There’s Nothing New About Korea’s “New” Anti-Americanism

How could the U.S.-Korea alliance ever survive another day with this tension between President Bush and President Roh, and what, with that nasty debate over wartime command? What if I said that I actually refer to George H.W. Bush and Roh Tae Woo? If you really want to track down the point at which the U.S.-Korean relationship went over the cliff, set your Wayback Machine for 1989 and a year of ferocious anti-American demonstrations — complete with fire-bombings — that made America the country that young Koreans love to hate.

For many of us in the blogosphere, 2002 was the Year Zero. Indeed, most K-blogs didn’t exist until after the election of Roh Moo Hyun and the largest outburst of anti-Americanism in South Korean history. That election result also owed much to leftist Korean-language blogs and quasi-blogs like OhMyNews. Some have tried to popularize the idea that anti-Americanism is a new development in Korea, either to tie it to policies with which they disagree, or to inflate their own sense of importance. But for those of us who were there, it was simmering throughout the later years of the Clinton Administration, too, and only needed a good excuse to turn into a rampage. None of which is to lay blame on Clinton, which would be about as unfair as blaming George W. Bush or the United States as a whole for a traffic accident. If I blame anyone, I blame our diplomats during that entire intervening period for not conducting public diplomacy. Meanwhile, Korean universities were teaching their students that North Korea was a big, cheery all-you-can-eat buffet with a nightly dinner theater of leggy damsels in red neckerchiefs. The aftermath of that accident and the election of Roh were the realization of a trend that we spent the better part of two decades trying to ignore away.

Yes, the online historical record thins as you recede back into the 90’s, but if you reread what was happening nearly two decades ago, it seems pretty clear that that generation’s radical students went on to become the next generation of teachers, professors, journalists, film makers, writers, and officials of the current government. Anti-Americanism become dominant and went mainstream when that generation took control of the message and assured its demographic future by indoctrinating those who would follow.

Just to give you some historical context, I compiled some grafs that tell just where we’ve been over the last few years. It’s long, but it’s full of fascinating examples of how little some things have changed. I hope to have more empirical data on this in a few days, but it looks like Korea’s radical minority went mainstream and negative feelings toward the United States and its policies steadily increased. At the same time, there has generally been majority support for keeping U.S. forces in Korea, which remains the case today, just barely, and depending on what survey you read. Contradictory? Heck, yes! What that means is that Koreans clearly see the advantage of having American forces there, but generally oppose whatever interests the Americans may want to use those troops to advance.

All of which leads to the only thing that really has changed: for the first time, the U.S. government doesn’t act terribly worried about removing troops from Korea. I think that will serve U.S. interests by giving us more bargaining power, and if that bargaining power doesn’t get us what we need, then don’t miss what Richard Halloran said about “power projection” during the halcyon days of the Clinton Administration, when all was well and America was loved.

Unless you were serving with me in Korea, of course. In which case, you know better.


November 11, 1983

Boston Globe
Section: OP- ED

President Reagan’s visit to South Korea tomorrow will determine the future of Korean-American relations. His trip will decide whether or not anti-American sentiment will continue its rapid rise.

A survey conducted last spring by a leading South Korean newspaper revealed that more than 70 percent of Korean youth are critical of the United States. The seriousness and the widespread nature of anti-American emotions can be seen in the fact that American Cultural Centers in Kwangju, Pusan and Taegu have been bombed or set on fire. The American flag has been burned on at least two college campuses, and chants of “Yankee go home” can now be heard almost daily.

Even though I do not condone violence under any circumstances, I can fully comprehend the feelings that led to such destructive action[“¦.]

June 10, 1988

Washington Post

Police and about 1,000 of 15,000 radical students who rallied at a university clashed Thursday in some of the most serious street battling since last June.

The rally set the stage for a march today to the Panmunjom truce village and an attempt to meet with North Korean counterparts in the cause of reunification.

A year after students sparked protests that brought major political change to South Korea, the government again is on a potentially explosive collision course with them.

At the rally at Yonsei University, radicals chanting reunification and anti-American slogans hurled rocks and firebombs at police, who sealed off the campus and responded with volley after volley of tear gas. The fighting went on several hours.

The protest Thursday indicates that the radicals are fairly numerous and determined to defy the government ban on their unauthorized march today.


Many non-radical students and most other members of society appear to side with the government. According to a public opinion poll printed in a Seoul newspaper this week, nearly 70 percent of South Koreans oppose the student march.

People here remember that the last time students tried to organize a unification march to Panmunjom — in 1960 — they caused severe political turbulence that fueled the general instability. A military coup followed in 1961. There has been no official contact between Seoul and Pyongyang since 1985.

Los Angeles Times
November 22, 1988

Radicals Injure 8 at U.S. Facility in Seoul
Bomb and Gang of Vandals Damage Information Service Library

SEOUL Radical South Korean students detonated a bomb Monday at the entrance of the U.S. Information Service library in downtown Seoul and attacked the building with iron pipes, injuring eight police officers–one seriously–before they were routed by tear-gas grenades, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said.

The noise startled people in nearby office buildings and hotels shortly after noon, but the bomb caused only minor damage to a door at the library. About 15 assailants stormed the building, and several managed to enter, wrecking the inside of a corridor with pipes before they were overpowered by police, U.S. Embassy spokesman John Sears said.

It was the fourth attack on the facility this year and came four days after a gang of about 40 youths attacked an American military housing compound with firebombs and iron pipes, inflicting minor injuries on two U.S. military personnel.

The latest incidents suggest that anti-American sentiment, long a routine feature of the ritualized protest movement here, is taking on a more serious dimension as the political atmosphere heats up.

Last Thursday’s attack at the Hannam Village family housing compound was the first time in recent memory that protesters directly assaulted U.S. military personnel, although they had thrown firebombs at installations in the past, U.S. military spokesman Bill Fullerton said.


The United States is widely criticized for supporting Chun and for supposedly condoning the military operation that crushed the 1980 Kwangju uprising, which is now the subject of an investigation in the National Assembly.

Televised hearings on Kwangju and on other allegations against Chun have aroused considerable public indignation since they began earlier this month.

