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Harvard's Korean Grant: Dreams of Reason and Spectres

By Gregory Henderson

Among the searing etchings of the Caprichos of Goya is one called "The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters". Korean businessmen and Harvard mandarins have outlines more suave than the apparitions Goya etched; yet few apter titles could describe the $1 million grant of the Korean Traders Association to Harvard for Korean studies.

Reason abounds, to be sure. A kind of stepchild within East Asian studies, Korea has lacked a constituency of either Americans or Koreans--to say nothing of anyone else--to support with anything close to adequacy its claims to academic attention.

These claims are large. Of major flashpoints in the present world, the United States has more unilateral responsibility for the Korean one than we have for any other anywhere unless Cuba be excepted. One reason why we have made--and still make--so many costly mistakes in Korea is that we have had such meagre knowledge or understanding of the place. Harvard's efforts to improve a situation of scandalous ignorance were commendable--even, for modern Korea, overdue.

It was also natural and hopefully fortunate for Korean studies that the chairman of the fund-raising committee for Harvard's East Asian Studies, T. Jefferson Coolidge Jr. '55, is one of the only wealthy Americans to have a deep and genuine concern for Korea. His business interests, long pre-dating the age of investment popularity for Korea, stood him in good stead in soliciting funds from one of the only groups likely to give them: the Korean Traders Association (KTA). Whatever the problems resulting, he should not be maligned for this effort.

As a public advocate of the present Korean government, it mattered less to Coolidge than it might to others that the KTA had been set up by the Park regime in the later 1960s when foreign trade rapidly escalated, to determine that all Koreans engaged therein should be 'reputable'--first of all in business methods and capacity to meet their obligations, then in that fidelity to the present--rightly notorious--Korean political system. All Koreans engaging in international trade must belong to the KTA. To belong, they must be extensively cleared, a process involving the Korean CIA/(KCIA) and its mountainous dossiers. Finally, all traders must pay KTA a small percentage of all trade in which they engage. As trade has burgeoned, KTA coffers have swelled. A Park Avenue skyscraper has been bought and other investments explored with the Korean government. The Chairman of KTA is a former Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs and its personnel are typically drawn from Korean government ministries. The KTA therefore represents not simply the ordinarily close involvement of any business with government typical of a developing country; it is, in every but the most purely formal sense an agency of the Korean government. More than this, it is an agency involved in governmental control functions which connect it with the KCIA and render it potentially susceptible to that awesome agency's influence.

Subtleties and extenuations are, of course, present. The KTA Chairman is a very senior, respectable and adept official of pre-Park lineage and experience in international affairs. He may not always have to accede to the KCIA and might even stand against some of its pressures. It is also possible that the KCIA itself, a labyrinth with chambers of both cruelty and sophistication, might itself agree to grants with few strings, much as, apparently, in the case of Tongsun Park, whose scattering of largesse rarely accompanied intensive political demands. Perhaps, even, the KCIA kept its hands off this particular grant. We shall not know for sure until the investigation requested has been completed.

Even granting government involvement (the grant was evidently approved by President Park himself) and the risks of KCIA involvement, the grant could still have been requested and accepted if Harvard frankly faced the implications and charted a determined posture of careful independence from these influences. Unfortunately, statements on this score so far fall short of the reassuring: "it would be wrong to accept money from a government of a divided country like Korea. But this gift, coming from a private organization like the KTA, was fine" seems either uninformed or uncandid while "I don't think it is really the university's business to think about the underlying motives of those who give the grants" is clearly contradicted by the University's rejection of the Hanfstaengel donation. If Harvard thus fails candidly to face what it has done, more monsters will rise to haunt its Korean paths.

Before trysting with spectres, however, we should concede that even origin in an unusually unprincipled and anti-democratic government does not mean that black evil along crouches on the KTA gift. KTA, all Koreans and scholars of Korea, including myself, share a determination to see studies of Korean culture flourish independently of (though cooperatively with) Japanese and Chinese studies as is due the durable and unique culture of a nation paralleling Italy and Spain in recent importance. KTA officials have pressed this claim with dignity as well as funds; all with reck of cultural values and international peace should applaud.

Still, Goya's spectres remain. The KTA-ROK government has a highly-skewed and, in essence, propagandistic view of what Korean studies should be and how they wish Korea to be understood. Heeding alike the speed of its economic progress and its political, legal and even artistic retrogression, Seoul's zeal is to present modern economic and trade burgeoning as the hallmark of national life while sweeping politics, art, literature, law, history--anything humane--under the academic carpet. Harvard bought most, but not all, of this concept, insisting on adding studies of society. The outcome is a two-headed monster chair of 'Korean economics and society' untraceable in the frostiest depths of any previous academic Loch Ness.

