March 21, 2023

Ignorance is bliss: Fewer and fewer South Koreans study the North

What we lose when there are fewer people studying the enemy is something computers can’t replace

When faced with a rather mysterious and illusive enemy, an enemy full of paradoxes as wonderful as they were dumbfounding, the American Office of War Information commissioned Ruth Benedict to write a study on them. The year was 1946, the enemy was the Japanese, and the book was The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.

Much has been said and written about that book in the decades since. And much like the perplexing concepts it dealt with, the study has been lauded as widely as it has been derided. Some have even gone so far as to say that all writings in the field of anthropology and the social sciences since have merely been footnotes to that original 1946 work. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword has been the subject of so much discussion since its initial publication because at its heart is a simple concept: It’s a human talking about other humans, and humans like to talk about this.