Chun is expected to accede soon to mounting pressure that he publicly apologize for alleged wrongdoings, return disputed assets to the state and “retire to the countryside.” It was not clear where Chun would go, but he is no longer considered to be safe in Seoul.


In a recent poll by Seoul National University’s Center for International Studies, however, 95% of the students surveyed said the United States has some degree of responsibility for the bloodshed in Kwangju, and 91% said they believe operational military command should be transferred to the South Koreans.

The presence of 43,000 U.S. troops in South Korea is a hotly debated issue. Many critics join North Korea in blaming them for perpetuating the division of the peninsula and calling for their withdrawal.

The recent wave of anti-Americanism also has focused on worsening trade friction between the United States and South Korea. U.S. officials have demanded that South Korea open its markets further to U.S. agricultural imports to help offset Seoul’s $10-billion bilateral trade surplus. Radical students have joined protests by farmers, who last Thursday massed near the U.S. Embassy before being scattered by police.


Christian Science Monitor (USA)
January 3, 1989


Daniel Sneider, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

SEOUL A PRINT entitled “Uninvited Guest” depicts a Rambo-like American GI, with belts of bullets crisscrossing his body and a machine gun slung over his shoulder, towering over a group of Koreans.

A painting of an Amerasian child, the offspring of a GI and a Korean woman, bears the label: “A scar left by the US.”

As these examples from a recent art exhibition here illustrate, South Koreans are openly questioning the American military presence in their country – a subject that has been almost taboo.

With the exception of the radical left, most Koreans still want the 43,000 United States soldiers who are based in South Korea to remain. But more and more, Koreans of all political persuasions resent the military presence as a painful reminder of a dependency on the US that they want to put behind them. Increasingly South Koreans are demanding an adjustment in the symbols, if not the reality, of their security alliance with the US.

The now unfettered Korean media eagerly publicizes incidents of alleged crimes by GIs or military dependents, often making unsubstantiated charges that the Americans are escaping Korean justice due to the agreement which governs US forces here. A golf course on the American headquarters base in the center of Seoul has become a symbol of American arrogance.

The radical left has attempted to exploit such raw nationalistic feelings, even carrying out scattered assaults on US military facilities with firebombs.

While most Koreans reject such violent anti-Americanism, the mood of national assertiveness cannot be ignored. “President Roh Tae Woo wants to capture this, become the point man for it,” observes a senior Western diplomat here.

With that in mind, the South Korean government has initiated talks with the US military authorities on a number of highly visible, and emotionally sensitive, issues. Last week they began discussion of revision of the Status of Forces Agreement which governs the US presence, including defining the legal jurisdiction over the troops. The Koreans seek the relocation of the US headquarters command from the center of Seoul, where it occupies a valuable piece of real estate in a crowded city.

The more substantive issue on the agenda is the Combined Forces Command (CFC), a structure in which the senior American general in South Korea also commands most of the Korean forces. “Koreans don’t like it because it appears to put American generals in charge of every Korean soldier,” a Western diplomat says.

Some Koreans have called for a change in the CFC, such as having a Korean in the top command position or in charge of the ground component. But Korean officials are cautious on this issue, not wanting to undermine the principle of tightly combined forces. “We need a command center if there is a war,” a senior official dealing with security affairs says.


Assemblyman Park Chung Soo, who represents the conservative ruling Democratic Justice Party, favors maintaining tight links to the US. But he warns that Korea is experiencing a mood of “rising nationalism.”

“Now the world is changing, and we think we are finding an alternative to dependence on the US by opening up to the Soviet Union, China, and Eastern Europe,” Assemblyman Park says. “We are finding other sources for our development and survival. That kind of emotion is surfacing now.”


Despite these careful reservations [about the need to preserve the U.S.-Korea alliance until tensions are reduced], it is clear that US-Korean relations have entered a new phase. The two countries must shift from a relationship that is unusually based on security ties into a more natural, and complex, partnership. For both sides, it promises to be a difficult transition ahead.


AP Online
March 22, 1989

U.S. Military Exercises Stir Dispute, Rouse Mixed Feelings

WONJU, South Korea Some of the U.S. soldiers taking part in annual ”Team Spirit” exercises with South Korean forces are puzzled and angry about growing anti-American protests in a nation they are helping to defend.

The exercises involving 200,000 South Korean and U.S. troops are becoming increasingly controversial as South Korean radicals demand an end to the U.S. military presence in their country. Opinion polls indicate many ordinary South Koreans have growing reservations about it.

”Many young American soldiers think the same as the Koreans -they don’t want us here and we don’t want to be here,” said an officer, who declined to be named. ”They want to go home.”

Some U.S. officers and soldiers say anti-Americanism is creating morale problems, and some don’t want to serve in South Korea because they don’t feel welcome. They ask why the United States makes a massive defense commitment to a nation where protesters regularly attack U.S. government facilities and stage violent anti-American protests.

A U.S. officer who asked not to be identified said radical students hurled firebombs at an American unit during the exercises around Wonju. The bombs caused no damage and the protesters fled in a car, he said.

”It left a funny feeling,” he said.

South Korean and U.S. officials insist anti-Americanism is a minor problem confined to a radical fringe, and that relations between the two nations remain as close as ever. But U.S. soldiers, who are told to avoid wearing uniforms on the streets so as not to offend Koreans, don’t agree.

”The command position is that anti-Americanism is a minority view, and the command doesn’t want to hear anyone publicly opposing that position,” a U.S. Air Force officer said in an interview. ”The command keeps saying, in effect, ‘Turn the other cheek.’ That’s not working. Anti-Americanism seems to be increasing and, after a while, you get tired of it.”

”Team Spirit,” the second-largest exercise staged by U.S. forces, is a symbol of American commitment to South Korea. Every spring the roads around Wonju are jammed with U.S. and South Korean tanks and trucks packed with soldiers.

But opinion polls indicate many Koreans have doubts about the U.S. military presence and support phasing out American forces. A recent government survey said 59.1 percent support a gradual U.S. withdrawal and 7.2 percent want immediate withdrawal.

Anti-Americanism has bloomed in recent months because of trade friction and a perception that Washington backed past authoritarian governments. Koreans also complain the United States treats their nation as an unimportant satellite despite its enormous economic growth and emergence as an Asian power.


