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In Session: Forged in the Crucible of Militarism: Technology, Ideology, and Race in the Making of Modern South Korea
4: Scientization of All People: Park Chung Hee and the Militarized Creation of Technology in South Korea
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
Peter B. Kwon
University at Albany, SUNY, United States
Under the Park Chung Hee regime (1961–1979), South Korea built a defense industry that played a primary role in the modernization of the nation’s science and technology sectors. Previous studies have analyzed the political, economic, and social consequences of the technology developed under Park, but only a few have examined the ways and the degree to which military technologies born during this era rendered South Korea one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world. From 1973 to 1979 Park’s military regime mobilized the entire nation for the construction of an indigenous defense industry and, in parallel, accelerated the high-tech developments required for weapons manufacturing. Under the slogans “technological self-reliance” (kisul charip) and “scientization of all people” (chŏn kungminŭi kwahakhwa), the regime’s National Scientization Movement expanded the domestic R&D and technical capacities that enabled South Korea’s independent arms production. The explosive growth in science and technology that attended this national militarization spilled over into the development of advanced commercial technologies and a skilled workforce, while also fostering a scientific nationalism that still broadly characterizes Korean industrialism today. Drawing on evidence from newly available South Korean government and civilian archives, this paper illuminates government actions as well as the individual and personal accounts of Korean scientists and engineers in detailing how state-sponsored militarism converged with civilian science and technology and transformed South Korea into a global technological pioneer.