will appreciate this well-researched history of the neighborhood’s sleazy past and present gentrification, although sleaze has been a difficult thing to extinguish from the places where it has put down its roots. During my last visit to Seoul, the brothel district near the former Yongsan Station, now a massive E-Mart, was still plying its trade, just a bit more sedately, and just around the corner from a police precinct. Judging from the link, Hooker Hill still features hookers, despite the new development two blocks away.
My prediction: as long as Itaewon remains within easy walking distance of thousands of lonely, horny Americans, and as long as Korean society continues to view prostitution as a necessary vice for men to patronize discreetly — and as an acceptable service for others peoples’ daughters to provide clandestinely — there will be a sex industry in Itaewon.
A few weeks ago, it was my pleasure to meet up with Don Kirk for beers at the Press Club. Don was kind enough to give me a copy of his new book. I’ve only had time to poke through it so far, but it does (as you would expect) a comprehensive job of discussing the politics of military basing on both islands, each with its own history of conflict and controversy.
Don asked me to give it a plug, and I’m happy to oblige. Here’s the back cover blurb:
For those in the Pentagon, or who are serving in that area with the armed forces, this is something you’ll definitely want to read. It’s awfully expensive in hard cover, so you may want to buy it for your kindle, or use the kindle app (which I liked very much).
On Monday Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Pyongyang regime, called the exercise a “bellicose attempt to escalate the situation on the Korean Peninsula […] by openly threatening it with nukes,” referring to the presence of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington. (The U.S. has a policy of neither confirming nor denying whether its ships are equipped with nuclear armaments.)
A North Korean military spokesman said that the U.S. would be “wholly accountable for the unexpected horrible disaster” that faced its “imperialist aggression forces.” [Time]
Anyone want to start a pool on when KCNA puts up banners calling for Park’s disembowelment?
Not surprisingly, North Korea’s missile test is bringing out a lot of criticism of President Obama’s North Korea policy, but sometimes, that criticism writes itself. Writing at The Cable, Josh Rogin tells us that just as Kim Jong Un was counting down the launch sequence between drags on a smuggled Marlboro, Wendy Sherman and the State Department’s crack team of Asia experts were relaxing at a cocktail party in honor of — smack your forehead now — the Emperor of Japan, while silently thanking Kim Jong Un for not ruining their holidays:
But several attendees at the Japanese emperor’s birthday celebration told The Cable that the fact so many Asia officials were not at their desks illustrated how surprised the administration was about the timing of the launch.
“Everybody stood down. Nobody thought they were going to do it this week. It was a real head fake by the North Koreans,” another top Asia expert and party attendee said. “DOD, State, and the White House were just stunned by it. They were shocked.”
There were varying explanations as to why the Obama administration was caught off guard. North Korea said Dec. 10 said that “technical issues” were forcing it to push back the launch window.
US and South Korean special forces have been parachuting into North Korea to gather intelligence about underground military installations, a US officer has said in comments carried in US media.
Army Brigadier General Neil Tolley, commander of US special forces in South Korea, told a conference held in Florida last week that Pyongyang had built thousands of tunnels since the Korean war, The Diplomat reported.
“The entire tunnel infrastructure is hidden from our satellites,” Tolley said, according to The Diplomat, a current affairs magazine. “So we send (South Korean) soldiers and US soldiers to the North to do special reconnaissance.” [….]
Among the facilities identified are 20 air fields that are partially underground, and thousands of artillery positions. [AFP]
But can this really be true? First, given the way gravity works — yes, even in North Korea — how would these guys get back out again? Jet packs? Second, this would be an act of war, and haven’t we sort of reserved that as North Korea’s exclusive privilege since 1953? Third, assuming that this is true, why would a serving general officer would say it in a room full of people — any room full of any people — thus increasing the risk of compromise and capture?
In an incident reminiscent of the Kang Nam I incident, a U.S. Navy ship has forced another suspected North Korean arms ship to turn around at sea, rather than face the risk of being searched in port. David Sanger of the New York Times reports:
The most recent episode began after American officials tracked a North Korean cargo ship, the M/V Light, that was believed to have been involved in previous illegal shipments. Suspecting that it was carrying missile components, they dispatched a Navy vessel, the destroyer McCampbell, to track it.
“This case had an interesting wrinkle: the ship was North Korean, but it was flagged in Belize,” one American official said, meaning it was registered in that Central American nation, perhaps to throw off investigators.