San Jose Mercury News (CA)
June 14, 1989

WILLIAM J. MITCHELL, Knight-Ridder News Service

Seoul, South Korea Holed up in the student center’s ballet practice room, Korean students in pigtails and American sweat shirts apply themselves with single-minded diligence to a production that’s only moments away.

Instead of sailing across the room practicing pirouettes, however, the students huddle in a corner. One siphons paint thinner from a big metal drum into Coke bottles. The others use Bic pens to poke wicks of blue-and-white rags into the containers.

They’re making firebombs, preparing for a demonstration that will denounce the United States with nearly as much vehemence as it will condemn South Korean President Roh Tae Woo.

Korean students’ attitudes toward the United States contrast sharply with those of the Chinese students, whose pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing were crushed by troops and tanks June 4.


Since firebombs are against the law in Korea, the woman filling them with fuel declines to give her name. But the 21-year-old library science student is quite willing to explain her mission. Ticking off grievances ranging from trade pressure to the division of her country at the 38th parallel, she lays responsibility for each at the feet of the United States.

”The root of all evil in this land,” she declares to the approving nods of the other students, ”are the Yankees.”

Asked what the United States should do in South Korea, where 43,000 U.S. troops are based, the students burst out laughing. ”What do you think?” responds the woman with the siphon. ”We just want the U.S. to leave.”


Although deep resentment of Japan remains in Korea, the United States has become Villain No. 1 in the eyes of Korean students.


Instead of viewing the United States as their parents and grandparents did — as liberators from Japanese and North Korean invaders — the students tend to regard the United States as the godfather of repressive regimes that took over the country after the Korean War.

They also blame the United States for keeping wages low and hours long as it guided Korea’s economic development, even though recent U.S. pressure to balance its trade deficit with Korea would be aided by higher wages and shorter hours.

Just before the start of a recent demonstration at Yonsei, couriers arrive at the student center to haul the firebombs off in laundry tubs to the main gate of the campus. Inside the gate, thousands of students chanting slogans and thrusting their fists in the air march in formations. In the street beyond, hundreds of riot police line up in black Darth Vader-like helmets and padded brown suits.

In Seoul, demonstrations like these have become so common that elderly women set up concession stands offering rice cakes, doughnuts and surgical masks, the latter providing precious little protection against tear gas.

The gas often drifts far enough beyond the campus to provide tourists and commuters alike with a stiff whiff.

Student attitudes contagious

Some of the students’ attitudes are spreading, as well.

Sul Kyung Hyun, a 31-year-old farmer, blames the growing anti-Americanism on American pressure to open Korean markets to more imports.

A survey of 2,000 eligible voters conducted by Hyundai Research Institute in Seoul found that the percentage of Koreans who dislike the United States rose from 3 percent in 1984 to 16 percent in 1988. The number of people who say they like the United States dropped nearly in half, from 70 percent in 1984 to 37 percent last year.

A survey of 3,700 college students revealed even less friendly views of the United States, with 85 percent holding the United States responsible for the division of the country after World War II.

Financial Times UK
June 15, 1989

Survey of South Korea (6): Bashing Uncle Sam – Relations with the US

Whether South Koreans are hosting Olympic games, building ships, holding demonstrations, eating spicy cabbage called kimchi, or driving their cars, they tend not to do it in half measures.

At the moment, they are America-bashing. Conservatives openly display resentment of US military dominance and its central political role since the Korean war. They say the country has grown up and out of the old relationship. Radicals insist that the US was responsible for dividing Korea in 1945 and for a string of other crimes since.

No matter what goes wrong or has gone wrong in the past, fingers often point first at the US. Washington, a little punch-drunk and amid moans that once again the US has become the whipping boy, has finally responded. Late in the day, it has adopted a policy to lower the American profile – not its military presence – in an effort to smooth a transition to what now has to be a new chapter in relations as Korea emerges as an economic power.


At times, Koreans appear to be playing both sides against the middle. The US should not interfere, but should have stopped Mr Chun at Kwangju; it should treat Korea as an equal, but beats the anti-American drum when the US demands the same access to Korean markets as Korea has in the US; and when Korea is demonstrating its maturity and arrival on the world stage, how could the US allow NBC to shame it?


U.S. News & World Report
August 14, 1989

Volume 107; Issue 7
South Korea only wants a little respect. (anti-American movement)
Fallows, James


Viewed from Mars-or from Tokyo, Beijing or Havana-U.S. -Korean relations would appear to be quite good. Despite student protests against the presence of U.S. troops, polls show that most Koreans want the American soldiers posted along the 3 8th parallel to stay. In the last year, Korea’s trade surplus with tbe United States has been declining, partly because strikes have hampered Korean exporters, but also because the government has taken steps to open the market to imports. When the United States criticized Japan Brazil and India for unfair trading practices this spring, Korean officials were pleased, if slightly surprised, not to be included.

Raw anti-American venom has nonetheless been more evident in Korea during the last year than in countries with more substantial grievances against the United States. Last summer’s Olympic Games in Seoul, which reflected years of painstaking preparation and should have given Korea a moment to bask in its achievements, degenerated into a kind of festival of American-Korean ill will. After U.S. athletes mugged for the television cameras during the opening ceremony, a Korean cabinet minister announced apoplectically that America had “thrown ashes on a perfectly set banquet table.” When two American swimmers were arrested for pilfering a sculpture from a hotel while out celebrating the gold medals they had just won an editorial in a major newspaper, the Chosun Ilbo, said that Koreans were beginning to hate all Americans because of “their arrogance in hurting Korean feelings at random.” Korean crowds began cheering Soviet athletes and booing Americans. Passions may have cooled since then, but not by much.


“There is probably an actuarial -table saying that when you have 40,000 soldiers in a foreign country, you are going to have a murder or rape every so many days,” an American diplomat says. The U.S. command tries very hard to indoctrinate people about behaving right, but the Koreans have simply lost their tolerance for crimes by American soldiers. Koreans are becoming less tolerant of their own military’s imposition on their daily lives, too.”


“As our nation becomes stronger and more mature, naturals we want a more equal-seeming relationship,” one Korean cabinet minister says”There are feelings that people previously had to keep to themselves, which now we want to voice.”

