- now the retired chairman -- of this multibillion dollar industry, Hyundai, which not only makes cars but makes a lot of things. It's one of the seven large conglomerates that dominates the Korean economy. But that is sort of a classic Korean story of "I'm going to work harder than anybody else, and I'm going to take risks. And I'm going to take chances. And I'm going to -- you know, damn all the obstacles; I'm going to succeed." And that is Korea.
LAMB: What about Samsung?
SHAPIRO: Very much the same sort of thing. Hyundai stands apart, because it's -- because Chung Ju-yung, the chairman of Hyundai, represents so much the archetypal Korean survivor after the Korean War. But you have several companies like that. You have Samsung; you have Daiwa, you have Hyundai, several large companies which, beginning in the 1960s, with the assistance of the Korean government, began to get the kind of financial support and loans that they needed in order to build themselves into very, very large conglomerates and very, very successful companies. Not with a fair amount of risk-taking, and a lot of other companies failing and projects like petrochemicals which seemed to have a great future, and didn't. I mean, it's not been only unrestrained success; here has been failure.
But it's interesting when you talk to Koreans about success and failure. One of the people who I write about in the book is one of the five brothers who is the director of Jindo Furs, which is now the world's largest producer of furs. Twenty years ago, these guys were bankrupt. Their father had a bus repair business that had gone under, and all their friends who had lent them money over the years were coming calling, saying "Pay up." And they were stuck. They had no way of raising money. They had no business prospects.
They tried first by selling little paper umbrellas, the kind that are used in drinks in Polynesian restaurants. Well, that didn't work. And then there was a miniature Dutch shoe business that they were going to try to make a go of, and that didn't work. So one of the brothers got the idea of writing to all the furriers in Manhattan, which is a large fur district, getting the names at the US Embassy in Seoul, saying, "If you send us your scraps, we'll do something with them. We'll make pom-poms." So they got an order for 10,000 pom-poms, and Jindo Furs was born.
Now so here's a group of five brothers, who were all refugees of North Korea who came south during the Korean War, who were down on their luck, who were broke, and who now have outlets all over the world, who are driven around in Mercedes by their chauffeurs, who have homes in different countries, but who still feel and still carry with them what they call this refugee mentality. "It's never enough. We still have to show the world. We can't let up." And it's such an interesting story to hear, especially in the context of success in America, especially in the '80s and going into the '90s now, where there's much more of a sense of ease about it. You've worked hard, and then there's a sense of you can enjoy life. Well, the Kim brothers enjoy life, but there's a sense of, "Yes, but it could all come crumbling down tomorrow. We can't let up for a second." And it really is sort of, again, an archetypal Korean success story.
LAMB: How about some basics? How many people live in South Korea?
SHAPIRO: South Korea has a population of about 40 million. There are 25 million Koreans north of the border. And one of tragedies of that in which all Koreans -- both North and South -- perceive as a tragedy is that you have, since the end of the Korean War in 1953, 10 million families split up -- 10 million families who have had no phone contact, no letters, no nothing. And, in fact, it's one of the ongoing issues of tremendous pain for Korean people. And pain and suffering and bitterness are really a central part of Korean life.
LAMB: Have there been any Western journalists that have gotten into North Korea?
SHAPIRO: Very few Americans. There was a sports festival there last summer, in which a lot of Western reporters got in. By and large, you'll have reporters from Europe or Australians will be getting in. But it's very, very rare for an American reporter to get in into North Korea. I mean, again, it's this very, very tightly controlled society in which there's been almost no information allowed in from the outside world. All radio stations are controlled. You're hearing the single voice of the North Korean leader, Kim Il Sung. And it's sort of an impossible, impenetrable place. But then, perhaps as we've seen as an example in the past six months, impossibly impenetrable places are no longer so impenetrable.
LAMB: How big is the land mass of South Korea?
SHAPIRO: Ooh. It is a peninsula in terms of square miles that I could -- that is a figure that I wouldn't even hazard a guess in terms of square miles. It is a country certainly smaller than Japan. In fact, one of the senses that you get about Korea is that it is a very small country. Again, I've only seen half of the country, and it's the southern half, the peninsula. But you're forever reminded about its small size. You're forever reminded of a country that is dominated by mountains, very rocky mountains. I mean, there's a formidable quality to the mountains of Korea in which the country feels very compressed.
You also add into that the fact that one out of every four South Koreans lives in Seoul, a city that is surrounded by mountains in which you have a feeling of you have 10 million people in a basin, all scrambling, all trying to get ahead. I mean, the feeling of Seoul is this cacophony of sound, of just a million sounds at once -- smells, sounds, screams, cries -- I mean, it's all of it at once. But I guess the best image that I would have is that imagine a city of 10 million people, and there's a dime in the middle of the city, and everybody's trying to pick it up at once. That's what it feels like.
LAMB: What's the difference between Seoul and Tokyo?
SHAPIRO: Tokyo is a city of 12 million people in which nothing ever goes wrong, in which it sounds like -- when you hear commercials for the new Japanese luxury cars, and they make a point of letting you know what the sound is like, which is to say that there is nothing but a very, very low, steady hum. That's what Tokyo feels like. I mean, I can tell you that, in 4 1/2 years in Tokyo, I saw two minor fender-benders, and I never saw any violence in the streets.
