Archive for Anti-Americanism

Post-Sunshine South Korea is sober, pragmatic, and grouchy.

In this post last week, I cited polling data showing how South Koreans’ views of North Korea have hardened in recent years, representing a dramatic swing since the fervent anti-Americanism and pro-appeasement sentiment of the Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun years. I reckoned that the 2010 Cheonan and Yeonpyeong attacks were the tipping point in this shift, but a wealth of polling data from the Pew Global Attitudes Project changes my mind about this. I wish the data directly measured South Koreans’ views of North Korea, but they do measure other indicators that turn out to have a logical relationship to them.

In the decade between 2003 (the height of the anti-American wave) and 2013, the polls tell us that South Koreans’ views shifted steadily toward what we usually associate with “conservative” views — their opinion of the U.S. became 32% more favorable, unfavorable views of the U.S. fell 30% to just 20% in 2013, and 15% more South Koreans believed that the U.S. considers their country’s interests “a great deal” or “a fair amount” in making international policy decisions.

Between 2008 and 2013, the percentage of South Koreans viewing the U.S. as a “partner” as opposed to an “enemy” rose 18%, from just 51% to 69%. Between 2002 and 2013, favorable views of China fell 20%, to 46% (up from the 2010 nadir of just 38%). Very few South Koreans see China’s growing military power as “a good thing.” About a quarter of South Koreans view China as an enemy, but that figure has hardly shifted since 2008, when it was first measured.

The results I had really hoped to show you come from a poll by the Asan Institute, which I’d picked up as a paper booklet at a conference last summer. The poll gave a detailed generational breakdown on South Korean attitudes toward the North, and showed that Koreans in their 20’s were the most conservative age group in two generations. That’s immensely relevant; unfortunately, I’ve managed to lose the pamphlet in one of my stacks of paper, and I can’t find the results online, so you’ll have to settle for the next best thing — this report from Asan’s Kim Jiyoon, which shows us the same image in lower resolution:

When examined by age group, there is an interesting but consistent tendency. The young generation of South Korea exhibits conservative attitudes toward national security issues. They are quite a different species from the young generation ten years ago. Conventionally, a conservative South Korean tends to be hostile and assertive toward North Korea and friendly toward the United States. Much like those who are in their sixties, a disproportionate number of the youngest generation of Korea chose to support the United States (64.8%) in the hypothetical match against North Korea. This is the second highest proportion following the oldest generation’s support 72.8 percent. The most ethnically bound generation was in their forties—the so-called 386 generation. 

Surprisingly, most of this shift occurred between 2007 and 2009. The trend was underway before the election of Barack Obama, the Cheonan Incident, the Yeonpyeong Incident, the killing of Park Wang-Ja and the closure of Kumgang, or any of the events Americans might be tempted to think catalyzed this trend. It’s more likely that a steady stream of evidence gradually undermined the grandiose and wishful unifictions of the Korean left. The incidents of 2010 were not the cause of the shift, but probably solidified it just as people were growing tired of Lee Myung Bak, and prepared to listen to criticism of his policies.

There is also evidence that the Yeonpyeong attack shook off many South Koreans’ disbelief that North Korea sank the CheonanThis report by the International Crisis group cites a poll showing that Yeonpyeong attack convinced 17.7% of South Koreans that North Korea sank the Cheonan.* It’s human nature to view evidence as self-affirming, and I suppose plenty more South Koreans who were at least willing to entertain Cheonan conspiracy theories before Yeonpyeong decided, after the event, that they knew all along that North Korea did it. And overwhelmingly, they wanted to hit North Korea back.

The data suggest a zero-sum ideological contest between North Korea and the United States. The good news is that the contest has shifted away from North Korea lately (I care much less whether it shifted toward us). The bad news is that the shift is more a withdrawal of interest, of investment, of hope, and of fear. It does not look forward to reunification and has no desire to hasten it. It is the grouchy hangover that follows intoxication. I have no quarrel with pragmatism; it’s the selective apathy I can’t stand. And young Koreans are as blindly nationalistic as their elders, despite their immersion in the global culture.

