A hat tip to an influential official in the U.S. government, who saw this post at usinkorea and e-mailed me this morning to say, “Josh: These continuing developments in South Korea worry people in Washington.” Thanks also to Antti, whom I presume is the Finnish blogger who helped with the translation:
Japanese bastards were expelled, and American bastards came in.
We thought it was liberation, but they were all same bastards.
Kick them out! Kick them out! USFK! Kick them out!
This is our land! USFK! Kick them out!
All those unspeakable atrocities of the Yankee army
In the name of the Korean race, now they are coming to an end.
Kick them out! Kick them out! USFK!
Kick them out! This is our land! USFK! Kick them out!
Getting rid of you bastards! And moving toward unification!
Making our own destiny with our own strength.
Kick them out! Kick them out! USFK!
Kick them out! This is our land! USFK! Kick them out!
The question Americans should be asking is, “Why wait around for that?” It bears repeating that South Korea’s prosperity and democracy would almost certainly not exist without the United States military and 33,629 soldiers who died to preserve a distant nation from an indescribably bleak alternative.
Yet South Korea today is one of the most anti-American nations in the industrialized world. These lyrics (it’s a generous description to be sure, even accounting for what’s lost in translation) may represent the most extreme anti-Americanism, but there’s ample statistical evidence to show that anti-Americanism and sympathy for the North Korean regime are widespread in South Korea, particularly among the young, and for no identifiable or rational reason.
Nor does South Korea’s uniquely nationalistic anti-Americanism correlate to anti-Americanism in such places as Europe or Canada, where it’s mostly politically driven. Unfortunately, I could find no data to measure the rise of Korea’s anti-Americanism over the last decade, but its presence was palpable when I began my four-year tour of duty in Korea with the Army in 1998. To be sure, many Koreans didn’t care for President Bush’s open revulsion at North Korea’s human rights record or history of diplomatic mendacity, but the data suggest a simpler, uglier explanation for what has come over Korea. In sharp contrast to polling data from other countries that have experienced a rise in anti-Americanism since 9/11 and Iraq, 72% of Koreans with anti-American views express a general hostility to America itself, rather than attributing their hostility to President Bush or his policies, or a combination of both. All of these factors have changed Korean government policy so substantially that the two countries arguably no longer share the same self-perceived interests or values.
Hate Goes Mainstream
Today, the most repulsive forms of hate–discrimination, violence, and political exploitation–have entered Korean’s society’s mainstream through its popular culture. Before there was “Kick Them Out,” there was “Fuck’n USA;” and “Go to Pyongyang.” More recently, a Korean pop singer belted out a blood libel that accused General MacArthur of authorizing mass rapes of Korean women in Seoul (we later learned the source of this alleged historical fact was a North Korean textbook).
Most recently, the far-left Korean Teachers’ and Educational Worker’s Union produced this viciously anti-American “educational” film for the kiddies in Pusan, before President Bush’s arrival for the G-8 Summit. One sequence shows the planes striking the World Trade Center on 9/11, with “What a Wonderful World” playing in the background.
Matters in South Korea have now reached the point that Americans can’t even safely go to some sporting events in Korean cities, presuming they’re even allowed in at all (in contrast, when the North Korean team visited Taegu in 2002, North Korean “journalists” attacked peaceful protestors for human rights in the North; the South Korean government apologized . . . to North Korea, and promised to “deal strongly” with any such demonstrations in the future).
What brought us to this point? As I observed it, anti-Americanism was a strong, but politically latent, force in Korea until the summer of 2002, when my tour ended. Around the time of my own departure, that latency ended. In June of that year, a tragic vehicle accident killed two young girls and unleashed a wave of hatred, bigotry, and violence that was primarily directed at American service members, ironically the same ones who were defending the rights of the South Korean people to speak, assemble, and worship freely. Just as ironically, Korea had the developed world’s highest rate of auto accidents resulting in injury or death–a staggering 700,000 accidents each year–in 2005. Following the accident, the U.S. Army fumbled the accident’s political implications by referring an obvious accident to trial, resulting in two acquittals that were legally more than justified, but politically a gift gift to anti-American and pro-North Korean groups, which suddenly found themselves able to launch massive anti-American demonstrations in Seoul. Far-left candidate Roh Moo-Hyun and his party were swept into power, and the wave of anti-Americanism, which included numerous violent assaults on U.S. service members in Korea, almost certainly gave Roh his narrow victory.
The Army learned many lessons from the 2002 incident, but the political magnetism of anti-Americanism remains irresistable to an emotional, insecure, and deeply xenophobic society. U.S. Forces Korea thus finds that the best it can do is arrest the decay of its public image. An improvement seems too much to ask for. One fatal accident in 2005 was handled with much more skill than the 2002 incident (which might have been much less of a political incident had the Army not decided to bring the case to trial on the eve of a presidential election). work in tandem to tell expedient lies about the U.S. military–lies I can refute from my own personal experience. And in any event, Americans have no monopoly on behavior of that sort, as any past resident of Korea can confirm. Most frustrating is the way Korean media consistently refuse to report incidents such as this one, in which U.S. soldiers saved the lives of Korean accident victims.
Not that any of this matters, at least for some. No reason is really necessary for those so are far beyond the point of reasoning that they insist on handing control of their prosperous democracy to North Korea, which has arguably created the world’s least efficient and most repressive system of government.
The Korean Government’s Game
South Korea’s leftist government, fearful of alienating its own anti-American base and willing to take political advantage of that base’s anti-American message, says nothing to contradict even the vilest of the lies, or to stop the most offensive bigotry (pictures). In one case, a senior ruling party lawmaker praised the “deep ethnic purity” of violent anti-American protestors who tried to tear down a statue of General MacArthur at Incheon on September 11th. Just last week, the same government conveniently forgot to send the police to the site where left-wing union thugs blocked the U.S. Ambassador was going to talk to local media about human rights in North Korea.
This makes the current alliance politically unsustainable in Korea, as it will eventually become in America. The Korean government, worried about the possibility of paying the cost of its own defense after a sudden U.S. departure, is starting to worry about the backlash in the United States, and recently hired a public relations firm to try to convince the American people that Koreans don’t hate America. But they’re not sufficiently not worried to use the persuasive power of office to persuade the Korean people not to hate America, or the soldiers Americans love.
Recently, I approached a senior Korean diplomat in a Washington meeting and politely told him exactly what I, as one who had spent four years helping to defend his country, thought of American soldiers receiving the Jim Crow treatment. I explained what it would do to U.S.-Korean relations that 30,000 Americans are returning home from those circumstances every year. Trying his diplomatic best to disguise his annoyance, he said that it was a “sensitive issue” that he could do nothing about. What he can do is a matter beyond my own knowledge, but as to the sensitivity, I do not believe he knows how right he is.
There is much that the Korean government could do, if it had the will. The first step would be to repudiate anti-Americanism and stop taking political advantage of it. It could then confront its falsehoods and libels with truth, and invoke the rule of law against its violent and discriminatory manifestations. With Korea’s current government, however, this seems too much to expect.