Seoul is nothing like that. Seoul is loud and aggressive and pushy and vibrant and electric and exhausting -- it's all that. It is a city that lives in the streets, whereas Tokyo is a very, very contained place, where life is predictable. The only thing unpredictable about Japan is the weather, and the weather is not great.
LAMB: Go back, not forever, but go back to Korea long before 1953. When was it was a country, when it was combined?
SHAPIRO: OK. Korea has a history of 5,000 years, not all of them happy -- in fact, more of it unhappy than happy -- a country that has been divided for more of its history than has been a single unified country. The Korea that we would think of as the single entity of Korea, if the border at the 38th parallel was to disappear -- really began existing in the 14th century, with the unification of the peninsula. But before that, you had warring states -- three warring states at one time, two warring states at another time. And it was always a contentious society.
Add to that a country that, because it was between two strong countries -- Japan and especially China -- was forever being buffeted by foreign invasions. I mean, Koreans will tell you, in the course of the chronology of their long and very often tortured history, that they have suffered no less than 976 foreign invasions, some of them successful, some of them not. And so what you've had is a country in which, if geography is Japan's blessing, if being cut off from the rest of the world has allowed Japan to truly maintain its homogeneity and also be a country that was conquered only once, and that was in 1945, and we've seen what Japan has done to its conqueror, Korea has suffered the curse of geography, a peninsula adjoining China, close enough to Japan so that Japan was able to invade and ultimately to colonize it in 1910, in which the Koreans pay tribute to the to the court of China for 250 years. And so it's really a contentious society that has had to bend before the forces of great power.
And that encapsulized history really speaks volumes about why Korea and why Koreans are the way they are. Because if there is an operative emotion and there's an operative quality to Korean life, it is bitterness. I mean, the Koreans have a word for this, which is han. In fact, one of the interesting things about meeting Koreans for the first time and saying -- well, what I'm writing about, which is a lot of what this book is about, is han. You're often asked, "How do you know about han?"' And you'll say, "Well, I've heard about han" or "I was told about han" or "I've read about han." And then they'll say, "Let me tell you about my han."
And han can be collective. It can be the great sadness of the past; it can be the division of North Korea; it can be anger atthe very, very repressive regimes that ran South Korea for much of its history; it can be ongoing abuses in human rights by the government; it can be relations between parents and children. I mean, it's an ongoing, bubbling bitterness, which never really goes away.
LAMB: Does everybody have it?
SHAPIRO: Everybody has it. To be Korean, in a sense, is to feel this han. The interesting thing is that Koreans -- not only because of their history, but embellished by their history, are contentious with each other. And so what you get is, when you talk to people who came originally from North Korea -- I mean, talk about han. I remember talking with a writer about this. And he said, "Well, of course, you know, we people in the north never felt that. It was only people in the south. They're weak. We never felt that way."
And then he began to tell me the story about the day that the Japanese, in 1940, decided that all Koreans who had -- they had then colonized -- had to give up their Korean names and take Japanese names, could no longer speak Korean but had to speak Japanese, and how they went to the family tomb and bowed before the tombs of their ancestors and begged forgiveness, which was -- if that's not han, I don't know what is.
And so, it's really a sense that everybody has it. Everybody would like to get rid of it. Everybody knows that they never really will, but everybody's life is a struggle to try to relieve themselves of this seemingly unresolvable sadness.
LAMB: Isn't there some square named Han? I remember reading some ...
SHAPIRO: There's a river.
LAMB: A river, yes.
SHAPIRO: The river that runs. Yes. Different Han.
LAMB: Different Han entirely?
SHAPIRO: In fact, one of the problems that I had is that my level of Korean is is poor to minimal. And one of the problems was that I would forever be referring to han. And people would look at me and say, "Han? Oh, han." I never quite got it right. But the Han which you're speaking of is the river that runs through the center of Seoul.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like: "The Shadow in the Sun," by Michael Shapiro. We'll come back to Korea in just a moment. Where did you grow up?
SHAPIRO: I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, which is very, very far away from Seoul, South Korea, let me tell you.
LAMB: Where did you first college?
SHAPIRO: I went to college at Brooklyn College, and then I studied journalism in graduate school at the University of Missouri. And I worked in newspapers in New Jersey and then in Chicago and decided to start writing for magazines and subsequently writing books about eight years ago.
LAMB: And you married the person that writes the introduction for your book,
SHAPIRO: I did. But I married her before she wrote the introduction to the book. I mean, we got married in 1984 and moved to Japan a month later. And my wife was the Japan hand, if you will. She had studied Japanese history and she had lived in Japan for a year when she had just graduated from college. And so, for me, Asia was all brand-new. But what the interesting thing was that, while my wife knew Japan, she knew very little about Korea. And one of the real pleasures of this book was discovering this country together -- a country we knew nothing about.
And as I say in the book -- with more than a little bit of embarrassment -- that here I am writing this book and admitting that, in 1984 and even in 1985, before I went there for the first time, I didn't know anything about the country. I had vague memories of some of the names of the people who, you know, were in power. There was the president was Chun Doo Hwan, and I suppose I would have liked to have thought that I had heard of him. I had heard of Park Chung-Hee, who had ruled the country for 18 years, because 18 years is long enough so that his name crops up enough and sort of sticks in the mind. I knew about Korea from "M*A*S*H." I knew very little about Korean exports, because nobody was thinking then of buying Goldstar or Daiwa or Samsung or Hyundai.
