What average Americans don’t understand about military dictatorships …

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South Koreans stood up to corruption in 2016–2017 because they knew if they didn’t wield power now, they might not be able to wield power tomorrow. And they won.

The Korean Peninsula endured under military dictatorships for most of the 20th century. After World War II, the Japanese military dictatorship was replaced with a Stalinist military dictator in what was partitioned as North Korea, under Kim Il Sung. The south was governed by a series of authoritarian dictators under an essentially capitalist economic system, from 1948 until 1988.

The first military dictator of South Korea governed from 1948 to 1960. He was replaced by a Korean politician, Yun Posun, who was an independence advocate. He wanted reforms. By 1961, he had been ousted in a coup by a new military dictatorship led by Park Chung-Hee. Park was assassinated in 1979, and replaced by an interim President, until a final military dictator was installed in Chun Doo-hwan. Finally, in 1988, after 40 years, the line of military dictators in South Korea ended, and a more ideal form of Democracy took root.

A few years ago, barely any time ago really, I saw friends and others on Facebook post pictures of South Koreans flooding the streets in protest of a corrupt President, and asking, “Why can’t we do this in America?” I didn’t say anything, because I forgot, most people here don’t really know South Korean history. We know the food, the soap operas, Kpop, but not the rest. It looks, to us, familiar.

The underlying pleading when people would see those protest pictures was, “Why are South Koreans so willing to openly fight for Democracy, when we don’t?”

I know the answer. It’s because 1988 wasn’t that long ago, for South Koreans. There were enough people alive who remembered what the dictatorships were like. They also see the military dictatorship of North Korea, so they know. South Koreans stood up to corruption in 2016–2017 because they knew if they didn’t wield power now, they might not be able to wield power tomorrow. And they won.

At breakfast this morning, I talked with a recent immigrant to the U.S.. He’s from South America. We talked about what it means, when your leaders put tanks on the streets during a holiday. The only people who do this kind of thing are dictators.

So, why didn’t we pour into the streets? Why have we, collectively, still not done it? It’s because we don’t know. Too many of us still think the danger is yet to come. Are debating things like, “Are the detention centers concentration camps?” It’s foolish.

I keep hoping I’m going to be wrong, and I hope in a decade people are like, “That scary stuff you posted on Facebook and Medium, haha, you sure were a hysterical dummy!”

I really do hope in 10 years, I can look back on now at myself and see a hysterical dummy. I really don’t want to be right about where we already are.

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