But Belize is a member of the Proliferation Security Initiative, an effort begun by President George W. Bush’s administration to sign up countries around the world to interdict suspected unconventional weapons. It is an effort that, like the military and C.I.A. drone programs, Mr. Obama has adopted, and one of the rare areas where he has praised his predecessor.
According to American officials, the authorities in Belize gave permission to the United States to inspect the ship.
Bruce Klingner at the Heritage Foundation is proposing an idea whose time has come: a comprehensive, multi-national missile defense system for Asia. Klingner’s argument begins with an explanation of what should be obvious — that diplomacy has failed to disarm North Korea, as China’s own missile arsenal is growing rapidly. The land- and sea-based system Klingner proposes would protect Asian democracies from both North Korea and China, and enhance U.S. national security, as well. Here’s the abstract:
The United States and its allies are at risk of missile attack from a growing number of states and non state terrorist organizations. This growing threat is partic ularly clear in East Asia, where diplomacy has failed to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them on target, and where China continues the most active nuclear force modernization pro gram in the world. To counter these growing threats, the U.S. should work with its allies, including South Korea and Japan, to develop and deploy missile defenses, including ground-based, sea-based, and air-based components.
You have to admit that it was pretty diabolical of Lee Myung Bak to have planted those human shields in their own villages and homes years before he was even inaugurated. In fact, the two civilians who were actually killed were construction workers on the ROK Marine post, but the given the North’s shelling of civilian neighborhoods, it’s lucky there weren’t a lot more “human shields” killed:
The North really does have a special gift for adding insult to injury. Still, just try to fathom the reaction to this if there had been no North Korean shelling, and a single American shell had gone astray instead.
Separately, the North is also making veiled threats against the U.S. carrier battle group that’s now headed for the Yellow Sea:
“If the U.S. brings its carrier to the West Sea of Korea at last, no one can predict the ensuing consequences,” the report said, using the Korean name for the Yellow Sea.
You know, given what the North has shown itself to be capable recently, I wouldn’t dismiss this as an empty threat. I think the danger of a severe escalation is more grave than even most Washington insiders tend to believe. What if the North tried to torpedo one of our ships?
I can’t pass on the chance to say a few things about the firing of General McChrystal. I don’t think President Obama could have not fired him, leaving him in charge of our war effort in state where he clearly lacks the confidence of the President, his cabinet, the people, and quite probably his own soldiers. I knew few soldiers who had strong partisan views, but fewer who held much respect for conduct like this. More than a few must have mentally run through their checklist of the Army Values and realized that the first three are “loyalty,” “duty,” and “respect.” As many others have already said, the military leadership must respect and subordinate itself to the elected political branches. It is of no consequence that you might just agree with the substance of McChrystal’s views about, say, Joe Biden (if I’m guessing right, so does President Obama in his tiny sphere of privacy). The decision to fire McChrystal was an obvious one, and President Obama seems to have done it with about the right combination of force and tact.
The harder question was replacing McChrystal without confusing the command structure or the flow of operations, or suggesting a lack of commitment to the greater effort.
Normally, I actually like Chris Smith, but it’s just plain dumb to go after U.S. service members who, while thousands of miles from home, pursue (a) human nature, and (b) a form of commerce that’s more-or-less openly available to 23 million South Korean men around them:
A bill to create a director of global anti-human trafficking policies in the Department of Defense was introduced Thursday in an effort to better monitor the way the military deals with South Korean “juicy bars” that cater to American troops and have often been linked to prostitution.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., drafted the bill to create the assistant secretary-level position. The office would “investigate links between trafficking in persons and … members of the Armed Forces and contractors of the department,” according to a copy of the bill Smith’s staff e-mailed to Stars and Stripes. [Stars & Stripes]
First, a point of order: juicy girls aren’t necessarily prostitutes. They are employees of “juicy bars” who charge customers, in some places U.S. military personnel, for the privilege of buying them overpriced drinks (usually colored water or juice) while cuddling with the girls or feeling them up. Some sell sex, some sell it to selected customers only, and some don’t sell it at all.
The United States Thursday denied reports that it will soon have closed-door discussions with South Korea and China on plans for upheaval in North Korea.
“I have not been told we are going to have this type of meeting at this particular point,” a senior State Department official said, asking not to be named. “If we are working on that in sort of an early stage, that could be possible.” [Yonhap]
Normally, I’d be tempted to believe this because they denied it, but in this case, I’m tempted to believe it because they really didn’t deny it.
