A Quick Thought on this Psy business

My ten year-old can already tell you that one of my life’s newer objectives is to die an old man without having heard “Kangnam Style” even once. Pop culture has never been my thing, but I sure did get tired of all the forced Kangnam-Style allusions and cliches in just about everything written about Korea during Psy’s 15 minutes.  Anyway, if you’re wondering whether I’m even a little bit surprised that Psy once sang, “Kill those fucking Yankees …. Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers …. Kill them all slowly and painfully,” well, no, I’m not surprised.  Not even a little.  In fact, I’m sure there was a whole mob cheering those applause lines when he sang them. Some of the rhetoric in South Korea in those days would have made Hamas blush.  It also enjoyed a significant amount of encouragement from — and exploitation by — South Korea’s ruling party. If you doubt me there, then you haven’t read that last link.

You know who made a lot of good points about this? Someone I disagree with more often than not, The Metropolitician.  I agree with him that Psy’s apology was certainly insincere, and the fact that Psy’s “art” has as much to do with Korean culture as a Samsung knockoff. (I allow that Psy may have been just one more ambitious person who exploited the popularity of anti-Americanism for his own selfish reasons, but that excuses nothing.) Having served as a soldier in Korea at the time when Psy was spewing his hate, I don’t deny my feelings of satisfaction that Psy, unlike me, was capable of making millions of Americans aware of the depth of many South Koreans’ hate. I worry that he may also make South Korea as a whole infamous for hate. Like many other things in life, including South Koreans’ own views of America and its soldiers, this would be unfair.  Psy’s promoters must be awfully thankful that their client shares a peninsula with an even more repulsive individual, who provided a timely distraction.


  1. It’s not my intention to play devil’s advocate here at all, or to defend the violent sentiment behind the lyrics you quoted. I’ll also say that I *cannot stand* the song or all the bullshit attention it got and distraction it provided (with the possible exception of Ai Wei Wei’s satirical take on it).

    But: “Kill those f*cking Yankees” and “Kill those f*cking Yankees *who have been torturing Iraqi captives*” aren’t quite the same thing. Not that the latter is acceptable, it’s immediately narrowing the ‘target’ somewhat, from ‘yankees’ to ‘torturers’.

    Then, if we are to believe the Gawker source who challenges the iReporter’s translation (“assholes” rather than “Yankees”), we have “Kill those f*cking assholes who have been torturing Iraqi captives”. Now we’re (potentially, if not realistically) not even talking about Americans anymore.

    I’m only noting this because (to my mind) it clarifies that his violent reaction was a result of, or at least contributed to largely by, the issue of torture of Iraqi detainees, rather than just American people per se. Again, not defending it, but the difference between the real lyrics and those quoted in the post did strike me as important.

  2. So what exactly do “daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers” have to do with Iraq? Iraq is used as the thinnest veneer of a justification for something that’s clearly about race-based group hate. Ssibal yangnyeonnom actually translates to something like “whore’s Yankee bastard,” but the connotation in Korean is much stronger, more like “mother—-.” Kkojaengi is a racist term for “big-noser.”

    Also, I was remiss in failing to tip my hat to Bobby McGill. He deserves kudos for the post that started all of this. He told a lot of Americans something they needed to know about a large number of South Koreans and how they show their gratitude for all our taxpayer-funded military welfare. Completely aside from that, of course, the U.S. Army presence in Korea carries political and military liabilities that have long outweighed their strategic benefits to us. It’s long past time to pull them out.

  3. Pulling the US military out altogether, given its historic role in preventing war and leading to peaceful development in a region that saw four major wars in/over Korea in the six decades prior to our presence, would be an incredibly foolish and myopic act. Its foolishness and myopia would be surpassed only by pulling out the US military altogether because Psy spewed angry lyrics following deadly incidents involving Koreans.

    Now, on the other hand, if you are talking about removing most or all of the US military boots on the ground but leaving the Air Force and Navy installations (and Army advisors and what-not), that’s a different issue.

  4. I think the value of the US military presence in Korea and Japan has been immeasurable, if not always tangible. But I can see some merit in removing some of the ground troops, I guess, although I have qualms about a slippery slope that sees all USFK off the peninsula, which history indicates would be a disaster for millions (including Americans).

    I do think, however, that there is value in having USFK train in the unique conditions on the Korean Peninsula, especially in the northern portion of the ROK. I think that could be done effectively with a smaller contingent, though.

    But as long as the US Army maintains a major presence in South Korea, I think getting the US bases out of Seoul and into Pyongtaek will make them more inaccessible targets for chinboistas. (And US troops are less loathed by aggregate Seoul residents than US Marines are by Oceanside and San Clemente folks… just sayin’).

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