“Fundamentally it is the fact of dependence that annoys Koreans,” says an American who first came here in the Peace Corps. “The country has been down for many years, and now that it is up in so many ways it is aggravating still to depend on the U.S.” Koreans have begun dealing with the awkward reality of dependence in a revealing way.


In a recent analysis of history textbooks used in Korean schools, Linton demonstrated that a similar process is gradually erasing Korea’s memory of what the United States did to save Korea during and after the Korean War. “If you ask Koreans what they want from the U.S., the first item would be ‘a more equal relationship,’ ” says an American diplomat. “But the second would be, ‘We want you to stop trying to make us say thank you every day.’ It’s certainly understandable in human terms.”


The Kwanwu question. For nearly 10 years, most Koreans have assumed that because of America’s great influence in Korea, the U.S. bore ultimate responsibility for the 1980 Kwangju episode, in which Korean troops killed hundreds or perhaps thousands of people while suppressing a protest in the southwestern city of Kwangju. In May, the U.S. State Department released an extraordinary behind-the-scenes history of the incident based on previously classified material, in response to a request by a Korean legislative committee investigating the episode. For Korean readers, the most shocking part of the finding was that Washington was so slow to figure out what was going on and, in any case, had no legal authority to control the troops that were used; whatever happened in Kwangju was done to Koreans by Koreans.


New York Times (NY)
Copyright (c) 1989 The New York Times. All rights reserved.

September 7, 1989
Why Seoul Says Don’t Fix What Isn’t Broken

Hyun Hong-Choo; Hyun Hong-Choo is South Korea’s Minister of Legislation.

SEOUL, South Korea When President Roh Tae Woo, cautioning against troop-reduction sentiment in the U.S. Congress, recently said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he was warning against the poor timing of the proposal and against several key misperceptions on which the argument for withdrawal is based.

First, it has been suggested that South Koreans popularly oppose the U.S. military presence and that there is concern over growing anti-American sentiment.

In fact, the occasional expression of views harshly critical of the U.S. can be traced to a few extremist political groups and a small number of radical university students. Nothing short of complete withdrawal will satisfy these extremists, whose goal is something more revolutionary than democratic reforms.

In any case, the airing of these divergent opinions, which gives an impression of “growing” anti-Americanism, testifies to South Korea’s rapid democratization during the past two years.

The U. S. remains South Korea’s most important and trusted ally and will continue to be considered as such by the vast majority of South Koreans. Reliable polls repeatedly show that 75 percent to 94.1 percent oppose withdrawal or a significant reduction of American troops.


Christian Science Monitor (USA)
October 12, 1989


Daniel Sneider, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

SEOUL VICE PRESIDENT Dan Quayle, his wife Marilyn by his side, inspected a North Korean infiltration tunnel dug under the heavily armed border between North and South Korea and then emerged with a message.

“This tunnel … shows the fanaticism of (North Korea) and how far they are willing to go to export destablization,” the vice president said Sept. 21 to reporters covering his visit.

At a meeting the day before, Mr. Quayle assured South Korean political leaders that the Bush administration is “firmly opposed” to any reduction in the United States military presence in South Korea, or to “any one-sided action that could surprise the South Korean people.”

This is a message that the South Korean government of President Roh Tae Woo has been eager to hear. When President Roh visits Washington next week, where he will address a joint session of Congress, he will be looking for assurances that the US plans no precipitous change in its security commitment. At the same time, he will try to counteract the widespread impression that South Korea is awash in growing anti-Americanism.

The Korean administration is nervous about the efforts of some congressional leaders to push for a unilateral reduction in the number of US troops who help to defend the South. Sponsors in the Senate of a bill to cut back US troops cited increasing anti-Americanism in South Korea as one reason for the move.

In a radio address before his departure, Mr. Roh blamed a “small number of extreme radicals” in South Korea for carrying out anti-American acts, such as burning American flags at demonstrations, which have inflamed anti-Korean sentiments in the US.

The Korean government has the universal backing of the three major opposition parties in sounding this warning against any change in the US posture.

“To talk about withdrawal is premature and hasty,” opposition leader Kim Dae Jung told the Monitor. Mr. Kim, considered the most radical of the opposition leaders, echoed the government view that troop withdrawal should come only after a stable peace is reached with the communist North. Mr. Kim expressed the view, shared by many Koreans, that the withdrawal of US occupation troops in 1949 led to the North Korean invasion in 1950.


In the past, even talk about US withdrawal has been enough to provoke panic in the South. When President Jimmy Carter announced his plan to withdraw US troops from South Korea shortly after taking office in 1976, the South Korean government mounted a massive campaign against it. When US military and political figures added their voices, the Carter administration was forced to back off from its plans.

But since the advent of the Roh administration, brought to power in 1987 by South Korea’s first democratic elections in 17 years, the question of US troop withdrawal has become a subject for open discussion.

While public opinion polls show the vast majority of Koreans still oppose withdrawal, a significant minority feels that the US troops are a barrier to the cherished goal of reunification of the divided Korean peninsula.

The resumption last year of direct talks between North and South Korean parliamentary and government representatives, for the first time since 1985, encouraged many Koreans. The government was under fire for being too passive in its unification policy, prompting Roh to declare a new more open approach to the North in a speech on July 7, 1987.


At the same time, the official South Korean stance on the security links with the US also shifted slightly. At that time, then Defense Minister Lee Ki Bek said that South Korea would achieve rough military parity with the North, based on the growth of its military capacity and its economic strength, by the mid-1990s. Korean officials linked this confident prediction to the timing of the beginning of withdrawal of US forces in Korea.

Those views were quietly dumped this spring, when the government took a sharply hostile stance toward the North. The rise of pro-North Korean radical activity in the South, coupled with the highly publicized visits of dissident and radical student figures to the North, prompted a domestic crackdown and a freeze in the talks. The South Koreans have accused the North of using the dialogue to promote “subversion” in the South.