The rejection of appeasement in its most masochistic forms, in a favor of a more rational, interest-based calculus, should not be confused with a complete rejection of inter-Korean exchanges or dialogue. It especially should not be confused with affection for the United States, or for the young, libidinous, and occasionally drunken American soldiers gallivanting around Seoul, Pyongtaek, and Uibongbu.** What it means is that South Koreans think they need us, and that the Sunshine fad is over.

Later this week, I’ll examine how South Korea’s changed media environment may have contributed to these changes, and why, even if the Democratic Party wins the next elections, it will be on a far more moderate platform than that of its predecessor, the Uri Party. It all sort of fits together. Trust me.

~  ~  ~

This particular study also makes the mathematically impossible finding that 83.6% already believed that North Korea did it. The study concluded that South Koreas were moving to the left, but based this conclusion on a snapshot of public opinion during the second and third years of the Lee Administration, a point in the political cycle when voters usually grow disenchanted with the party in power. No wonder the study wrongly predicted a DP victory in the 2012 election.

** Except me, of course. I’m sure I was a lot nicer than the other drunken, libidinous young soldiers.

Update, Feb. 10:

Many thanks to Steven Denney for providing two links to studies relevant to this post. The headline is that ethno-nationalism is on the decline in Korea, but when I read the actual texts, I’m more inclined to think that the character of Korea’s ethno-nationalism has changed from generation to generation. Nationalism is no longer seen in explicitly political terms that militate union with the North. Instead, the younger generation invests its national pride in the South Korean nation, rather than in the Korean race. Says CSIS:

Koreans have begun to view themselves and their republic in a way that reflects political, social, and economic realities. Korea’s new nationalism is based less on 

ethnicity than previous strands of nationalism, views the state with an increasing level of confidence, and presumes that South Korea is on the rise in East Asia and the world. …

The 2013 data makes it clear that the South Korean public judges North Korea on its actions, with public opinion turning sharply against the North following tensions in early 2013. Of course, if North Korea can become a responsible neighbor, attitudes would improve. The question is if the North can achieve this before the youngest South Koreans decide that they, and their country, are better off seeing the Republic of Korea as a completely separate political and national entity. In 2012, while 11 percent of those in their 60s expressed no interest in reunification, 23 percent of those in their 20s stated the same. Notably, it was those in their 20s (60 percent) who were most in favor of reunification on South Koreans terms, indicating a less accepting and less tolerant attitude toward the North. …

The most important point to make is how sharply South Koreans in their 20s have broken in their views of North Korea with those in their 30s and 40s. In 2011 and 2012, those in their 20s were the least likely to identify the North Korea as “one of us.” Indeed, in 2012 this cohort was more likely to define the North as an enemy (24 percent). Following heightened inter-Korean tensions in the first quarter of 2013, the response “one of us” decreased by 9 percentage points.

I suppose if push came to shove, it would still be a case of “my brother and me against my cousin, my cousin and me against the stranger.” And I would hesitate to conclude that we’re seeing the emergence of a post-racial Korea. Still, we’ve at least seen the decline of an explicitly political racism in South Korea, something that disgusted me enough to inspire the very creation of this site. That is good news, because political racism never ends well.

Young South Koreans were also more confident in their country than their elders, and more resolute in the face of North Korea provocations. I can’t help thinking that insecurity is often the root of nationalism in its most extreme forms.

Gates: Roh Moo Hyun was “anti-American” and “a little crazy,” and Lee Myung Bak wanted to bomb the crap out of Kim Jong Il.

This must be the most controversial understatement of the year, so far:

Reading a new memoir by former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, South Koreans may be quite surprised by his characterization of the country’s late President Roh Moo-hyun as “a little crazy.”

I estimate that approximately 63.8% of them won’t be in complete shock about that.

Gates recalls a November 2007 meeting in Seoul with the liberal-minded president, whose diplomatic and security policy is still being debated. He calls Roh “anti-American and probably a little crazy.”

Roh was quoted as telling Gates that “the biggest security threats in Asia were the United States and Japan.” [Yonhap]

He said that to the U.S. SecDef’s face, and the SecDef thinks he’s a little crazy? If anything, Gates was too kind. I’m tempted to make the case that Roh’s policies were detached from reality, but I did enough of that when Roh was alive, and besides which, there’s someone willing to argue that about every politician.

