It was only a few years ago that South Korea, wracked by poverty, political chaos and popular discontent, was widely regarded as a sinkhole of American aid. Now this small, ruggedly anti-communist country enjoys relative political stability and is making impressive economic progress. It has become one of the success stories of the United States assistance program. How did this startling reversal come about?
Officials familiar with South Korea's history since the war with the communist North insist that the ingredients for success had been there for a long time, however obscured they may have been in the dark days of the early 1960s. They are convinced that the apparent miracle is genuine and likely to continue, although as Assistant Secretary of State William P. Bundy has pointed out: "While Korea's achievements are considerable, its major problems require that they be kept in perspective."
Economic growth was at the rate of 7.6 percent annually over the 1962-67 period, with an 8.4 percent rise in 1967 and a surprising 13.1 percent for 1968, but it started from a very low base. The living standard is perceptibly rising, as indicated by the sale of new homes, television sets, refrigerators, more food and better clothes; but per capita income is still not much above $140 a year, deep pockets of poverty exist and the gap between urban and rural income has been growing. Although considerable progress has been made toward democracy, the overriding need for stability and order and the government's vigilant anti-communist policy lay a heavy hand across certain sectors of society. However, to those familiar with the spirit of defeatism that so long prevailed among the Korean people, the key element is a new feeling of self-reliance and self-assurance that has begun to pervade the country. "We can do it ourselves" has become the motto for a people who long were inclined to ask: "How can we ever succeed?"
The United States helped to pave the way by patient investment which kept this war-shattered nation supplied with food
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