I just read a new book called "Little America" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. It is a book about Afghanistan that begins by telling the story of how America, after World War II, tried to help the world's under-developed countries.
The book describes how Europeans and Americans built little enclaves in Afghanistan that were as close as possible to the American way of life. The residents of these enclaves thought of themselves as heroes with the best of intentions. Just as in the "Ugly American" (a 1950's book about Southeast Asia that explained cultural disrespect), the neighbors of these American enclaves had mixed emotions about these so called do-gooders. They appreciated help but often found that the Westerners had very little respect for the local citizens.
The book continues through the recent years in Afghanistan, where the local Afghans still have mixed emotions about Westerners. With the exception of a few Americans that were willing to immerse themselves in the Afghan culture and language, most Americans created and stayed in little Americas and earned much disrespect from the local Afghans. This book reminded me of my time as a child in Korea. My father worked for the U.N. and was project engineer for the Mungyeong cement plant (in the center of South Korea) that was to be the beginning of Korea's recovery and industrialization after the Korean War.
Korea in 1956 was a post war landscape of devastation. The Westerners that the U.N. tasked with building the cement plant had beautiful new western style homes on a paved street. On the other side of the narrow street was a cornfield. On one side of the cornfield was a hill. Holes were dug into the side of the hill. Those holes were the homes of the Korean families.
The rest of the Westerners told my father and mother that the Koreans were subhuman, uncultured and uncivilized. They said that the Koreans would steal anything not bolted down. They had very little respect for the Koreans. My father felt differently.
I didn't understand it at the time, but my father would leave our toys out at night on the lawn for the Korean children to play with. At first, my brother and sister and I were afraid of losing toys. We were the only family that left out toys on our lawn at night. But we didn't lose any toys.
We were the only Western children that were allowed to play with the Korean children. And we were the only family that didn't have "problems" with Koreans. I always thought that the Koreans were just like us.6 comments on this story
Years later, it started to sink in. My father was respected by the Koreans that worked for him and that lived near us because he showed them respect.
Reading the book "Little America" reminded me about how much my father taught me in Korea. Respect for others can be more important than the biggest project you can provide. My father taught me about respect.
Some people learn it from religion. Some people learn it in school. Some people learn it from their parents. I learned it from my father, in Little America Korea. My father, William C. Chapman, was proud of his work in helping industrialize underdeveloped and war ravaged nations. He worked at Thiokol from 1959 to 1983.
George Chapman is a retired engineer and consultant living in Salt Lake City. He has traveled and worked in many countries around the world.