And I was truly embarrassed to know that -- to admit to myself that I didn't remember -- as a lot of Americans don't remember -- that in 1980, in May of 1980, Korea had its own Tiananmen Square, that the government sent in the army to the southern city of Kwangju, and it killed between 191,000 and 192,000 people in the course of a civil uprising that went on for the course of several days. And I suppose that I probably had read about it, and I forgot about it because Korea, again, was a country that didn't register -- in one ear and out the other.
And only when I got there and began to see what the country was about and what the people were about -- people who are at once terribly captivating and exhausting, who get you caught up in their lives and then just leave you drained by the stories that they tell you about their lives, people who at times tell you how much they love America for coming and saving them in 1950 and then scream in your face, "Yankee, go home." I mean, it's all of this at the same time. Again, imagine spending a weekend with 40 million relatives in a summer house, and it's raining out. All these feelings come out and, at the end of the weekend, all you want to do is take a vacation.
LAMB: All right. If somebody tells you that -- two different scenarios -- that tonight you're going to have dinner with 10 Japanese or 10 Koreans, both from Asia, what's the difference between the evening?
SHAPIRO: Well, the Japanese evening would be spent -- first of all, both evenings would be spent, if it was a group of men, it would be spent with a fair amount of drinking. But the Japanese conversation would be predictable. And I say this in all deference, you know, to the Japanese, who I know and like. But we would regard conversation differently than the Japanese would. And we do. Japanese would sit and go, "So, do you like eating raw fish? You can you eat with chopsticks? Do you like Japanese sake?" And the conversation would proceed in a very predictable, nice way.
Even if we were great friends, even if we had known each other for years and we had a truly warm feeling with each other, the kind of conversation that we would think of in the States as conversation -- "So what do you really think about this? What's going on at home? Is everything OK? How's the boss? How's your work going? You seem kind of ..." -- that sort of thing doesn't really happen, because it would be contentious, and people would be in the position of having to perhaps disagree with each other, and nobody would like it. It would be too terribly uncomfortable. And so what you have is an evening of getting drunker and maybe singing, and sort of toasting each other and smiling and drinking some more and then helping each other get into cabs and make sure that everybody got home OK.
Korea would be very different. It would be, again, the drinking, because the drinking, the alcohol, is the great lubricant. It allows you, it frees you up to say what you want to say. But I can't tell you how many times I've heard stories or watched situations where a group of Korean men have gone out for the evening, and first they talk and they've gotten drunk. And they've argued with each other, and you can hear the voices raised. And Korean is a percussive language, to put it mildly. I mean, it sounds different than Japanese, which is much easier. You can hear Koreans arguing; you can hear them disagreeing. You can hear them taking issue with what the other one is saying. You can hear them competing with each other for whose family comes -- you know, is better educated and who makes more money and who is in the higher station at the table and who's lower, whose kids are smarter and whose kids didn't marry as well.
But it would all be very friendly, and then they would perhaps slow dance with each other if there was music playing.
SHAPIRO: Men. Because there's a lot of physical affection with Korean men. You go to the ballpark, and men are leaning on each other's elbows and have their arms around each other's shoulders. Emotions and feelings are expressed very openly. And then there'd come a point where somebody would get into an argument with somebody else. And there'd be a fistfight -- very different from Japan; different from America, too.
LAMB: How does the fistfight end?
SHAPIRO: Fistfight ends when finally somebody breaks up the fight. I mean, I've heard stories from New York City police officers telling me the same kind of thing, about going to a Korean social club at night where a fistfight began, and they had to break up the fight. The fistfight ends and then it's forgotten; people are still friends the next day.
LAMB: What's the origin? Does it all emanate in China? And did people come to Korea from China? Did they go to Japan from China?
SHAPIRO: It's interesting. There's a strain of historians in Korea who call themselves amateur historians. I should explain -- who call themselves nationalist historians, who believe that it all really begins with them, that everything that we see as Chinese began in Korea. By and large, that's really not the case. I mean, a case could be made that when Korea -- a lot of things -- that civilization began in China and worked its way to Korea. And in turn, a lot of things came from Korea to Japan. Japanese pottery began in Korea -- that is all Korean in its inception. Buddhism came to Japan via Korea. Korea was the middle point from which civilization passed from China on to Japan.
The interesting thing is that when things came into Japan -- and I think this is a question of culture as well as geography and a lot of things combined -- they went through a process which is sort of a filter, like the Japanizing machine. Baseball exists in Japan, but it's not American baseball, it's Japanese baseball. Pottery isn't exactly the pottery that one would see in Korea. It's taken on a Japanese form. The Japanese are forever belittling themselves as the world's greatest borrowers, and that they're lacking in originality. That's not really the -- that's somewhat disingenuous on their part. The fact is, the Japanese take things from other places and make it their own.
The Koreans, on the other hand, are very different. For instance, Confucianism. There's a chapter in the book about Confucianism and where it fits into this society, because Korea is sort of the last great bastion of Confucianism.
