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In Session: Forged in the Crucible of Militarism: Technology, Ideology, and Race in the Making of Modern South Korea
3: Militarized Circuits: Kang Ki Dong, the US Military, and the Rise of the South Korean Semiconductor Industry, 1953-1983
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
University of Maryland, College Park, United States
This paper situates the rise of South Korea's high-technology sector within the broader context of the Cold War Pacific. It follows the life of Kang Ki Dong, a US-trained engineer who founded Korea Semiconductor. The company would form the basis of the Samsung Corporation's semiconductor division after its acquisition in 1975. Kang's story brings into sharp relief the critical role that the US military played in the circulation of technical expertise upon which Samsung and other South Korean technology depend. Kang's early life and education were inextricably linked to the US troops' presence in South Korea. In particular, his experience "tinkering" with surplus US military parts led him to ham radio—a passion that led him to study electrical engineering at SNU, using equipment provided by US military assistance programs. Following his arrival in the United States, Kang learned and worked in an endless series of classrooms, meeting rooms, laboratories, and assembly plants funded by the US defense programs. From Ohio State to Motorola, Kang's professional experiences in the United States were driven by the military's demand for advanced electronics. Ultimately, Kang's attempts to produce semiconductors in South Korea would not have been possible without the transpacific dispersal of technologies, personnel, and capital initiated by the US military. In tracing Kang's lifelong ties to the US military-industrial complex, this paper demonstrates the transpacific and multifaceted nature of South Korea's postwar modernization.