Reports said that representatives of the U.S. Pacific Command and state-run defense think tanks of South Korea and China will get together in Beijing next month to discuss control of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction and refugees in case of a coup or the sudden death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
This is one area where diplomacy with China is urgent, necessary, and maybe even promising. It’s in our interests to help Koreans realize their dream of living in one country and learning to hate each other as only neighbors and relatives can.
So Operations Key Resolve and Foal Eagle have started again. I boldly predict that this year, as has been the case for each year for the many decades we’ve had troops stationed in South Korea, the exercise will not end with an American invasion of North Korea. Just as predictably, North Korea is threatening the United States and/or South Korea. The challenge for North Korean propagandists is always how to make each year’s threat stand out from such previous-year classics as “sea of fire.” After all, you can only say “brigandish,” “imperialist,” and “merciless” so many times before people start to suspect you’re writing your missives with pre-printed refrigerator magnets.
The North’s military warned Sunday that it would bolster its nuclear capability and break off dialogue with the U.S. in response to the drills. It also said it would use unspecified “merciless physical force” to cope with them, saying it is no longer bound by the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. [AP]
“The revolutionary armed forces of (North Korea) will be left with no option but to exercise merciless physical force as the rival is set to do harm to the (North),” the military’s mission at the truce village of Panmunjom said in a statement carried by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency.
By what unhappy accident did the muses of Seoul’s urban planning put a large mosque with a significant population of Pakistani fundamentalists in its congregation smack-dab on top of Hooker Hill? Walking through Itaewon shortly after 9/11 and shortly before my DEROS date, watching chitrali hats and shalwar kamiz coexist uneasily with spandex mini-dresses, Dimple scotch, and crowded nightclubs frequented by U.S. military personnel, I confess to having thought: it’s just a matter of when.
A Pakistani man who claims to be a member of the Taliban has been arrested for passing through South Korea 17 times on a fake passport, police said Friday, revealing problems with the country’s immigration control ahead of a summit of the world’s 20 major economies in November, according to Yonhap News. [….]
“He entered Korea with his own passport in 2001 and stayed through June 2003. He confessed that he was asked by Taliban leaders to collect information about the U.S. military bases in Korea,” an office with the Seoul police said. [Korea Herald]
The 31 year-old man entered Korea under the false pretense of being a religious leader of “a local mosque in Korea.” This isn’t the first report of Taliban and other al-Qaeda-linked groups operating in South Korea, either.
South Korea, which spent the better part of the last two decades bitching that it wanted to be treated like America’s equal, has been bitching ever since the Pentagon decided that Korea was just about ready to take over wartime operational control of its own military, you know … for its own defense. Needless to say, and largely as a result of having served in the USFK myself for four years, I’m neither as sympathetic nor as diplomatic as our C.G.:
“We are still responsible to come and help defend this great country,” Army Gen. Walter Sharp said. “And what I’m going to do is to take this year and educate the folks of South Korea as to what these transitions mean.”
Some South Koreans also worry another change the U.S. is making–extending typical troop assignments to up to three years and allowing more personnel to bring their families with them–will lead to a reduction in the roughly 28,000 U.S. troops currently stationed there. Both changes began several years ago after prolonged negotiations between Seoul and Washington. But they have been opposed by many South Koreans, including conservative politicians and military retirees who say any changes will leave the country vulnerable to attack by North Korea.
Sure, I could link to a sappy YouTube tribute, but my weakness for empirical data gets the best of me in my weaker moments, so I decided to link to the latest Brookings Iraq Index instead. If you’re like me, you also look forward to the day when Iraqis are banning GI’s from their booking clubs, protesting the SOFA, and bitching about the high price the Americans are charging for the biofuels that began to edge gasoline aside in 2015 and transformed Saudi Arabia into a blighted, dusty place that survives by sending its daughters off to work as maids in the Philippines.
Then it occurred to me that there’s no rule against following a batch of empirical data with a nice, sappy video:
Oh beautiful, for heroes proved through liberating strife
Who more than selves their country loved,
And mercy more than life
With my deepest appreciation to my fellow vets for an abundance of peace and prosperity we’re all free to take for granted.
If ever a man deserved a Pay-Per-View execution, it is the loathsome Nidal Malik Hasan. Unfortunately, as I explain, the military’s capital punishment system is broken, and Nidal Hasan may well end up spending decades on death row with the (also loathsome) Hasan Akbar.