Instead, evaluate Gates’s description on its literal, medical merits. If you must, pick some less pejorative adjective, like “unbalanced.” A retrospective examination of Roh’s public statements while in office, which clearly foretold his cause of death, could have been grounds to commit him to an institution for his own safety. Not only did Roh seem to lack the will to govern, I often sensed (correctly, as it turned out) that his suicidal ideations didn’t have an exclusively political character.

I worried more that Roh was projecting those ideations onto his entire country.

Gates also confirms that Lee Myung Bak had intended to carry out a “disproportional” response using “both aircraft and artillery” after North Korea’s attacks of 2010, but that the Obama Administration forced Lee to call off the strikes.

Sometimes, a missile is just a missile

Every time North Korea tests a rocket, Hans Blix sheds a little tear and Ban Ki Moon’s fluffy white tail stops wagging, because North Korean rocket tests violate three U.N. Security Council Resolutions — 1695 (which bans “all activities related to its ballistic missile programme”), UNSCR 1718 (ditto, and requires N. Korea to “re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launching”), and 1874 (which bans “any launch using ballistic missile technology”).  North Korea’s official response is that it is launching peaceful satellites, not testing ICBMs.  You may be wondering if anyone on the Outer Earth is still fool enough to believe this.

There’s little reason to doubt North Korea’s claim that it simply wants to put a satellite into space.  [John Feffer, Foreign Policy in Focus]

Maybe John Feffer just needs more reason, so he can reason his way to what’s obvious to the rest of us.

North Korea exhibited the fuselage of what is presumed to be the long-range rocket it launched in December, and explicitly called it a ballistic missile, despite its claims to the outside world that the Unha-3 was part of its peaceful space development program, a report said Monday.

The report by Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun quoted North Korean sources as saying that the fuselage was displayed under the name “Hwasong-13″ among the exhibitions of the country’s missile lineup in an exhibition hall in Pyongyang. The Hwasong line also includes shorter-range scud missiles, which the country has produced since the 1980’s.  [Yonhap]

Well, you say, if they’re missiles, then they must be for strictly defensive deterrence.  No need to infer any malicious intent here, right?  So we now have this, via North Korea’s quasi-official Uriminzokkiri:

Uriminzokkiri roughly translates to “among our race only” and is aimed at South Korean norksimps. It is reportedly run from China, a country that selectively decides what speech should be permitted based on the state’s value judgments about its content.  Or so you may have heard.  (Hat tip)

If your memory is long enough, may recall that other norksimps in South Korea, the Korean Teachers’ Union, produced an equally sickening video for schoolchildren before the 2005 APEC Forum in Busan, featuring replays of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, set to “What a Wonderful World.”  A theme seems to be emerging.

I’m sure that all across the more progressive quarters of this world, there are fevered minds with room enough for the conflicting lunacies that the Jews and neocons pulled off 9/11, and also that on 9/11, nineteen great martyrs fulfilled a divine mandate of vengeance against toddlers, flight attendants, and office workers.  Similarly, there’s clearly some market in some quarters of Korea for fantasies of North Korea’s peaceful satellites destroying American cities.  I hope that market is a whole lot smaller than it was a decade ago.

If nothing else, it’s a useful reminder that the North Koreans aren’t just fucking around.  We already know what they’re capable of, morally speaking.  Faster, please.

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.

What Don Rumsfeld Got Right

Writing at Korea Real Time, Evan Ramstad quotes from a memo written by Don Rumsfeld in late 2002, shortly after Roh Moo Hyun was elected President of South Korea on a wave of anti-American rage:

“As you know, the new President-elect [Roh] has stated that he wants to review the relationship,” Mr. Rumsfeld wrote. “Rather than pushing back, I think we ought to accept that as a good idea. If we had recommended it, we could be accused of destabilizing the peninsula, but he recommended it.

Over the next two years, Mr. Rumsfeld’s Pentagon and Mr. Roh’s defense ministry negotiated a substantial drawdown of U.S. troops in South Korea, from about 39,000 to about 28,000. As well, they began the discussions that led to an agreement in 2006 for South Korea’s military to take control of its own troops in wartime. Since the Korean War of the 1950s, U.S. commanders have had wartime control of South Korean troops.

