Battle at the Hump: You Can Keep the Place
“During the May 1 North-South Workers’ Rally in Pyongyang, the workers of North and South agreed to unify to carry out the anti-American struggle”¦ The center of that struggle with the United States is Daechu-ri, Pyeongtaek.
— Kim Tae-Il, “General Secretary” of the Korea’s largest labor group, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
As predicted, South Korean police have cleared out a group of several hundred local area residents and violent anti-American activists — many from the radical KCTU — who occupied a site that is to be added to an expanding U.S. Army post at Camp Humphreys, near Pyongtaek, Korea. Also as predicted, the operation was bloody (but brief), so I’ll be three for three if the violent protestors get off with little or no punishment.
The Marmot gives an excellent chronology of the chaos. As I began writing this post, the Korean papers were just starting to publish their their own writeups. The protests were well covered here in America, with TV pictures and stories clearly identifying the thugs in question as anti-American for the home audience (along with local residents, with whom I suspect most of us sympathize). According to the IHT, 117 riot police and 93 protestors were injured, and the event was “the most violent anti-American demonstration here in recent years.” The Washington Times (reg. req’d) reports over 524 arrests. If nothing else, it’s a strong follow-on to bee-man and (warning!) knife-boy in Korea’s ongoing image makeover.
Among the journalists, the bronze star with “V” device and two brass balls goes to the intrepid Lee Jae-Won of Reuters. Lee waded in between two armed, pissed-off mobs, one sporting blue clothing and a desire to avenge the mothers of their buddies in Kwangju, who were the victims of a brutal beating by the red thugs of the KCTU yesterday. Lee took the pictures you see here, but not without shedding blood in the line of duty:
Reuters photographer Lee Jae-won and about a dozen other journalists, wearing helmets and armbands identifying them as media, were also hurt after being beaten by police. Lee suffered lacerated lips and hands.
Lee then climbed out of his gurney, got to a computer, and wrote a pretty good account of the events, which seems to have completely vanished from the net.
GI Korea has more great pictures here, along with news that the boys in the Human Rights Commission are on their way. Fine with me, but at some point, they’re going to have to go after the radical goons who are seldom found without sticks, rocks, and the occasional firebomb in their possession. I certainly favor police restraint, but it doesn’t serve the goal of a free and peaceful society to unilaterally disarm the forces of law and order.
Regular readers know that your correspondent once spent seven months at Camp Humphreys talking GI’s out of hasty engagements and into alcohol treatment defending Korea’s freedom to express itself. At the time, the place was a malodorous, blighted, decrepit backwater most famous for being the site of the USFK Confinement Facility. I’ve lived in some pretty awful places, but none of were as awful as some of the places the Humphreys Housing Office tried to put my new wife and me, nor as bad as the barracks where one of my clients testified that he and his roommates would trap rats with flypaper weighted down by their bedposts.
I should clarify what I mean by “malodorous.” The Hump really does stink from pig and (so rumor has it) dog farms that adjoin the post’s old boundaries. For most Americans who’ve served at Humphreys, the lingering memory will always be of gasping shit-scented air while doing P.T. at oh-five-thirty, possibly while wracked by a raging hangover.
Anjung-ri is the downtown area outside Camp Humphreys, Korea. An-Jung Ri is notorious for its many juicy bars and whores. The most famous of these bars is Olympia, or the O Club. Headlined by one talented young lately affectionately known as Cameltoe, the O Club is known for its fine whores and cheap beer.
This, lads and lasses, is what keeps defense attorneys gainfully employed. One typical night is preserved for posterity here. I don’t for a moment condone boorishness of this kind, and my defense of it was a professional obligation. On the other hand, there isn’t a hell of a lot else to do if you’re a horny 19 year-old with more pay than judgment and another week of hard duty and loneliness facing you on Monday. Clearly, keeping soldiers in such a place is not good for an Army.
Some context is also useful here. With the astronomical price of land in Korea today, developers have bought up large tracts packed with decent brick homes all over Seoul. Whole neighborhoods of gutted, vacant houses and shops await the wrecking ball. The residents were bought out, and if my wife’s information is accurate, they’re generally well compensated. I’m sympathetic to the farmers if their government hasn’t compensated them adequately, but what’s happening at Camp Humphreys is happening all over South Korea, except that there are no union thugs and professional agitators arriving to defend any of those huge swaths of condemned dwellings, because those people aren’t a convenient vehicle for attacking America.
Once again, Korea enters election season in a high passion of hatred for the United States, the nation that liberated Korea from Japanese occupation, protected it from a brutal invasion, and midwifed its transition into a properous democracy. The most overused word here: “vibrant,” a word that disguises chaos as virtue.
If you don’t follow any other link in this post, follow this one to The Marmot’s laugh-out-loud fisking of U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershow’s latest tract about the glory of the U.S.-Korea alliance. I’ve seen better in the Rodong Sinmun. Vershow, who is actually a very sensible man and as plain-spoken as diplomats come, must have suffered as he read it (which is to say nothing of the poor FSO who had to write it). I pity Vershbow as I would pity an official of Stalin’s propaganda department who might live for his few stolen daily moments reading the copy of “Doctor Zhivago” he kept hidden under a steamer trunk.
I collect polling data on anti-Americanism in South Korea, but often work from an unscientific model of public opinion that goes like this: About 20-30%, mostly under 40, would prefer to live under juche or some sort of one-country, two-systems confederation (because they’re making 80% of the noise, they own the debate). Another 20%, mostly over 50, genuinely like the United States, but never admit it in public. The remaining majority despises the United States but opposes a USFK withdrawal for completely pragmatic (often, economic) reasons. They see the alliance with the United States as a necessary evil to be tolerated, and would prefer that our soldiers served their tours in lockdown. Based on the recent statements of President Roh Moo-Hyun, my best guess is that he’s moved from the first group to the third.
That’s not a politically sustainable basis for an alliance, but political considerations are the last things that the architects of this alliance seem to consider, except in a strictly reactive sense. No one, Korean or American, is offering an honest, forthright, and well-reasoned justification for keeping tens of thousands of American troops in a place where they’re increasingly both despised and unsafe, and where their presence does less to advance U.S. political goals than those of its adversaries. The alliance does indeed have a great historical pedigree, but that pedigree is also being eroded. History is not a continuum. Circumstances have changed, threats have changed, and how South Korea makes public policy has also changed.
In other words, if someone isn’t prepared to sell this alliance to the people of both Korea and the United States much more honestly and aggressively than they have, they should salvage what’s left of its historical pedigree and decent bilateral relations now. What do I mean? During my Army tour in Korea, I’d regularly see USDA-sponsored subway ads for American beef and pork. I wonder what restrains us from being a bit less bashful about our contributions, our values, and our shared goals.
Well, except for that last one, anyway.
I don’t know what else I can say beyond what I’ve already said about the balance of costs and benefits, and President Roh certainly isn’t shedding light on what justifies all this acrimony, or why the Korean people ought to look upon America’s soldiers with anything other than contempt.