They became adept at losing company property

Thursday, July 9th, 2020

In 1946, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the newly split Korea was struggling:

At his desk one day, Fletcher heard that there was trouble in Samch’ok, on the east coast. He left his office in Seoul to investigate. At a company iron-ore mine, he found agitators were encouraging idle workers to carry away company property. He had the Korean Special Police arrest the agitators, and beat hell out of them.

Back at Seoul, there was some criticism — but nobody had a better idea.

The policy now became one of giving Korean nationals control of the company. The new executives learned some things quickly. They became adept at losing company property, mostly into their own pockets.

Meanwhile, a crisis developed with the Russians just across the border from Seoul Province. The waters that irrigated company rice paddies flowed down from the north, and suddenly the Russians dammed them off. The company agricultural adviser, PFC Peavey, was sent up north to investigate.

The Russians were not offended by negotiating with a PFC. They had political officers masquerading in low ranks in their own forces; they understood perfectly Gospodin Peavey’s desire not to appear conspicuous. They sat down with Peavey and informed him they wanted a portion of the company’s rice harvest in return for the water. Peavey argued awhile. Finally, getting nowhere, he figured, what the hell? He was due to rotate out any day and become a civilian. He agreed to everything. He returned to Seoul, and soon the water flowed south. When asked how he had outwitted the Ivans, Peavey would only smile gently. A few weeks later, he sailed for the States.

When fall came, the Russians asked for their rice. Military Government, of course, with some confusion, explained why they couldn’t have it. Next summer, the New Korea Company had a hell of a time getting water.


  1. Kirk says:

    I think you can make a decent case for the Korean people having been deeply traumatized by the Imperial Japanese colonial period.

    Much in the way that the Communist interregnum in Russia turned the Russian people into a bunch of slacker sneak-thieves that all had a side-fiddle going on, the Koreans responded similarly to many of the same pressures–To survive, you had to become a thief at all levels. Thus, the anecdotes about “Slicky-boy” and all the rest. As late as the 1990s, you had issues with social trust when it came to a lot of Koreans. Not only were they likely to rob you blind out in the field (we had special guards and precautions taken to prevent our gear and equipment going missing when in the field…), but in garrison, they’d rip you off almost as a matter of course. The time I spent as an acting supply sergeant was a flat-out nightmare, and it wasn’t until I started telling people in front of my Korean KATUSA clerk that I’d contacted Criminal Investigations to involve itself that much of my expensive pilferables started returning to the supply room shelves…

    Totalitarian regimes like the Communists and whatever the hell the Imperial Japanese were doing in Korea tend to corrupt their victims, resulting in a level of social criminality that flatly boggles the mind. There’s a destruction of the social contract and even self-interest that goes on, and many of the victims turn into life-long kleptos, stealing things that nobody would ever steal anywhere else.

    Korea came out of that during the 1990s. My tour there during the ’91 time frame, we had nothing but trouble with “Slicky-boy” stealing. We even caught a guy who jumped into a baggage truck at a stop light, and was burrowing through people’s gear…

    By about 2000, though? None of that was going on. I did my second tour, and the first field exercise I was doing all these things that had been mandatory during my first tour over there, and everyone was looking at me like I was crazy. “That doesn’t happen any more…”.

    So, economic prosperity and no totalitarian BS? People behave better. Or, so I surmise…

  2. RLVC says:

    “Much in the way that the Communist interregnum in Russia turned the Russian people into a bunch of slacker sneak-thieves that all had a side-fiddle going on”

    A few years ago I was very surprised to discover that Russian GDP plummeted after Soviet communism was replaced by Summers Harvard neoliberalism, i.e., arch-capitalism.

    GDP, of course, was not the only thing affected. Life expectancy plummeted also. People went hungry. Women stopped having children. There was no work. Millions of men literally drank themselves to death.

    When I found most interesting is that the books I had read about the miserable state of the Russians invariably attributed these things — many practically unheard-of before the nineties — to the Soviet system…d.1991.

    “Glitch in the matrix.”

  3. Cassander says:

    RLCV, there was virtually no capitalism in Russia in the 1990s. Russia started to reform towards capitalism, but they reversed course after about 6 months. This gave them all the downsides of shock therapy with none of the benefits. The Russian economy was, and remains, one of the most statist in the world.

  4. RLVC says:

    Real capitalism has never been tried!”

    The wageslave never fails to reveal himself.

    Let me tell you, slave: I would give anyone anything to have been in business in Russia in the nineties.

    ”The so-called voucher-privatization program of 1992-1994 enabled a handful of young men to become billionaires, specifically by arbitraging the vast difference between old domestic prices for Russian commodities (such as natural gas and oil) and the prices prevailing on the world market.”

    Someone said that exact thing in a documentary I once saw.

    He was right.

    By G-d, he was so right.

  5. Cassander says:

    Capitalism had been tried, and it’s worked everywhere it has. It wasn’t tried in Russia. The state’s assets were sold off, but they weren’t exposed to market pressures. Why do you think Poland or the Baltics are doing so much better than Russia? They actually put capitalism into practice.

  6. RLVC says:

    As a very wise man once said:

    Who, whom?

    Is capitalism working for you, or are you working for capitalism?

    Be honest.

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