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In Session: Forged in the Crucible of Militarism: Technology, Ideology, and Race in the Making of Modern South Korea
1: Military Moral Education and the Changing Role of Nationalism in South Korean Right-wing Political Ideology
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
Harvard University, United States
This paper examines the content of military moral education or ideological training (chŏngsin or chŏnghun kyoyuk) and its connections to state and conservative ideology. Since its inception, military moral education has contained an explicitly political character in its lessons on Korean history and society and was a key conduit of state ideology that emphasized a potent mixture of anticommunism and ethnic nationalism, or anticommunist nationalism, whose ultimate purpose was to supply the nationalist credentials of the South Korean state vis-à-vis North Korea. Universal male conscription exposed millions of South Koreans to anticommunist nationalist narratives in the military and contributed to the consolidation of a modicum of societal consent behind the Park regime. Moral education was thus a key weapon in state indoctrination efforts during the Cold War. A close reading of weekly lessons from the 2000s shows the broad themes and arguments of military moral education have changed little since the Park Chung Hee era despite the democratic turn. Although the recent rise of anti-nationalist rhetoric by the New Right may appear to be a departure in conservative thought, there remained important continuities with the content of military moral education, namely the emphasis on the positive role of the South Korean state in their narratives, which points to the enduring legacies of the statist and militarist themes of the Park period as reflected in military moral education.