Mr. Rumsfeld so wanted to see a change in the U.S. position in South Korea that, in 2005, he quickly agreed to Mr. Roh’s request for wartime control. “You’re pushing through an open door,” Mr. Rumsfeld told Mr. Roh’s defense minister at the time.

Mr. Roh initially wanted the wartime control transfer to happen in 2009, but later agreed for 2012. Last year, current South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, representing conservative forces who were alarmed by Mr. Roh’s aggressive push to reduce South Korea’s reliance on the U.S. military, forged a new agreement with the U.S. to delay the transfer of wartime control until 2015.

But Mr. Rumsfeld’s desire for change in the U.S.-South Korea alliance was clear in that December 2002 memo.

“We have been there since 1950,” he wrote. “It is time to rearrange the relationship and put the burden on the South Koreans.

The irrational, manipulated anti-Americanism of the bleating herd isn’t directly mentioned here, but it’s the subtext of the whole discussion. A few months later, Rumsfeld was in Korea, telling American soldiers there that the Pentagon was thinking about “making some adjustments” to USFK force levels. Suddenly, the same Roh government that had whipped up and exploited anti-Americanism for its political advantage (and would do so again) began telling the protesters to dial it back. Rumsfeld went forward with the troop cuts anyway, in a move that apparently shocked Roh’s people.

If it were up to me, the Eighth U.S. Army would be commanded by a Staff Sergeant stationed on Cheju-Do. But given the power and influence of the Korea lobby in Washington, Rumsfeld probably did as much as he could. Events have proven Rumsfeld right. The shelling of Yeonpyeong and the sinking of the Cheonan have shown the limits of U.S. deterrence, notwithstanding its financial cost to American taxpayers. In the meantime, South Korea spent about seven billion dollars extending the survival of the North Korean regime and financing its capacity to threaten not only the South Korean people, but Americans who might one day be the victims of weapons proliferated by Kim Jong Il.

Where’s the Outrage?

South Koreans’ unifiction mania may have cooled for the moment, but B.R. Myers tells us that public anger toward North Korea doesn’t approach that directed against America after the 2002 accident, and that plenty have made the decision to disbelieve the evidence that North Korea sank the Cheonan:

It would be unfair to characterize these skeptics as pro-Pyongyang, but there is more sympathy for North Korea here than foreigners commonly realize. As a university student in West Berlin in the 1980s, I had a hard time finding even a Marxist with anything nice to say about East Germany. In South Korea, however, the North’s human rights abuses are routinely shrugged off with reference to its supposedly superior nationalist credentials. One often hears, for example, the mistaken claim that Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Il-sung, purged his republic of former Japanese collaborators, in alleged contrast to the morally tainted South. [….]

South Korean nationalism is something quite different from the patriotism toward the state that Americans feel. Identification with the Korean race is strong, while that with the Republic of Korea is weak. (Kim Jong-il has a distinct advantage here: his subjects are more likely to equate their state with the race itself.) Thus few South Koreans feel personally affected by the torpedo attack. [….]

This urge to give the North Koreans the benefit of the doubt is in marked contrast to the public fury that erupted after the killings of two South Korean schoolgirls by an American military vehicle in 2002; it was widely claimed that the Yankees murdered them callously. During the street protests against American beef imports in the wake of a mad cow disease scare in 2008, posters of a child-poisoning Uncle Sam were all the rage. It is illuminating to compare those two anti-American frenzies with the small and geriatric protests against Pyongyang that have taken place in Seoul in recent weeks.

If demographics are destiny, accounts like Myers’s suggest that our alliance with South Korea has no long-term future. Like Robert, I don’t think this is the time to speed up our disengagement or appear to abandon South Korea, but it’s as appropriate as ever to proceed with an orderly transition to an independent South Korean defense from which both countries will emerge stronger.

Hat tip to a reader.

Mad Cow Revisionism

The Hankyoreh reacts
to comments by President Lee by reinventing the Mad Cow riots of 2008:

During a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, President Lee said, “It has been two years since the candlelight vigil demonstrations and although many suppositions proved untrue, not one of those intellectuals or medical sector figures who participated back then has engaged in any reflection. The president also said, “Without reflection, there is no development of society. He added, “I would like to say that it is positive that one daily newspaper reevaluated this in the form of a focused feature piece to mark the second anniversary.