Earlier this year, Defense Minister Lee Sang-hoon told the National Assembly that South Koreans could not face the North on their own until at least the early part of the next century. Last month, he told the Assembly that in the case of withdrawal of all US forces, South Korea would have to spend $5.2 billion a year for five years to maintain military capacity at its present level. The estimate was intended as an argument to persuade Koreans of the necessity of keeping the US forces, says Cha Young Cha, a defense analyst at the government-linked Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

Washington Times (DC)
October 19, 1989

Daryl Plunk


Plans are being advanced in the U.S. Senate to reduce the number of American troops in the ROK significantly. The proposals, however, are based upon incorrect assumptions about South Korean popular sentiment toward the U.S. troop presence, the ROK’s defense burden and the comparative economic and military strengths of South and North Korea. More important, these plans mistakenly presume that stability on the peninsula would not be adversely affected by U.S. troop reductions.

These congressional moves are ill-timed and would threaten the peace in Korea as well as U.S. interests throughout Asia. The stakes for the United States are high, because superpower interests converge on the Korean peninsula and an outbreak of war there could destabilize all of East Asia.

Democratic Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas has introduced S. 1264, legislation which calls for reducing U.S. forces in Korea by 10,000 over the next three years.

Mr. Bumpers expressed concern over anti-Americanism in the ROK and suggested that the U.S. presence is widely unpopular among South Koreans.


For the past 40 years, South Korea has been one of the most pro-American nations in the world and supportive of the U.S.-ROK defense alliance. While a small number of radical South Koreans today express harsh anti-American feelings, the extent of these opinions has been exaggerated by some observers.

As U.S.-ROK ties have grown more complex in recent years, strains have developed between the two allies. This is probably most apparent in the area of trade. Many South Koreans resent U.S. pressure aimed at opening ROK markets to more American exports. Still, a distinction should be made between “anti-Americanism” and the ROK criticisms which are voiced from time to time over various aspects of U.S.-Korean relations.

Despite these tensions, the Korean people strongly support the U.S. troop presence. A poll taken last October by the Korea Gallup Organization found that an overwhelming majority of South Koreans, 73.6 percent, favors the stationing of U.S. troops in the ROK. Only 16.2 percent expresed support for troop withdrawal.


Daryl M. Plunk is a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation and vice president of The Richard V. Allen Co.

Seattle Times (WA)
March 11, 1991


As the first U.S. troops head home from the Persian Gulf War, more than 40,000 U.S. service people still are stationed in South Korea, where a war ended much more murkily 38 years ago.

Lost in reports from the Gulf fronts were the recently released recommendations of the Committee on U.S.-Republic of Korea Relations, calling for changed policies to recognize new realities in the relationship between the two allies.

Among the key recommendations of the group, established in 1989 by the East-West Center in Honolulu and the Seoul Forum for International Affairs:

— The U.S. should consider removing its nuclear weapons from South Korea, an action that the committee said could be taken without endangering South Korean security and that could provide the government there with political advantages in its continuing effort to improve its

dialogue with the Communist government in North Korea. Though the U.S. government will neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons, a document obtained by The Times indicates about two dozen are stored on the peninsula.

— South Korea, the U.S. and Japan should work in concert on diplomatic initiatives toward North Korea.

— South Korea and the U.S. should each train specialists on the other’s country and engage in policy-oriented research on issues and cooperation between them to counter increasing anti-Americanism in Korea and a likely decline in U.S. interest in Korea as global security concerns recede.

— Both countries should redouble their efforts to mend the “serious deterioration of bilateral economic relations.”


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
November 13, 1994


A virulent strain of anti-Americanism coursing through the veins of South Koreans for decades has broken into the open to jeopardize the security posture of the United States in northeast Asia.

The immediate cause of the outbreak is the recent nuclear accord with North Korea negotiated by the United States.

Many South Koreans say America gave away too much. They resent a pact to set up liaison offices in Washington and Pyongyang, which has the look of U.S. diplomatic recognition of North Korea.

Others are angry the government in Seoul was excluded from negotiations in Geneva and say South Korean views were ignored.

Several scholars asserted during a recent seminar at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul that South Korea has been pushed into an inferior position.

Reunification of South and North Korea has been subordinated to the nuclear issue, they argue, and agree with many Koreans that this will cost Seoul financially and politically.

American officials deny that South Korea has been left out and assert that Seoul is being consulted in policymaking on North Korea. Recent visits to Seoul by Secretary of Defense William Perry and Secretary of State Warren Christopher have had a mission of trying to mollify Seoul.

Whatever the case, the anti-Americanism has begun to have an effect.

Some American corporate executives have stopped doing business in South Korea because it has become too difficult, U.S. officials say — even though South Korea is among Asia’s fastest growing economies.

“Planeloads of American executives are overflying Korea on the way to China and Southeast Asia,” a Western diplomat said.

Richard A. Morford, a senior State Department official, who took part in a year-long dialogue on economic relations between the United States and South Korea that ended last spring, echoed that thought.

“In many cases Korean attitudes reflect the heritage of the ‘hermit kingdom,’ ” Morford writes in a newsletter of the Washington-based Korea Institute of America — a reference to Korea’s closure to foreigners until late in the 19th century.

In defending South Korea’s position, Kim Jong-Hoon, counselor for economic affairs at the Korean embassy in Washington, says, “Korea’s sovereignty has been repeatedly threatened.” Kim writes, in the same newsletter: “Foreign equity was regarded as economic encroachment that might eventually lead to political domination.”

Eventually, the security alliance between Seoul and Washington could be weakened by anti-Americanism. That could even create a demand for withdrawal of U.S. military forces stationed here since 1945.

A Korean scholar suggests that consequence when he asserts: “You keep your troops here only to make sure Korea stays divided.”

Today the American embassy in Seoul is surrounded by fences topped with barbed wire and requires three security checks, including an inspection for car bombs before a visitor is admitted.

The U.S. military headquarters, the U.S. Information Service and American consulates outside Seoul have similar security precautions. A platoon of Korean riot police was recently posted outside the USIS Kwangju American Center to protect it.

The vitriol is especially evident among South Koreans under age 40, including government officials. Older Koreans who remember the U.S. liberation of Korea from Japan in 1945 and the U.S. fight to repel the North Korean invasion of 1950 are less critical.

American investors are making few new investments or else turning present holdings over to Koreans to manage or buy. The Bank of Korea reports that American investment has risen slightly, but has hovered below $300 million a year over the past seven years.

A joint survey on economic competitiveness in 1994 by the World Economic Forum and the International Institute for Management Development, both in Switzerland, ranks South Korea as 31 out of 41 industrial and developing nations.

