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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Telling the ‘truth’ to Koreans: U.S. cultural policy in South Korea during the early Cold War, 1947–1967
by Liem, Wol-san, Ph.D., New York University, 2010, 586; 3428041
Abstract (Summary)

“Telling the ‘truth’ to Koreans” looks at American propaganda and cultural activities, (or ‘cultural policy’) in South Korea from 1947 to 1967, focusing on the work of the United States Information Services-Korea (USIS). USIS sought to promote a positive understanding of American policy, culture and society though print media, radio, motion pictures and person-to-person contact. These activities, along with similar programs in other countries, formed an important component of the United States’ efforts to maintain its global hegemony and compete with the Soviet Union and revolutionary nationalism during the Cold War.

This dissertation uses State Department records, USIS materials and Korean film and intellectual journals to investigate cultural-policy ideology, goals and programs and their influence in Korean society. It traces an evolution in the orientation of cultural policy from war reporting during the Korean War (1950 to 1953), to efforts to cultivate democratic practices at the end of the 1950s, to an emphasis on citizenship responsibility and economic development during the 1960s. It also looks at the way Koreans engaged with cultural policy activities and the understandings of the United States they promoted. Some Koreans were highly receptive to the image of the United States cultural policy put forth, although they sought to adapt American practices and values to fit Korean society. Others, in particular dissident students and intellectuals, posed critiques of the United States that directly challenged cultural policy’s core assumptions and messages.

Fostering Korean democracy was an important stated goal for USIS. However, ‘democracy’ had an ambiguous meaning within cultural-policy discourse, which shifted depending on Washington’s relation to the Korean administration in power and the requirements of U.S. foreign policy. Cultural policy’s more basic purpose was to win acceptance of American involvement in Korea and free world leadership by projecting an image of the U.S. as a benevolent ‘big brother’ to the Korean people and a symbol of political maturity, modern technical knowledge and economic prosperity. The activities carried out to achieve this goal reinforced and strengthened the unequal and dependent relationship between South Korea and United States with strong implications for Koreans’ perceptions of both societies.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Young, Marilyn
Commitee: Cumings, Bruce, Em, Henry, Nolan, Molly, Singh, Nikhil, Young, Marilyn
School: New York University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 72/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: History, American history, Asian Studies, International Relations
Keywords: Cold War, Cultural policy, Democracy, Foreign relations, Imperialism, Korea, U.S. hegemony, U.S. imperialism, USIS, United States-Korea
Publication Number: 3428041
ISBN: 978-1-124-33281-9
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