Let me state my agreement with the truth of the matter Lee asserts while questioning whether it might have been wiser to let this dog sleep. That being said, I can scarcely add up all the layers of delusion in the Hanky’s response, but start with the one about how this really wasn’t about beef at all.

He also pledged to improve his communication with the people, reshuffle positions in the Cheong Wa Dae (the presidential office in South Korea or Blue House) and Cabinet, and abandon his plans for the Grand Korean Waterway. This was an admission by President Lee that the candlelight vigil demonstrations were not only about the dangers of mad cow disease from U.S. beef, but also an expression of negative popular sentiments regarding the one-sided governance and expediency tactics he showed early in his term and the appointments of wealthy Gangnam elites and Korea University, Somang Church and Youngnam region individuals, the so-called “Ko So Young,” to prominent positions.

So … the guy they voted for didn’t win, I take it. And then again, maybe it was about beef after all:

Ahn Jin-geol, director of the Public Welfare Hope Team for People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, said Tuesday, “It is brazen for President Lee to apologize twice for giving concerns to the people and even promise to carry out additional beef negotiations, and then turn around and tell the people they need to reflect. Ahn also said, “This proves that the president’s apologies back then were lies.

No, Lee apologized for his “handling” of the beef import issue, which isn’t the same as acknowledging that the public panic that caused the mass demonstrations had any scientific basis. In his first apology, he just about called the scare “unfounded” before concluding that the angry mob was in no mood to listen to any amount of objective, scientific information — much less his own assertions. While the specific reasons for Lee’s apology remain somewhat vague, the main reason seems to have been to appease the mob and politely request that they shut up and go home (eventually, after the most of them got tired of the protests and did). To an extent, Lee was also apologizing for mishandling the P.R. aspect — not doing enough to get accurate information to gullible people soon enough. I don’t think that Lee was apologizing for the terms of an FTA negotiated during the Roh Administration, nor was he apologizing for not implementing the minutiae of trade policy through a series of popular plebiscites before misinformed voters panicking over false reporting and irrational, unscientific rumors. At that point, Lee would have thrown the Wonder Girls into an active volcano to appease the mob and get them to put down their their pitchforks and torches bamboo poles and candles.

The Hanky also predicts a groundswell of Roh-stalgia, just weeks after South Korea buried its dead from the Cheonan. I suspect that there will be sympathy for Roh, the troubled human being, but I doubt there will be much nostalgia for Roh, the man who should never have been the President of the Republic of Korea, and whose policies have been thoroughly repudiated by events during and after his term. My hopes are actually rising that South Korea’s unrequited infatuation with its abusive North Korean cellmate is about over with. Is it possible that South Korea is growing up at last? I hope so. I’d be disturbed, and surprised, if the Hanky is right and I’m wrong.

Just for the Paulbots: Why the U.S. Army Should Leave South Korea

Even an imbecile like Ron Paul accidentally happens on the truth now and then. And while the election of Lee Myung Bak has reduced the degree to which South Korea actively undermines U.S. policy toward North Korea, the continued existence of Kaesong and Kumgang up to this moment refutes any suggestion that South Korea has really joined it, either, or restored South Korea as a bona fide U.S. ally on a global or regional scale, or tapped into South Korea’s considerable tax revenue to modernize its own Army and relieve U.S. taxpayers of the cost of defending one of the world’s richest nations from one of the world’s poorest. Instead, South Korea seems to have decided that dependence is cheaper than — and therefore, superior to — independence, and that it can sleep under America’s blanket without contributing anything to America’s own security.

I’m not blind to the fact that for the moment, South Korea’s anti-Americanism seems dormant, until it isn’t, and that either the soldiers in Hongdae are on their best behavior or the Korean press is more occupied with its other xenophobic obsession: hippie Canadian English teachers who goes to bars and hit on Korean girls. Fine, but does anyone expect that trend to continue through the next election season?

Go here to read the rest.

Don’t Know Much About History

Just the latest example of historical myopia from the kids in South Korea.

