Former U.S. ambassador explains Korean situation

Williams was privileged to have one of its most distinguished alumni, Ambassador Donald Gregg, deliver a lecture entitled “Threats and opportunities on the Korean Peninsula” on April 16. The lecture, sponsored by Koreans of Williams and Asian American Students in Action, received a significant turnout, as students, faculty and members of the community gathered to hear Gregg speak.

Gregg drew upon various experiences for his lecture. He has served as the US ambassador to South Korea, the National Security Adviser under the Bush administration, and a member of the CIA. In his lecture, Gregg covered a variety of topics, including the possible reunification of Korea, the study of international relations at Williams, the United States reaction to the 1994 North Korean nuclear crisis and to a smaller extent, the United States’ role in world affairs.

Gregg began his lecture with background on the suffering of the North Korean people. Gregg stated that North Koreans have had “one of the worst centuries of anybody in this world.”

He then went on to describe the travails of the North Korean people beginning from the Japanese occupation of North Korea in 1905, to the arbitrary line drawn between the Koreas after the Korean War, up to the widespread famine in North Korea today.

One of the most notable moments in his lecture came when he drew a poignant picture of North Korea today and its people. Quoting a former West German official, Gregg called the demilitarized zone that separates the Koreas an “ugly time warp” in which the North Korean live unaware of what their government has done to them. He went on to describe the state control of media in North Korea and the pained expressions he saw in the eyes of North Korean diplomats while in Hawaii.

Despite this, the former ambassador said he felt strongly that reunification was not only possible but that it was only a question of “when and who will be involved.”

He said he felt certain the election of democratic reform candidate KimDae Joon to the Presidency in South Korea will result in better relations between the two Koreas themselves and, coupled with the general homogeneity of the Korean people, would lead to eventual reunification.

However, the reunification of Korea was not the only issue he was to tackle during the lecture. Littered throughout his speech were references to the U. S.’s role not only in Korea but throughout the world

Describing the “road map for the 21st Century” as “very difficult terrain,” Gregg said he felt the United States ought to be “more conciliatory than confrontational” in how it deals with other nations. He went on to mention the 1994 North Korean nuclear crisis as a case in which the United States overreacted to a minor situation; an effort to launch “a preemptive strike against North Korea, [a country] with only two nuclear weapons on the back of a pickup truck.”

He said “more dialogue was needed” in not only the Korean situation but to other politically sensitive areas such as Rwanda and Bosnia.

Organizers of the lecture said they were very pleased with how the lecture turned out. Steve Kim ’00, co-organizer of the lecture along with Ji-Eun Rim ’00, found the subject “very interesting” and especially liked hearing about Gregg’s vast knowledge of politics in Korea.

“The lecture,” said Jae-Ho Yim ’01, ’’was a great opportunity to learn about Korea. It is easy to ignore Korea while in Williamstown because it is such a faraway place.”

Assistant Professor of Political Science James McAllister, in whose class Gregg spoke, enjoyed Gregg’s emphasis on Williams’ distinguished history in the field of international relations.

Indeed, while much of Gregg’s speech was devoted to the Korean conflict, he spent a fair amount of time talking about the “proud traditions of Williams” in the field of international relations and how this is especially important today, at a time when “we need quality people working for government agencies.”

Gregg graduated from the Williams Class of 1951 with a degree in philosophy. He soon joined the CIA and specialized in Asia, his interest in the region inspired by the Japanese movie Rashomon.

Since joining the CIA in 1951 at the beginning of the Korean War, Gregg has been involved in Asia in numerous different ways. He spent ten years with the CIA in Japan and has been involved in shorter stints in Burma, Vietnam and South Korea.

In 1982, he was named National Security Adviser to then Vice-President George Bush and in 1989 he served as the U.S. ambassador to South Korea. Gregg, whose three children also graduated from the College, even provided the audience with an insult of Amherst during his speech. Referring to a book written by a Wesleyan professor, Gregg made sure to mention how Wesleyan was “a fine institution, unlike another member of the Little Three.”

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