“This poor showing in ‘internationalization’ is due to protectionism (41st), cultural openness (41st), the lack of partnerships with foreign firms (40th) and foreign direct investment (32nd),” the survey reports.

Tourists are clearly affected by the anti-American and anti-foreign attitudes. A Korean politician who surveyed Seoul travel agencies recently found that two-thirds of the travelers to Korea say they would not return.

Business Traveler, a Hong Kong magazine, earlier this year ranked Seoul among the least receptive to foreign travelers.


Koreans have become restless with Korean military forces remaining under a U.N. command that is effectively an American command. They resent an agreement that exempts American military people from Korean law, with only a few exceptions. [Which is simply not true.]

South Koreans also indicate they are still smarting because the United States forced Seoul to back off its plan to acquire nuclear weapons in the early 1970s.

Altogether, many Koreans assert, their dignity has been offended.

“What you Americans don’t understand,” a journalist in Kwangju said during a roundtable discussion about the nuclear issue and reunification, “is that our national pride has been hurt.”

In discussions in major South Korean cities, the same criticisms were heard repeatedly.

“We are under too much American influence,” a scholar said. “You are an egoistic nation,” a journalist contended. “You have imperial ambitions in Korea and Asia,” a scholar said.

A journalist in Pusan seemed to sum up the Korean feeling when he asked, partly in lament and partly in demand, that Americans try to see what Koreans are really thinking about.


AP Online
August 29, 1995

U.S. Military Plagued by Anti-Americanism over Soldier Crimes

SEOUL, South Korea In front of the main U.S. military compound, a few dozen South Koreans are railing at what they call a rising wave of crimes by American troops.

”Punish the Criminal Soldiers! Yankee Go Home!” they shout.

The protests, a weekly event since a brawl in May involving U.S. soldiers, underscore the growing ambivalence here toward the American presence. They also have prompted Seoul and Washington to
review the terms of the cohabitation.

Opinion polls and virtually all prominent leaders support the U.S. presence, which protects one of Asia’s most vibrant economies from threats from communist North Korea.

American forces, the largest contingent among the 16 nations that fought in the 1950-53 Korean War on Seoul’s side, are seen as heroes by older generations.

But for radical students and an increasing number of other people, Korean nationalism has come to be defined as standing up to America and its most visible symbol the 37,000 U.S. soldiers still stationed here.

Several recent reports of assaults on South Koreans by U.S. soldiers have left civic groups and students chafing at what they see as a double standard.

”Our people no longer expect the United States to remain a blood-tied ally forever,” the National Alliance for Democracy and Unification of Korea, an anti-government umbrella group, said in a
statement denouncing the alleged wave of crimes by U.S. troops.

The most publicized was the brawl in May between eight U.S. soldiers and a group of South Korean civilians.

South Korean newspapers, which usually give prominent play to crimes involving U.S. troops, reported the Americans beat up a Korean man protesting a soldier groping a South Korean woman in a
crowded subway car.

The U.S. military said the woman was the soldier’s wife and claimed the soldiers were the victims, not ”drunken, unruly predators” as depicted by some local newspapers.

Two American soldiers are awaiting trial on assault charges that carry a maximum 2 1 2 years in prison. Two others are expected to be fined $1,300 to $1,950, prosecutors say.

”We see the case as symbolic of the special treatment American soldiers enjoy when they commit outrageous crimes,” said Cho Jae-hak, who belongs to a group called ”Headquarters of a National
Campaign to Eliminate Crimes by U.S. Military in Korea.”

The group claims local police were forced to hand the soldiers over to U.S. authorities without securing evidence that could have led to more charges. It also insists another woman was harassed.

In a claim widely supported by the local media, Cho’s group says American soldiers involved in criminal cases go unpunished because of the 1954 ”Status of Forces Agreement” on U.S. soldiers stationed here.

”There are some provisions that are disadvantageous to Koreans,” said Choi Hyong-chan of the Foreign Ministry.

Koreans are particularly angry about regulations that allow American soldiers to remain in U.S. custody pending investigation and trial. The U.S. side cites South Korea’s often ”inhumane” investigation methods and prison conditions.

Following public furor over the subway incident, Washington and Seoul have agreed to review the agreement for the second time in four years.

U.S. Ambassador James T. Laney fueled the fire last week when he told The New York Times that public irritation was mainly due to an irresponsible Korean media portraying the crimes luridly.

”His approach to the case is seriously wrong,” the mass-circulation Joong-ang Daily News said in an editorial Saturday, one of a rash of angry commentaries denouncing Laney.

According to Justice Ministry figures, American soldiers commit about 1,500 crimes annually, mostly minor offenses like traffic violations. About a dozen soldiers are serving time in Korean jails.

Orlando Sentinel
April 14, 1996

Richard Halloran Special To The Sentinel

President Clinton is to meet with President Kim Young Sam of South Korea and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto of Japan this week when U.S. relations with Seoul are rocky and with Tokyo at perhaps the lowest point since World War II.

Moreover, the continuing crisis over Taiwan may cause all three to look over their shoulders even though the confrontation with China is in a lull now.

In Korea, anti-Americanism courses through the mainstream. A Korean scholar who favors his nation’s alliance with the United States summed up a widespread feeling when he told a visiting American not long ago: ”We don’t trust you.”

Koreans have repeatedly expressed dismay that the United States may negotiate with arch-enemy North Korea behind their backs; Pyongyang is maneuvering again to get the United States to sign a peace treaty replacing the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War – and to cut Seoul out of the process and thus make it lose face.

Like many other Asians, Koreans fear that the United States is becoming isolationist and will abandon them, although dispatching two aircraft carriers last month to counter Chinese drum beating on the shore opposite Taiwan may have tamped that down for a while.

At the same time – and this may seem inconsistent to Americans – Koreans resent the continuing presence of U.S. forces in Korea more than 50 years after World War II. Equally, xenophobic Koreans, believing that they have been oppressed by China, Russia and Japan over the centuries, see the United States as another big power come to trample them.

President Clinton’s hasty decision to see President Kim does not sit well with Koreans. The two presidents will meet briefly on the resort island of Cheju-do rather than in a full visit in Seoul before Clinton goes on a three-day state visit in Tokyo. Little perturbs Koreans more than to play second fiddle to bitter rivals in Japan, a legacy of 35 years of Japanese colonialism.