As the university was announcing the plans, the Chosun Ilbo reported a Gallup poll in Korea that showed 62.9 percent of teens and 58.2 percent in their 20s did not know when the Korean War broke out. Also, only 43.9 percent of those surveyed said North Korea is to blame for starting the Korean War, with the figure among teenagers 38 percent and 36 percent for 20-somethings. Some 18 percent of teens and 25 percent of those in their 20s said both North and South Korea are responsible.

Until just a few years ago, some teachers who are members of the hardline Korean Teachers and Educational Workers Union have been teaching that the Korean War was a battle for liberation led by the North. During the Roh Moo-hyun administration, a state-run broadcaster aired a documentary on Memorial Day praising China’s Mao Zedong, who backed the North in the Korean War. [Chosun Ilbo]

One of the points I’ve made for years about the USFK is that it’s an impediment to South Korea’s progress toward political maturity, which is in turn impeded by its lack of a confident sense of self-sufficient nationhood. That may be the only thing North Korea has today that South Korea doesn’t, and you can see emotional hunger for this sense among certain demographics in South Korea, though no to the same extent as the North Koreans’ physical hunger for South Korean rice and ChocoPies. Somehow, I don’t think Koreans would be so prosaic about the genesis of their form of government if they had to mobilize to Israeli proportions to defend it.

Christopher Hitchens on Brian Myers’s “The Cleanest Race”

Hitchens writes:

All of us who scrutinize North Korean affairs are preoccupied with one question. Do these slaves really love their chains? The conundrum has several obscene corollaries. The people of that tiny and nightmarish state are not, of course, allowed to make comparisons with the lives of others, and if they complain or offend, they are shunted off to camps that–to judge by the standard of care and nutrition in the “wider” society–must be a living hell excusable only by the brevity of its duration. But race arrogance and nationalist hysteria are powerful cements for the most odious systems, as Europeans and Americans have good reason to remember. Even in South Korea there are those who feel the Kim Jong-il regime, under which they themselves could not live for a single day, to be somehow more “authentically” Korean.

There are times when I think the North Korean people are more comprehensible than the South Korean people. The careful observer of reports from North Korea these days will see a people disillusioned with the official ideology, unburdening themselves of lies as quickly as they can find the truth, and mostly concerned about money, food, and the small comforts that substitute for hope as we know it (see, e.g., this post by Horace Jeffery Hodges for another description of this, via a Japanese journalist). This is, for all its limitations, at least rational.

What is neither rational nor explicable is how so many South Koreans, despite all the comforts their system and society afford, reserve a degree of sympathy and even reverence for North Korea’s system of government, or refuse to perceive how evil it is. Racism and its frequent companion, anti-Americanism, certainly have significant constituencies on the South Korean street, among radical groups, and among the politicians who sympathize with them.

The only thing that explains the residual appeal of Kim Jong Il’s death cult in both Koreas is the racist xenophobia of which Myers speaks. That element of North Korea’s ideology will survive after all of its other elements die.

Hat tip: Robert Koehler.

Kim Dae Jung, Fallen Liberator (1925-2009)

A few days ago, a well-informed reader and commenter on this site informed me that former President Kim Dae Jung would soon pass on, yet the time proved inadequate for me to work out my own internal conflicts about Kim, or “DJ” as many called him. Maybe Kim’s contradictory legacy just isn’t amenable to mutual reconciliation. Much will be said in the coming days — deservedly so — of DJ’s role in democratizing the South. Less will be said of all he did to forestall democratization in the North, a nation that is dying for want of a government that is accountable for its errors, crimes, and atrocities.

The great symbol of DJ’s legacy will be one act that symbolized so much else about his era — the illegal payments he asked ex-spymaster Lim Dong Won to make to Kim Jong Il, which he used to buy himself his Nobel Peace Prize and to accelerate a North Korea policy that not only failed completely to realize its stated objectives, but which probably extended Kim Jong Il’s misrule for a decade and, by extension, probably resulted in tens of thousands of North Korean deaths at the very least. The Sunshine Policy eventually meant turning a blind eye to the suffering of North Koreans in bilateral relations, at the U.N., and at South Korean consulates where refugees would be discouraged and occasionally betrayed. These things will be just one more source of bitterness that will impede the reunification process for decades.

Unlike his successor, Roh Moo Hyun, however, DJ’s legacy contains legitimate accomplishments and redeeming qualities.