LAMB: What is it?
SHAPIRO: It's a set of beliefs that Confucianists believe is a religion and which most people would regard as a philosophy, that is really about how nation-states are ruled. It's really a philosophy of relationships between weaker and stronger, elder and senior; a series of relationships. The interesting thing is that, in Korea, Confucianism has endured. The rites to Confucius, the rites of Confucius' disciples, are still celebrated in Korea. And the authority by which Korea is forever being as having imposed upon it is always done in the name of Confucianism.
LAMB: Who was Confucius?
SHAPIRO: Confucius was a Chinese philosopher, who, drawing upon ideas that preceded him centuries before his time, developed a philosophy about the relationship between ruler and ruled, the central ideas being that a ruler is entitled to absolute fidelity from his people and obedience by his people, so long as that ruler maintains a very elusive concept called the mandate of heaven, which means that he is showing to his people that in return for their obedience he is being kind and he's being considerate and he's being reciprocal in extending his kindness to them.
The problem with Confucianism, of course, is that rulers don't always tend to be very nice and benevolent people, although they say they are. And so what you have is a series of relationships that the world has come to know, and which seems very rigid and very hard. And which is: The ruler says -- or the father or the older brother or the boss or the -- anybody in a position of power says, "You have to do this. You have to obey me," without, of course, going along with the second half of what Confucius spoke about, which is you've got to be kind in response.
The interesting thing is, is that Korea is a country, as we're seeing now since June of '87, the three years since Korea's revolution of rising expectations, in which people are on one hand, respectful of authority. And Korean democracy will never be American democracy. The things that make Korea Korea are different -- inherently different than our qualities that make America America. By the same token, there's a degree of authoritarianism in that. People will respect their boss to a certain extent, although, they'll be resentful of it, because the boss will have to show, ultimately, that he is at least displaying some degree of reciprocity of kindness, of goodness.
Let me encapsulate it all this way. In 1987, Chun Doo Hwan, the then president, much hated, much feared ...
LAMB: By the way, how did he get there?
SHAPIRO: He got there the way Korean presidents had always gotten there. He shot his way to power. It was a military coup that followed several months after the assassination of Park Chung-Hee. Park came to power in a military coup in 1960 and ruled until his assassination by head of the KCIA in 1979. Two months later, Chun seized power in a military coup, aided by the present president, Roh Tae Woo, and took off his uniform and in that spring declared himself president, and tried to anoint himself with the mantle of respectability with the mandate of heaven.
But he never had it. He never managed to convince people that he was worthy of their obedience. And so, what happened was, in June of '87, when Chun went too far in the way that he was allowing the country to perhaps choose its next president, and told them that essentially they wouldn't be able to be given that chance. Here's a country which is 99 percent literate, in which the president of the country, who has seized power eight years before, tells them, "You're not ready to choose your own president. You're too immature." They rose up against him. And what you would hear time and again from people was, "He had lost the mandate of heaven," not that he really ever had it, but they put it in that context.
And at first you -- I remember hearing this and saying, "Come on. This is just a little too mysterious. Surely, it must be something more pragmatic than that." But people said it, and people felt that he had lost the ability to rule them, that they didn't have to listen to him anymore. They hated him, and they were afraid of him, but they listened to him. And then he went too far, and they stopped listening to him. And that was the end of it.
LAMB: Is this the closest today that they've ever been to democracy?
SHAPIRO: They have had attempts at democracies several times in the history of South Korea. There was never anything seriously approaching a democracy in the hundreds of years that preceded that. It was a kingdom that later became an empire, but it was basically a kingdom.
LAMB: Run by a king?
SHAPIRO: Run by a king -- a succession of kings, some great, many not. And interestingly enough, at the turn of the century, as the West began coming to Japan, and in coming to China as well, there was a movement within Korea, among Korean intellectuals, to bring the Japanese in, because the Japanese would somehow be perceived as being a strong enough force to wrest the country free of the shackles of its obsolete, decayed kingdom, that was the Yi dynasty that was still ruling it, and had been ruling it since the year 1400, in a various succession of kings. The irony, of course, is that the Japanese were invited in, came in and ultimately colonized the country.
LAMB: What year?
SHAPIRO: They came in in the early part of the 20th century and annexed Korea and made it a colony in 1910.
LAMB: When did they leave?
SHAPIRO: They left when they lost the war in 1945. In fact, well, the day in Japan, August 15, 1945, which is a very sad day in Japan, is Liberation Day in Korea. It's the day that they were free for all of about two weeks, until we came along.
And not knowing what to do with this country, and not knowing anything about it, and not having really any plans of what to do with Korea, came into the country and occupied it. The Russians were descending from the North, because they had entered the war against Japan late; we had arrived in the South; and very hastily one night, the major in the Army Intelligence, named Dean Rusk, and another officer, had to quickly decide, "Where are we going to divide this country into an American sector and a Soviet sector?" and chose the 38th parallel.
LAMB: Dean Rusk of secretary of state fame?
LAMB: How did he get there?
SHAPIRO: He was in the Army intelligence, and this was an Army decision. They had to quickly make a decision about where are we going to divide this country in half and they chose the 38th parallel. From that moment on, the seeds for anti-Americanism in Korea were sown because even though you can present a -- South Koreans, especially, young students' arguments about the Russians were descending and, you know, Kim Il Sung was going to take over the whole country -- do you want all of South Korea to be like North Korea? -- they still look at that moment, of a great power, the United States, coming along and splitting their country in half as the great betrayal.