Asian Survey
August 1996
Volume 36

South Korean anti-Americanism: a comparative perspective
Shin, Gi-Wook

The writer argues that the pro-Americanism in South Korean public opinion has substantially given way to anti-Americanism since the mid 1980s. Using the popular version of Korean anti-Americanism rather than the intellectual version, he investigates public opinion polls conducted in the early 1990s and, in the process, examines variations in the extent and nature of anti-Americanism among various social groups differentiated by age, education, class, income, and region. Furthermore, he places his study of anti-American feeling in South Korea in a comparative setting and states that without a comparative approach, Korean anti-Americanism uniqueness may be exaggerated and the effort to capture distinctive features of the Korean pattern may be hindered. It is concluded that the U.S. must take seriously the rising tide of Korean nationalism so as to work out a genuine partnership involving more consultation and decision-sharing.

Seattle Times (WA)
May 28, 1997



HONOLULU Early in this century, the United States turned to gunboat diplomacy from time to time in Asia to advance what Washington considered America’s national interests. Now, some strategic thinkers are suggesting it may be time to devise a fresh and constructive form of gunboat diplomacy with a new mission and new forces.

The reason is that the U.S. is confronted with a dilemma in Japan and South Korea, sites of the last U.S. bases in Asia. On one hand, growing anti-Americanism, such as that in Okinawa in Japan, is making forward deployment of U.S. ground troops increasingly untenable. On the other hand, governments in Tokyo and Seoul – and large majorities in both nations, if the polls are to be believed – see an alliance with the U.S. as being in their national interest and a U.S. military presence as witness to the credibility of the American commitment.

Unless the dilemma, which becomes more acute each day, is resolved, both alliances may be undermined.

The U.S. Pacific Command here officially supports the current U.S. position of maintaining a force of 100,000 military people in Asia and the Pacific. Quietly, however, planners and operators often discuss the prospects for a strategy of power projection, in which the U.S. would rely on seapower, air forces and mobile ground forces instead of permanently stationed troops. “We need to think about this,” said one official, “before we’re forced to do it.”


The conflicts in Japan and Korea are strikingly similar. The main American presence in Japan is in Okinawa, where U.S. bases occupy valuable land in the midst of the Okinawan population. In Seoul, the symbol of the American presence is the headquarters of U.S. forces in the former Japanese Imperial Army barracks around which the city has grown, causing friction every day.

In each case, the U.S. has said it would move the forces under two conditions: that each government find new base sites and pay for the move. Both governments have balked because Japanese and Koreans living elsewhere say NIMBY (not in my back yard), and Japanese and Korean taxpayers are not keen about covering the cost.

Thus, the resolution to this dilemma would be for the U.S. to change its military presence from forward deployment to power projection. The U.S. would withdraw its Army division and supporting forces from Korea, and Marine and Air Force units from Okinawa and other parts of Japan. They would move to bases in Hawaii, Alaska or on the West Coast, where they would be available for contingencies anywhere in Asia.


The U.S. would also obtain agreements from Japan and South Korea to retain bases with skeleton crews to supplement the seaborne storage and to provide staging areas for forces from the U.S. The U.S. would also obtain agreements that would give U.S. forces access to Japanese and South Korean bases for training and contingency operations.

Not only would power projection eliminate a vexing problem, but the U.S. would gain in military flexibility. The Army today has only ten divisions. With the Second Infantry Division tied down in Korea, it really has but nine divisions for contingencies. The Marine division in Okinawa, one of three in the Marine Corps, is also tied down even though battalions often go afloat to train elsewhere in Asia. In a mode of power projection, all would be ready for contingencies anywhere in Asia.

A shift from forward deployment to power projection would be phased in carefully so as not to alarm allies nor cause potential adversaries, notably in North Korea, to miscalculate. It would require careful, patient, thorough explanations to governments and publics alike.


In Beijing recently, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili, said: “To reduce our troop presence could destabilize the whole region and could set off a heated arms race. And thus we think the whole region, including China, benefits from our presence.”

That’s true, but the military presence might better be flexible naval, air and ground forces than permanently forward deployed troops.

Jan. 21, 1999, Yonhap, South Korea: IFANS Report on Presence of US Forces After Unification

Jan. 24, 1999, World News Connection: South Korea: Report Cites Opposition To US Presence Post Reunification

The continued presence of U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula after Korean unification depends on the level of Washington’s contribution to the unification efforts, as the majority of Koreans oppose even the modest presence of U.S. troops in a unified Korea, a state-run think tank report said yesterday.

Citing a survey conducted in early 1997 which shows that about 70 percent of South Koreans would be opposed to the continued presence of American troops in a unified Korea, the report by the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS) said that the “posting of even a symbolic number of American forces in a unified Korea would likely run against public opinion.”

The report of the IFANS, the research arm of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said, “The common consensus among Koreans is that a substantial U.S. contribution to unification, should thus be a precondition to a continued U.S. presence in a unified Korea.”

The IFANS report proposes that the existing military alliance between South and the U.S. be expanded into a regional alliance after the unification of the two Koreas to head off the regional rivalry between China and Japan and secure safe sea lanes linking Northeast Asia and the Middle East, the source of energy for Korea, China and Japan.

New (Friendly) Craze in South Korea: The North

New York Times
June 20, 2000

SEOUL, South Korea, June 19 — Suddenly, South Koreans are enthralled with all things North Korean.

Since the two nations vowed to pursue peace and reconciliation last week, sales clerks at the vast Kyobo bookstore in central Seoul have been working overtime to meet an explosive demand here for books about North Korea and Communism.

Across the street, department stores and fashion outlets have been selling out of sunglasses and drab worker’s uniforms similar to those that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, wore at the talks in Pyongyang with the South Korean president, Kim Dae Jung.

And at a nearby Samsung consumer electronics store, the company’s first color television assembled in North Korea went on sale today to rave reviews.

Recent public opinion polls show that a majority of South Koreans surveyed now have a good impression of North Korea and its leader after the talks.

Social commentators here are calling South Korea’s new fascination with its estranged northern neighbor an unexpected case of “Kim Jong Il fever.” But whatever the diagnosis, the summit meeting last week has forced South Koreans to reassess the decades-old cold war view of North Korea as a mortal enemy.

