As a member of the U.S. National Security Council, Victor Cha flew over the DMZ separating North and South Korea in 2007, following negotiations with Pyongyang. He writes in Korea: A New History of South and North (Yale University Press, 2023)—his latest book with co-author, and previous podcast guest, Ramon Pacheco Pardo—about how he was struck by the environment on both sides of the border. The north had barren fields, no cars, and windowless homes; the south, gleaming skyscrapers in the global city of Seoul.
How did these two countries come apart, and then travel down such different trajectories? And, perhaps, what’s the sentiment—in ordinary Koreans in south and north—about eventually coming together again?
Victor Cha is professor of government at Georgetown University and holds the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He is a former director for Asian Affairs at the White House National Security Council.
Ramon Pacheco Pardo is professor of international relations at King’s College London and the KF-VUB Korea Chair at Free University of Brussels.
The three of us talk about Korea pre-WWII history as a unified nation, their eventual split and divergence, and how feelings about unification have changed.
(A quick correction: at the time of our interview, Korea had yet to be released in the U.S., but Ramon has informed me since we talked that the book is now out!)
Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at@nickrigordon.