Now in the years that followed, Korea had 12 years, from 1948 to 1960, of truly corrupt, awful rule by Syngman Rhee, who was the first president of South Korea, an elderly man whose rule ended when he stepped down in 1960. And there was a brief attempt at democracy, but it didn't hold; Park seized power. After Park's assassination, there was another brief attempt at forming some sort of Korean democracy; then Chun seized power. And Chun was really in charge. So now in a sense -- we are closer, in a sense, to a democracy -- a Korean democracy, than really any other time.
INTERVIEW: Is North Korea's closest ally today the Soviet Union?
SHAPIRO: Well, not according to to the North Koreans, who responded, I think, with a tremendous degree of alarm to President Roh Tae Woo's meeting with Gorbachev in San Francisco. That was a tremendous blow to the North Koreans. The sense that you get is that the North Koreans have truly isolated themselves, that they have become a difficulty, that China has been trading with South Korea for years, that the Soviets are very, very keen to have South Korean technology and South Korean investment come to help them try to fix their their economy. And so, the fact that Roh met with Gorbachev was a tremendous blow for the North Koreans.
And I don't -- in terms of great powers, I mean, they're really running very low on allies. And they're feeling, my sense is, as much as you can ever really know about what the sense of North Korea is -- that they're terribly isolated right now.
LAMB: Well, this is really off the subject, but Roh Tae -- I've heard it pronounced several ways -- Roh Tae Woo (pronounced Ooh) and Roh Tae Woo.
SHAPIRO: Roh Tae Woo.
LAMB: How do you get Noh out of Roh?
SHAPIRO: I think that the characters to his name -- this is the stories that I heard -- the characters of his name is Roh, but it's Noh. But I think what happened, is that he didn't want it to be perceived as Mr. No. So he sort of -- it somehow became Roh, even though his name is Noh. I mean, it's sort of a complicated thing.
LAMB: 1988 -- The NBC coverage of the Olympics, the famous boxing match --
SHAPIRO: Oh, yes.
LAMB: What was that all about?
SHAPIRO: That was about han. I don't mean to sound too flip about saying that, but I think it really was. The more I began to think about it after ...
LAMB: Again ...
SHAPIRO: ... I have to ...
LAMB: ... let me go back to ...
LAMB: ... han. What is it again?
SHAPIRO: Bitterness. What the world saw then was actually a fascinating exercise in -- it was not particularly rare for Korea, only rare that it happened in one moment when the world came to watch. Quickly, what happened just for those who don't remember, is that there was a boxing match involving a South Korean boxer and, I believe, a Hungarian boxer. The judge, who was from New Zealand, penalized the South Korean boxer several times, and, ultimately he lost the fight. At the announcement of the decision with the South Korean fighter and the Hungarian fighters standing on either side of the New Zealand official, the Korean boxing officials ran into the ring, and started attacking this judge. The Korean fighter stepped into the ring and sat down in his corner and sat there for over an hour in protest. And there was this huge fight. You know, the judge from New Zealand had to leave the country for fear of his life.
The first day after that brought pronouncements of shame and embarrassment. "How could we have done this? Everything was going so well. How could we have embarrassed ourselves in front of the world this way?" And then the next day, it changed. And especially it changed in an outlook toward the foreign media, especially at NBC, which had replayed this amazing scene over and over again, as anybody would have, because it was truly an amazing scene. "How could you show the world our embarrassing ourselves?" I mean, the logic sounds a little peculiar, but that's really what it was about.
LAMB: Now let me stop you here and ask you: Was it not shown on the Korean television?
SHAPIRO: It was shown -- Koreans knew about it. It was shown on Korean TV, plus, it was also shown on Armed Forces Television, which you can pick up in many parts of Korea. So Koreans knew about it. What they were embarrassed about is that the world knew. The outside world saw Koreans embarrassing themselves -- and embarrass themselves, they did. But the reaction from it was the thing that was telling about it because what they felt was that NBC and the Americans should have protected them. I remember hearing from Koreans afterwards such lines as, "You're our older brother. Why don't you take care of us? Why don't you look after us a little better?"
Of course, if Americans would even suggest that they were the older brother of South Koreans, they'd be terribly offended. I mean, "How could you say that? Our our country's 5,000 years old; yours is not even 250. You can't call us your older -- our older brother. We're older than you are." The point is, is that it really sort of goes to the heart of the Korean ambivalence about themselves and about America. But what it's really about there is that something happened; something went wrong. They were embarrassed, and then they were angry. And they were angry about having been embarrassed.
And what they did is, they looked for a victim. They didn't look inward. They didn't say, "We are responsible for this. We did this. Koreans did this." They said, "You aided and abetted in this -- letting the world see us make fools of ourselves." And it was a very telling moment, because it was a very painful moment to watch, because the Koreans were so angry at Americans. I mean, NBC officials had to turn around their badges for fear of getting spat at in the street.
LAMB: During these last couple of years, has that had a lasting impact on the relationship?
