by Alexis Dudden is professor of history at the University of Connecticut.
In October 2016, images of a middle-aged woman wearing white-rimmed, designer sunglasses started to pop up all over South Korean TV. My Korean is far from fluent, and the pictures smacked of a celebrity scandal, so I didn’t pay much attention at first. Within weeks, however, these pictures and many others were flooding the living room of the apartment on the Yonsei University campus in Seoul where my family had moved a month earlier. I armed myself with a coffee-stained dictionary, and together with the rest of the country I learned about a woman named Choi Soon-sil, confidante of former South Korean president Park Geun-hye and daughter of a notorious shaman who had helped a younger Park converse with her parents from beyond the grave. (Park’s father—the president of South Korea a half-century ago—and mother were murdered in separate incidents in the 1970s.) Without any credentials or authorization, Choi had advised the president on numerous policies and illegally colluded with big businesses such as Samsung. This Korean “Devil Wearing Prada” helped spark the Candlelight Revolution: a movement that brought millions to the streets and led to a rare—perhaps unprecedented—peaceful and democratic overthrow of a democratically elected national leader.
…. Any plan that does not include South Korea as an equal at the negotiating table will fail. The calls by some in Washington for diplomacy with Pyongyang focus on weapons but ignore North Korea’s long sought peace treaty to end the 1953 armistice—as if all of this sprang from nowhere. More troubling, others in D.C. favor an “America first” military approach that would immediately involve South Korean and Japanese troop participation, too, making “kinetic” in this instance just another word for “slaughter.” The chance not to have this war exists, and learning from the Candlelight movement is the surest course for this alternative future.