Unconventional Wisdom

Unconventional Wisdom

Colby professors teach students to examine the complex forces that shape cultures—and conflicts

By Stephen Collins '74 | Photos by Jon Reinfurt (Illustrations)

Illustration by Jon Reinfurt
Hatch's Conflict in East Asia course includes case studies and student debates about post-World War II reconciliation issues between China and Japan, about U.S. policy regarding Taiwanese sovereignty, and about nagging problems with Kim Jong Il and North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Hatch was in Seoul last July when North Korea tested a long-range missile, and he recalls his South Korean friends poking fun at him for being so concerned. "That's all I wanted to talk about,— he said, "and their reaction was, 'So what? What's the big deal? You Americans just overreact all the time.' I was really forced to reflect on this.—

"People [over there] seemed to be finding ways to defend North Korea in this whole process,— he said. "I thought it was bizarre that these two [the U.S. and South Korea] allies couldn't even agree on what happened.—

Where the International Herald Tribune reported that the missile had fizzled and the test was unsuccessful, the South Korean press suggested that the North Koreans had probably detonated their own missile intentionally. Similarly, Hatch said, the Western press reported that, based on the small seismic fingerprint, the nuclear test was unsuccessful, while the South Korean press described it as just another step towards a successful nuclear program—a program it blamed on America's belligerence.

The discrepancy reflects the difference in attitudes between the U.S., which refuses to negotiate with the "rogue state— and whose president called North Korea part of an "Axis of Evil,— and South Korea, whose current policy is "complete appeasement,— Hatch said.

The U.S. policy of refusing even to talk has created a situation "where you've got Kim Jong Il in the north acting like a six year old, making all these loud noises and screaming sounds, wanting attention, and behaving like a cornered animal, which North Korea is to a large degree through its own fault,— he said.

Meanwhile South Korea, with a goal of reunification, refuses to acknowledge that there's anything wrong going on, despite North Korea's weapons tests, its widespread human rights abuses, kidnappings, and massive counterfeiting of American currency.

"'Whatever,' seems to be the South Korean policy. 'We ignore it'— Hatch said. "Toward the north in general, there's a sentimental, almost nostalgic notion of a great national family divided.—

"I guess I can understand the goal [reunification], but the fact that these two long-standing partners are so out of sync on their policies makes for a disaster at this point,— he said.

So, how does he help students understand it? "The first thing in this course, and I think its useful in a lot of approaches to security issues, is to get away from teaching the students that everything is up the U.S. to solve,— he said. "It's a truly regional issue. Job number one is to try to get the students to quit thinking that all of these things are merely bilateral problems that the U.S. could solve with a magic wand or a preemptive strike.—

It's easy to forget that today's college students don't really remember the Reagan administration, he said. "They've been brought up in this incredibly unique time—probably unique since the Roman Empire—where you have one country that is truly the only superpower in the world.—
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