Harvard previously sought "a chair in Modern Korean Studies to parallel the present chair in Pre-Modern Korean Studies" whose stress is historical. I failed almost completely to get it. And, while prating of further quest, by getting a major economic-society component alone in a small and job-starved field with few fund sources, it becomes far less likely that Harvard can and will make good the discrepancy.

It must try hard; for if the gap yawns, Seoul's calculations and hopes will see fulfillment: a mechanistically economic Modern Korea fumigated of all else but sociology; a caricature, in short, truly unworthy of Harvard. The writing is already on the wall. A conscientious previous course covering political, historical, economic and sociological aspects of Modern Korea is not being revived; and a most important project of the Harvard Press in Korean-American relations is being told that it cannot even ask for the slightest subsidy since 'everything has been elaborately orchestrated to avoid politics'!

Such is the new face of Harvard's freedoms. And when one asks how one is to understand Korean economics and society without all that has been fumigated, and dares observe that Korea's own documentation and cultural emphasis lay precisely in the omitted areas, the annoyed retort lays chief store on the importance of ready cash. Harvard's stern and parsimonious forebears must somehow find sleep through the plashing of somewhat tainted gold. Seoul's terms are 'strings' indeed!

Another monster sleeps in the articles appearing on March 12-13, 1975, in the carefully controlled South Korean press; their full texts would astonish the Harvard community as they have the audience for Congressional Hearings. "The second objective (of the KTA-Harvard grants) is to promote counter-active efforts against those who spearhead anti-Korean government moves like Edwin O. Reischauer (University Professor) and Jerome Cohen (associate dean of the Law School) (and) thereby to engender a pro-Korean atmosphere at Harvard and in other American academic circles." The articles make much of the need to undercut critics of Korea who happen, hardly accidently, to teach in the areas presently to be fumigated, while those in economics and one long-term candidate in sociology are far more Park-supportive. Harvard has admitted that "there was a concern expressed by the Koreans that the money would not be used politically against them." No action taken by Harvard toward critcs of Seoul since that time has done much to exorcise this spectre.

Seoul's articles meanwhile thrust toward the day's light a third apparition: that Korea's controlled media might subtly or overtly depict Harvard as supportive of the Park regime against its opponents, democratic-minded intellectuals. Since it prints no criticism and all Koreans read Soviet-fashion between the lines, Seoul can do this simply by printing photographs of a smiling Harvard President visiting Seoul officials, as President Bok is about to do. Harvard seems not to have armed itself against this: no attempt to counteract the public statements about the University in the March 1975 articles has ever been made. It is sad that famous and respected prefessors who, in their youth, sought to protect the persecuted intellectuals of China from Kuomintang terror, now, in later years, show little reservation about appearing to side with quite similar--or worse--Korean repression of the cream of Korean intellectuals and social leaders. Seoul is out to exploit that impression and will unless counter-active measures are taken.

The conclusion is not to refuse--or have refused--the money. But in accepting it on the KTA's terms, Harvard is obligated in an especially urgent sense to find other substantial funds to bolster those vital portions of modern Korean studies which the KTA will not support. In filling subsequent positions, particular care must be taken to avoid even the semblance of complicity in the aims made explicit above. One hopes that President Bok in his forthcoming trip to Seoul will, in addition to gratitude, squelch any implication left on the captive Korean people that its government has purchased important quarterings of the Harvard escutcheon and will avoid all photographs with Korean officials. The Crimson should closely follow and report on this trip.

Harvard can still rise above the suspicion which has already prompted a Congressional request for an investigation by the Attorney-General of the KTA grant to Harvard--an unenviable first for the University. But it cannot do so if it permits Modern Korean to be taught at Harvard as an economic-sociological caricature nor by leaving the field chiefly to those who praise Park. Only by moving with all dispatch to redress a balance grievously disturbed and quieting suspicions still troubling the Korean field at Harvard--and elsewhere--can the University exorcise the monsters which Seoul's reasoned dreams of Korean studies have produced among us.

Gregory Henderson '44, is an associate professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy Tufts University. Henderson was the first State Department Language and Area Specialist for Korea thirty years ago and is the author of numerous books and articles on Korea.

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