Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Donald McConville
There were all of these mounting demonstrations at the time. There was no question of whether he was losing control. Certainly given the Korean culture and so forth and their long history of a very, very Confucian-oriented, hierarchical society, they were still having trouble in working out functioning ways to work as a democracy. They're doing it much better now, and Kim Dae-jung, I think, is certainly doing well as President. At one time he was the arch foe. But whether that can justify having an authoritarian government during a period of modernization may still be open to question, but I find it difficult to believe that, had Park Chung-hee not come along, Korea would have ever succeeded certainly as quickly as they. They paid a price for that in some of the political oppression that they had. I still remember looking out my window on that first tour, looking down - there used to be a school right behind the embassy; this was around '74 or '75 - and see these little school children, elementary school children. I looked down at them and I would think to myself that by the time those little people down there are young adults, these people are going to have a standard of living that's not going to be that dissimilar from the United States that I knew of in 1970. At that time, they were still a very poor country.
Q: It wasn't until around 1978 or '79 when the average income had reached $1,000.
McCONVILLE: Yes. I knew what life was like for an awful lot of very ordinary Koreans. It was still a pretty harsh affair. I had become persuaded that by the time these people were young adults they were going to have this kind of transformation economically. That kind of thing hadn't happened that often in the world before and certainly within that period of time. I was convinced it was happening in Korea. Certainly coming back in '84, '84 to '87, I was seeing a great deal of it. These economic technocrats that I worked with and had such a great deal of respect for, they were all very decent people themselves. They had a great sense of taking part in a very historic episode in Korea and having a great deal of personal satisfaction in being involved in this kind of role. They're people I still have tremendous admiration and respect for. There were an awful lot of very, very capable and very well intentioned people in those roles. There were a few dogs and a few people that weren't of the highest motivation, but they were blessed with an awful lot of very, very competent people. Again, that's the other dimension of a Confucian society. Civil service and government roles still had a great deal of stature, so they attracted a great deal of very, very capable people into those roles. Anyhow, that was another very, very good experience in Korea. By the time I then finished up.
Q: I think this is probably a good time to stop. But let's put at the end of this tape: Where'd you go in '87?
McCONVILLE: I went back to be the Director of the Office of Trade in EB. Trade was again to play a significant role.