“In high school, we were taught that North Koreans were all Communists and therefore very bad and dangerous people,” Cho Jae Hyung, 17, said as he flipped through titles like “Will Spring Come to Pyongyang?” “A Very Special Leader: Kim Jong Il” and “Che Guevara” at the bookstore.

Talk of South Korea pullout discouraged

Washington Times
June 20, 2000

Senior congressional and administration officials said yesterday that now is not the time to talk of withdrawing American troops from South Korea, noting North Korea still brandishes thousands of hair-trigger troops on the border.

Pyongyang’s oft-repeated demand to remove 37,000 U.S. troops received some impetus last week after the North’s Kim Jong-il and the South’s Kim Dae-jung met in Pyongyang and agreed to a warming of relations.

Then on Saturday, Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, fueled the debate further by saying the administration should start considering a pullout.

But officials said yesterday such talk is premature.

“You keep them there to ensure success,” said Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. “It’s a long time between now and a less-dangerous, or a non-dangerous, peninsula. The North Koreans still have a massive military, and one meeting does not make a unified Korea.

“I would not move one troop until there was really substantial unification, and that would be sometime down the stream,” he said.

Asked what the 50-year U.S. deployment has achieved, Mr. Skelton said: “It’s achieved a democratic South Korea, and if North Korea comes around and a unification occurs, it will have achieved a new country. But that’s way downstream.

“If we weren’t there, North Korea would now be in Pusan again,” added the congressman, referring to the early days of the Korean War, when North Korean forces pushed the South’s army and U.S. troops down the peninsula to what became the Pusan perimeter.

A spokesman for Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the senator opposes any withdrawal.

“He believes that U.S. troops should remain in Korea for the time being because of the threat posed there,” the spokesman said. “We don’t think there should be a precipitous change in our force structure in Korea right now.”

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said: “I believe we should keep troops in South Korea as long as South Korea wants our troops in their country and as long as it is in our national interests to have them there. Both of these criteria are met at this time.”


World News Connection
Copyright (c) 2000 NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.
August 9, 2000

US Military Presence in Korea Viewed

Column by Hong Sun-Il: “US Military Presence”


It is notable, in this regard, that many of South Korea’s previous governments, especially military regimes that lacked legitimacy or popular support, were heavily dependent on the United States, not only for the country’s state security, but also for their regime security.

Thus, those regimes dealt harshly with any anti-Americanism arising either from offenses committed by U.S. soldiers or from the resurgence of nationalism, identifying it as an anti-government movement. The crackdown began to backfire in the early 1980s to aggravate both anti-government struggles and resentment against the United States, which was widely perceived as the guardian of authoritarian regimes, as pro-democracy and nationalistic moves became prevalent and increasingly assertive.

With the demise of the Cold War and an advancement of democracy in South Korea, the situation has vastly changed, with the once-muffled anti-American calls nakedly bursting out — particularly among postwar generations who, now occupying a majority of the population, have no experience of wartime miseries and care less about how the United States came to make its military presence in Korea.

To add fuel to the anti-Americanism — and more pointedly, to argue against the U.S. troop presence — has been a recent series of developments including the unprecedented summit between North and South Korea last June, which heralded a thaw in inter-Korean relations, raising hopes for a diminished threat from the North. Timed coincidentally with the summit was the eruption of various incidents involving misconduct by American troops, which boil down to the acute need to overhaul the “discriminatory” Status of Forces Agreement, a long pending issue between Seoul and Washington.

For all that, anti-American activists make up a small minority in South Korea. In spite of the breakthrough made at the summit, many South Koreans are dubious about North Korea’s preparedness to cut back its formidable military capabilities, including missiles, which Pyongyang has employed and is likely to retain as an intimidating card in dealing with Seoul as well as the United States, Japan and other countries. Thus, polls indicate that a majority of South Koreans are in favor of keeping American troops on their soil with outstanding questions resolved to make the bilateral alliance more equitable.

The support is based on pragmatism — that, despite “national humiliation” and other problems due to the stationing of foreign military forces, the U.S. security commitment is deemed essential, not only for South Korea’s security, but also for the country’s sustained economic progress, by saving defense outlays and international dealings, including inter-Korean negotiations. President Kim Dae-jung, who visited Pyongyang for the summit, has come to insist that U.S. troops must stay even after the two Koreas are unified for the sake of peace and security in Northeast Asia.


Dec. 4, 2000, World News Connection, Tong-a Ilbo-Asahi Shimbun Joint Public opinion poll: “South Korea-Japan-United States-China Public Opinion Poll on ROK-DPRK Relations, ROK-Japan Relations, Impressions of South Korea, General Quality of Life”

The ROK–At Tong-a Ilbo’s request, Research & Research (representative: No Kyu-hyong) conducted a survey by individually interviewing 2,000 men and women 20 years old and older throughout the country from 25 October to 18 November. The respondents consisted of 987 men (49.4 percent) and 1,013 women (50.6 percent), and the margin of error is plus or minus 2.2 percent on a 95 percent reliability curve.

Japan–Asahi Shimbun’s poll office conducted a survey on 19 and 20 November via individual interviews with 3,000 men and women 20 years old and older throughout the country, who were selected at random on two shifts. Valid samples number 2,094 (response rate: 70 percent); the proportion of males to females was 49 to 51. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.1 percent on a 95 percent reliability curve.

The United States–The Louis-Harris Co., a public opinion survey firm, conducted a phone survey from 13 to 18 November, using a sample group of 1,024 males and females 18 years old and older, who were selected randomly from telephone lists in Washington D.C. and 48 states, excluding Hawaii and Alaska. The answers were analyzed, giving weight in proportion to the population by sex, age, and race. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percent on a 95 percent reliability curve.

China–Iryon (transliterated) Information Center conducted a survey during 1 to 10 November, by individually interviewing 1,000 male and female adults 20 years old and older living in Beijing, who were selected at random on various shifts. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percent on a 95 percent reliability curve.




  1. That’s a great compilation of information. How long did it take you to pull this together?

    And some people act like I’m making this stuff up when I talk about the long broiling anti-Americanism here in SK. I’ve been experiencing it since the early ’90s.