The 2014-2015 Eastern Michigan University history speaker series continued with Patti Duncan from Oregon State University Thursday. Duncan presented her lecture on the Genealogies of Unbelonging: Contesting Legacies of U.S. Militarism in South Korea.
The lecture focused on the history of U.S. military operations in Asia over the last century from a feminist perspective. It also touched on neo-imperialism: the spreading of colonies across the world by Europe, the United States and Japan in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some equate neo-imperialism to the spreading of ideas and economic colonization, preferring not to call it colonialism.
Beginning in 2004, Duncan has been exploring the relationship between the U.S. and the two Koreas. In her research she became interested in the phenomenon of the children of mixed race parents in the Korean War and of the industry of trans-Pacific adoption that started ever since.
From the onset of the Korean conflict, a whole network of orphanages and adoption agencies were set up for humanitarian reasons.
A significant sex trade develops around many army camps and South Korea was no exception. In the camp towns around U.S. bases called Kijch'on in Korean, prostitution was viewed as a highly systematized but necessary evil for the time. In these red-light districts soldiers could go and party, but for the people living there it was a ghetto of extreme poverty.
Duncan is half Korean and half white. Her mother was a South Korean woman who moved to the U.S. with her husband, a Korean War veteran, and raised their family in the states.
While growing up a lot of people asked Duncan if her mother had been a prostitute. In her case however, she was a part of a small fraction of marriages that happened during the time. Often times marriages were seen as a way out of extreme poverty.
In South Korea, American-Asian students grow up with overt prejudices. And in a country where only 1 percent of students drop out of school, over 20 percent of American-Asian students drop out of high school. American-Asian children with African-American heritage have it worse. The story is similar in the Philippines and Vietnam. Both places had U.S. military intervention in the previous century.
There are few places on Earth that have changed as dramatically over the last 50 years as South Korea. As the South’s economy boomed, the U.S. kept over 20,000 troops to face down North Korea.
North Korea, which has its own problems, has been the focus of American interest for a long time. Just like the Hermite Kingdom is a holdover from the Cold War, Duncan says the U.S. military's presence has been an essentially neo-imperialist force in South Korea.
Duncan says she wants to continue with a deeper exploration of the relationship between the United States and its allies, the question of neo-imperialism and whether or not the U.S. “strategically forgets” things.