SHAPIRO: I don't know that it necessarily had a lasting impact, but I think people took something away from that. But it's all part of the larger picture. It's all part of this larger feeling of: Koreans are misunderstood and not respected. They're taken lightly by Americans.
LAMB: By the way, is there such thing as han in China or in Japan?
SHAPIRO: You talk to Japanese about it, they're a character for it, but it doesn't exist at all in Japan. It's interesting. When you ask Japanese businessmen, for instance -- you know, in casual conversation -- actually, I should explain that a Japanese businessman friend of mine characterizes his friends as follows: cynicism and resignation -- "Life isn't going to be so great, and there's nothing you can do about it."
Korea is about cynicism and resignation, too. But in between there's resistance -- "Life isn't going to be great, and I won't accept that. I won't accept that. But I have to accept it ... and I'm angry about having to accept it."
LAMB: Relate that to the American cynicism and resignation. Do we have any of that?
SHAPIRO: We're -- I think, "Tomorrow's going to be better." We have -- "Tomorrow's going to be great. Tomorrow's going to be wonderful for us." I mean, that's how we see the world. We...
LAMB: Why do we see it differently than they do?
SHAPIRO: Because we are a country that is a society that did not grow up encumbered by tradition that held us back. You can come here from from someplace else, and you can start your life anew, and the future held endless possibilities in this giant country. Even if you failed in New York, you could go to Chicago; if you failed in Chicago, you could go to Phoenix; if you failed in Phoenix, you can go to LA. The point is that it was endless possibilities. It was a country whose -- it was founded on the premise of a dream, essentially, that everybody can do better here. You can make your life better here, and not encumbered by tradition. I mean, you look at things in the Federalist Papers, about the whole idea of America being unencumbered by the past.
Well, of course a society that is 5,000 years old -- is nothing if not encumbered by the past. And Korea carries that past with it, which makes it a country that, on one hand, lives in the past and lives in the future, but the present is a very difficult time.
LAMB: Did you spend any time in China?
SHAPIRO: No, I didn't. I've never been to China.
LAMB: Take Japan and Korea ...
LAMB: ... the relationship between those two countries today. You have 750,000 Koreans that live in Japan ...
LAMB: ... who aren't citizens, can't vote.
LAMB: Why are they there?
SHAPIRO: They're there because a generation ago, their relatives were brought over to Japan as slave laborers to work for the Japanese war machine.
LAMB: Before '45.
SHAPIRO: Before '45. They were brought over in the '30s, in the early '40s, and 800,000 of them brought over. And they stayed on in Japan after the end of the war, and they continue living in pockets of Korean enclaves, most especially in the in Osaka, which is Japan's second-largest city. But the Japanese have always discriminated against them. They've always just forced them to be fingerprinted unless they become Japanese citizens. They force them -- if you become a Japanese citizen for years, you have to take a Japanese name. And they do not allow for a separate minority -- a separate group that has its own cultural identification, as we would. That wasn't allowed in Japan. So it was always a very -- it remains difficult in Korea. I mean, you are sort of on the outside looking in.
LAMB: Are there any Japanese in Korea that live there?
SHAPIRO: It's -- no. I mean, Korea's is truly a homogeneous society. It's all Koreans.
LAMB: What about democracy? The reason I'd asked you about China, is looking at that part of the world, you have a democracy in Japan ...
LAMB: Would you call...
SHAPIRO: A Japanese democracy. One ruling party that's been in power for over a generation that has managed to withstand a political scandal that would have forced out most any other government you can think of. It's Japanese democracy. It's not our democracy; it's theirs. So...
LAMB: What's the difference?
SHAPIRO: The difference is that people have lower expectations about what their government is going to offer them. And we have -- in a lot of ways, there's so much contentiousness, certainly at times an adversarial relationship with our government. And also there are mechanisms within the government that make it contentious, a system of checks and balances. Where in Japan, it's not contentious at all. It's not adversarial at all. You have an opposition there, but it's an opposition, really, in name only, you know. Any opposition that couldn't win power after the Recruit scandal, and after a prime minister had to resign, and a second prime minister had to resign, is really a truly toothless opposition.
The thing is that the Japanese don't see their government as something that's going -- that will somehow make life better for them. They don't feel entitled to that the way that we would. They wouldn't vote out a government that wasn't doing enough for them. As long as things are going OK, as long as the economy is moving all right, they'll close their eyes to other things. They'll be upset about it, but they'll sort of look the other way.
And Korean democracy, such as it is in its embryonic stage right now, is a different thing entirely.
LAMB: Compare the three. In the United States, someone could truly be born in a small town and rise to being president of the United States. Could that happen in Japan?
SHAPIRO: It would be hard. In Japan, not unlike in Korea, there are certain parallels here, too. In Japan, he could be born in a small town, but he'd better do well in elementary school now, because he'd better get into a good high school, because if he can get into a good high school, the odds are he'll get into a better college. If he gets into a better college, especially if he gets into Tokyo University, then he's in position where he can really begin to do -- you know, he can perhaps join the bureaucracy, which is separate.
LAMB: What about she?
LAMB: Can she?
SHAPIRO: There was a lot of talk last year about Takaka Doi, who is the leader of the Japan Socialist Party, perhaps becoming prime minister someday. Well, that wasn't really going to happen. It was a very interesting story for us to look at, I mean, the rise of a woman's movement in Japan, but that really the odds of that happening were not great.
