Refugees during the Korean War

Storm over Korea Part IV

7: Lee Myung Bak

Lee Myung Bak was born in Osaka, Japan on December 17, 1941, shortly after Japan attacked the US Navy base at Pearl Harbor (Hawaii). When Japan lost the war in 1945, Korea was also lost. According to WEDDINGINFASHION, the country had been a Japanese colony since 1910. Lee Myung Bak’s family found a boat to take them home to Korea. It went down along the way with everything they owned, but the family saved themselves and settled in Pohang in southern Korea, where father Lee originally came from.

As a student in Seoul in the 1960s, young Lee was involved in organizing demonstrations against dictator Park Chung Hee. For this he was sentenced to three years in prison, but did not serve three months. After his studies, Lee Myung Bak joined the large industrial group Hyundai, where he made a comet career and became head of the construction section. Among other things, he was given responsibility for building South Korea’s “blue house”, the presidential palace where he now lives. In 1992, after 27 years at Hyundai, he decided to become a full-time politician.

He entered the National Assembly and sat for two terms. But then he was expelled because he had spent more money than allowed on the election campaign. In 2002, he made a political comeback when he was elected mayor of Seoul. This gave him a platform to apply for nomination as presidential candidate for the conservative Great National Party in 2007. The Liberals were then severely weakened by a series of scandals, which overshadowed Lee’s own legal problems. Lee won a landslide victory, with almost 50 percent of the vote.

His first presidency was stormed with strong attacks from opponents of importing American beef and from Buddhists who believed he appointed too many Christian Protestants in the government apparatus. Gradually, he gained more peace of mind to pursue his policy. As president, he has invested heavily in creating high economic growth; he has launched several controversial development programs and vigorously advocated “green growth”.

In foreign policy, he has worked closely with the United States, both under President Bush and President Obama. He won a major diplomatic victory when he achieved that South Korea would host the G20 summit in November 2010.


South and North Korea – A Comparison (2010)

  • Area: North Korea: 120,500 km2, South Korea: 99,700 km2
  • Population: North Korea: 22.7 million, South Korea5 million
  • Annual population growth: N-Korea: 0.4%, S-Korea: 0.27%
  • Life expectancy: N-Korea: 63.8 years, S-Korea: 78.7 years

Speaking in storm

“… Citizens, no matter how strong the storm, we will continue steadily on the road to a prosperous nation, a caring and prominent country. The prominent people of the Republic of Korea want to build an even more prominent country.

Koreans, let us use our common forces and march forward together … »
(From the conclusion of President Lee Myung Bak’s speech to the nation on North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, May 24, 2010.)

«… The warlords are so unscrupulous that they dig their own graves. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is ready for both dialogue and war and has all the necessary means and methods to be able to defend itself. The current situation makes the DPRK even more aware of how correct and vital the songun policy [military-first-policy] is. The United States and the South Korean authorities should realize that we have reached a critical point in the tension. They should not expect to be blamed for today’s explosive situation. ”
(Statement by a spokesperson for the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the news agency KCNA on August 18, 2010:

The sunshine story

The north wind and the sun argued about who was the strongest, says Æsop in one of his fables. Then they spotted a wanderer wearing a large, thick coat.

– Let’s see which of us can get it from him, suggested the north wind, and the sun agreed to measure forces in that way. The north wind then began to tear and struggle in the man with all its mighty powers, but the stronger the wind, the closer the man pulled his coat close to him.
– Now it was the sun’s turn. It shone on the man, who soon loosened his coat a little. The sun shone brighter, and in the end the man became so hot that he had to take off his coat.

This fable was the starting point for the “sunshine policy” of former president and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Kim Dae Jung (1925-2010), who did what he could to approach North Korea in the years 1998-2003. But Kim Jong Il only loosened his coat a little – perhaps because it was still blowing cold from the other side of the Pacific.

Conflict over Korea 3