I should explain also, that you don't necessarily have to go to Tokyo University in Japan in order to be able to become a politician. What you have to do is, you have to get elected. You have to become an affiliate of the local chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party, the ruling party in Japan, forever. And you have to be taken under the wing of an elder statesman in the party. And money has to be directed your way because you are seen favorably by the party, and with money, you get re-elected time after time. And by moving up within the party hierarchy, one day, if you haven't offended anybody, if you're perceived as, you know, as a good man, then one day, perhaps, you could accede to high government position. You don't necessarily have to have gone to Tokyo University. But there's definitely a track. You can't explode out of nowhere with the power of television and become prime minister of Japan.
LAMB: There's a Communist Party in Japan?
SHAPIRO: There is.
LAMB: Your wife writes in the introduction that communism is not allowed in
SHAPIRO: That's right. For years, I mean, possessing books that would in any way -- I'm not talking just about Marx; we're talking about something that was even sort of remotely suggestive of communism was against the law. There were -- until '87, there were about, oh, there were hundreds of banned books. I think the number was well over 600 banned books, and possession of them was a criminal offense. Here is a country, after all, that was founded on an ideology, and the ideology was anti-communism, as opposed to an ideology in and of itself.
LAMB: The Reverend Sun Myung Moon came to this country and started a newspaper in this town called The Washington Times. Could I go to Korea and start The Korean Times?
SHAPIRO: As an American friend who has lived in Korea most of his adult life says, "There really isn't room in Korea -- making it in Korea, essentially, for a non-Korean." And I think that you can do well as a Japanese working for a Japanese company or an American doing well and working for a company that does business with the Koreans. But to make it as we would, to come to another country, and that whole idea of an immigrant making it in a homogeneous society -- I mean, it's a completely different place. Korea is a homogeneous society, and there's only room for Koreans. We are the great heterogeneous society of all times, and so there's the opportunity for somebody like Reverend Moon to come here and start his own newspaper as long as he's got the money to do it.
LAMB: Why has he done it?
SHAPIRO: You've got me there. I think that...
LAMB: Is there a connection with the government there?
SHAPIRO: It's somehow been intimated about, you know, political ties and that sort of thing. The thing that I find interesting about Reverend Moon is that he is an evangelical with himself -- preaching with himself in the middle of it, which is not an uncommon thing in Korea. Religion is a very important thing in Korea, a country where one out of every five people is a Christian; a lot of Catholics in Korea, where you have -- religion is perceived as being the thing that's going to save you, release you from the burdens of your present life and, certainly, of your past.
One of the really telling sights flying into Korea at night when you fly in over Seoul is in this great dark expanse you see a series -- hundreds -- of little red crucifixes, neon crucifixes, for all the little churches that have sprung up all around South Korea, because religion is a terribly important thing.
LAMB: Trade balance. What is it between the United States and Korea?
SHAPIRO: We're talking about a country that we used to subsidize. And then Korea began to run a trade surplus with us. And, in fact, there's been a lot of increasing -- less so now, but certainly in recent years -- there's been an increasing amount of tension between the United States and South Korea because South Korea was perceived as a protected market, and they were selling very, very well to the United States. It's ebbed somewhat, but for years it was a terribly ticklish point. I remember in 1988 presidential campaign, Richard Gephardt talking about, you know, the relative cost of a Korean car vs. an American car. I mean -- so, I think it's abated somewhat.
But American attempts at introducing American products in South Korea have not always been treated popularly by Koreans. There was an attempt several years ago, for instance, to break up the Korean tobacco monopoly. Three-quarters of the population smokes. I mean, a non-smoking section on a Korean airliner means that on one-half of the aisle, there's smoking, on the other half of the aisle, there isn't. And there was the idea to introduce American cigarettes, which have always been very popular in the black market, because American GIs would get them and they would appear in the back alleys of Seoul markets, and they were very, very popular thing to get, especially after the years after the Korean War, because it was a sign of some wealth, to be able to smoke American cigarettes.
Now, the Korean tobacco monopoly was doing a fabulous job of poisoning the lungs of young Koreans for a generation; along come the Americans who say, "Look, we want to get into this market, too." "How can you do this? How could you Americans come and, indeed, poison the lungs of our young people?" The same logic held when American farmers wanted to import beef to Korea. Cattle farmers in Korea would come marching into Seoul and burn American cars in protests.
LAMB: How many American troops currently in South Korea?
SHAPIRO: Forty-two thousand.
LAMB: How long are they going to be there?
SHAPIRO: That is a good question. I think that the sense is that the number will be decreasing. The students, who we see periodically in the spring and, certainly, in the fall -- they're throwing molotov cocktails at a phalanx of riot police -- believe that once the American troops leave, then the country's being reunified, because the Americans represent the great obstacle to reunification, because that's what the North Koreans say.
I think that there is -- one of the senses that I got even before I left Korea, which was in January of '89, was that the Americans, even if they don't leave, are certainly going to become less visible. One of the really difficult things that Koreans have to face, and Americans have to face in reaction to that, is that the American Army presence is all over the country, but in the middle of Seoul there is -- Yung San Army base, a US Army base, is in the middle of downtown Seoul. Now property values in Seoul have just skyrocketed in recent years, and the US Army has a base with an 18-hole golf course right in the middle of town. Americans are now -- I think, began to see that that was no longer viable. In fact, I think the golf course is being given over as a park.
But for years the Koreans would see, in the middle of their city, in the middle of their capital, an American Army base. They would go to one of the big entertainment districts in Seoul, called Itewan on a Saturday night, and there would be American GIs trying to pick up Korean girls. It was just so many slaps in the face, as far as they were concerned. It was so much salt in the wound. It was so much anger. It was so much bitterness. It was so much of a feeling, again, of, "You don't take us seriously. You don't respect us."
The Olympics was supposed to do that, and the Olympics, to a certain extent, worked, and, to a certain extent, the memory of the Olympics was also the fiasco of the boxing arena and NBC. The economy was supposed to do that, and, to a certain extent, it has, but Koreans still feel underappreciated and they feel resentful of Americans trying to impose their products upon them. It's all so convoluted and so filled with the past and with bitterness and with anger.
LAMB: How many Americans lost their lives in the Korean War?
SHAPIRO: About 50,000. It's about -- yeah. It was 50,000 from the UN side altogether, and I think it was about 33,000 American troops.
LAMB: That war was from when to when?
SHAPIRO: It began in July of 1950 and ended two and a half years later. Six months of intense fighting, and back-and-forth fighting between -- and then a war that really began to resemble the first World War was -- for two years, both sides talked -- North Korea and South Korea, and men died; and civilians died. And it was...
LAMB: Any value to our involvement?
SHAPIRO: If you consider that had the Americans not intervened, all of South Korea, all of the Korean Peninsula, would be under the sway of Kim Il Sung. And we need only look at what North Korea's about and that terribly repressive, controlled state to think that -- yes, I think it was an American -- it was a tremendous value. Did the war have to go on as long as it did? No. Did we see in all the hundreds of meetings at Panmunjom that happened between North and South Korea a sense of what was going on in those two and a half years of negotiations to at least achieve a cease-fire? There's been no peace treaty; they're still technically at war. It's a little bit grating because it didn't have to go on so long.
LAMB: Neither North or South in the UN?
SHAPIRO: No. They're just on observer status.
LAMB: Your book -- and we only have a few moments left. We haven't talked a lot about this book. When you approached it -- winter, summer, fall, spring, and - divide it in four sections. What's the purpose?
SHAPIRO: The purpose was to give a sense of following the seasons by showing -- from a land that was frozen solid in the course of the winter, and which is really what Korea was like in December and January of 1987-88. And as the year began, as the land began to thaw, as the year began to proceed, as the Olympics drew closer, as events began to take place, the pace of life quickened. That the speed at which the country began to march forward, away from its past, toward its past, in a very, very frenetic kind of way matched the seasons, and went from the horrible, bitter cold of winter to just the baking heat of summer, and then returned once again to the sort of calm, but forward where the harbinger of winter was there.
The point is that the mistake that I made as an American was that I looked at 1988, and I looked initially at the Olympics. And I said, "Aha, there's a resolution. There's a neat resolution to this country that's had this history of bitterness, both recent and long. And the Olympics will come along and the world will look at it and everybody will be happy, and they won't be bitter anymore." And that was a foolish assumption. And only when I began to spend more and more time in Korea did I realize that the Olympics ultimately wouldn't matter. The same way that nothing was really going to matter, because the weight of the past is the weight of the past, and you carry that with you. And it doesn't mean that life is miserable; it just means that it's not always happy every day.
LAMB: You talked about han, but we haven't talked about the other...
LAMB: Is that the other side of it?
SHAPIRO: Yes. Well, it's not so much the other side of it; it's the great leavener. It's the thing that makes Korea a society that is not at all static. I mean, if you just had han by itself, you would have this great brooding, angry society. But what djan is, is a friendship that we would regard as almost like a straitjacket, a friendship of bonds that last 50 years, of tremendous entanglements. I mean, the Koreans have a word for han -- I mean, it's sticky. They're joined together at the hip. And so what you have is, despite all the obstacles and despite the anger and despite the bitterness and despite the past, you have the sense that they're all in this together, that they are joined.
One of the most telling things about it comes at the end of the book when I was talking to a dissident, a very famous dissident in Korea named Kim Kun Tae, who had just gotten out of prison. He's back in prison now. But at the time we talked about han, and I said, "You know, I had always heard from a Korean friend -- he thought that Park Chung-Hee, this man who ran Korea for 18 years, his han was, here he was, a small man, small in stature, as the president of a small country." And he said, "Well, of course, Park Chung-Hee had han."
And then he talked about the man under whose rule he was thrown in jail and tortured, Chun Doo Hwan. And he said, "And so does Chun Doo Hwan." I -- he understood him. They were, in a sense, brothers. Even though they were enemies. Even though they were on opposite sides of everything. Even though Chun's government had thrown him in prison and tortured him in the most cruel way possible, he still understood him.
LAMB: Fifteen seconds. Where will Korea be in 10 years, in your opinion?
SHAPIRO: Hard-working, industrious, richer than it is now. And still I would guess, trying to throw off the shackles of the past..
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