For example, I’ve sometimes thought Kim’s election forestalled South Korea’s collapse into chaos in the bitter years of the Asian financial crisis. I still remember how bitter Koreans were in those times. Characteristically, they found a way to turn the bitterness outward toward foreign scapegoats — chiefly, the IMF for insisting on austerity measures as a condition of its financial rescue of the Korean economy, much more than at on the chaebol and government policies that caused the crisis in the first place. As president, Kim had such cred with the unions and the left that protests were (or so I speculate) relatively muted.

I don’t think anyone can dispute that DJ was personally courageous, that he put his life on the line for his beliefs, or that he made a significant contribution to South Korea’s democratization. Certainly he wasn’t the only prominent political figure who pressed for democratization, something that was probably inevitable one way or another given growing U.S. pressure for change. But in the course of fighting for it, DJ suffered more than other politicians of his time. The most dramatic example must be his remarkable hair-breadth survival after being abducted by South Korean agents in Japan, who had already brought him to the middle of the Sea of Japan, drugged him, and tied the weights to his legs. It may have been the bitterness of Park Chung Hee’s hatred of Kim that marked his transition from being a relatively benevolent dictator (compared to Syngman Rhee and Kim Il Sung, he certainly was) to an increasingly isolated and malevolent one. South Korea’s abortive descent into tyranny under Chun Doo Hwan was terminated in part by the massacre at Kwangju, but also by the combined efforts of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan — through outgoing Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke and incoming National Security Advisor Richard Allen — to spare Kim from execution on trumped-up charges.

Some (I would not be one of those) would find it ironic that Allen is now one of the leading lights of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

It’s less well-known, however, that DJ’s first close scrape may have been when he was jailed by the North Koreans in 1950 and scheduled to be shot. Then, it was the Incheon landings that saved him — the North Koreans fled before they got around to massacring the prisoners. If this vignette is true, it’s telling that Kim Dae Jung said very little about it in his later years (was the story embellished to give Kim anti-communist cred in the 1960’s, or was Kim’s silence just another case of covering for the North Koreans?). The North Koreans arrested Kim for being a “capitalist;” Kim had taken over the Japanese shipping company for which he’d worked until the end of the occupation in 1945. Like Park Chung Hee, Kim found his own accommodation with the Japanese and began his rise before their departure.

In any event, you would think that a man whose life was saved by the Americans no less than three times might have come to recognize the United States as more of a positive influence, but in his later years, Kim turned positively anti-American. Or maybe you forgot that back in 2006, he constructed this elaborate theory for blaming “neocons” and the military-industrial complex for the North Korean nuclear crisis:

“How North Korea will do with its missiles and nuclear weapons”¦ Those will be just children’s toys in front of the U.S.,” Kim was quoted as saying in the interview. [Kim Dae-Jung] also blamed Japan’s right-wing politicians, including Shinjo Abe, for exploiting North Korean issues to boost their popularity. “Shinjo Abe, certain to become Japan’s new prime minister, eventually garnered more popularity by attacking North Korea,” Kim said.

Kim said America’s military industry has enjoyed windfall gains by selling their weapons to Japan and others throughout North Korea’s nuclear standoff. [Le Monde, via Yonhap, archived here]

It gets worse:

Former President Kim said, “We give the United States everything to give, and yet we don’t hear good things. After mentioning Vietnam, the deployment of Korean troops to Iraq, the transfer of the Yongsan Garrison, the redeployment of the 2nd Infantry Division to rear positions and the KoreUS FTA (sic), he said, “Americans don’t talk about that, and ask why we’ve forgotten their help. [….]

Kim explained, “Refusing dialogue with North Korea, U.S. neocons keep pushing North Korea down a mistaken path while misusing [the North Korea issue], and this is because of China. He added, “Neocons, thinking of China as a hypothetical enemy, is expanding its armaments like missile defense (MD) and re-arming Japan”¦ It’s looking for an excuse to do this, and that’s North Korea. [….]

About Japan, he said, “You have to solve the kidnapping issue as the kidnapping issue, and handle dialogue as dialogue, but Japanese rightwingers are boosting their popularity by attacking North Korea”¦ North Korea should see through the meaning of the hardline policies of U.S. neocons and Japanese rightwing forces and do the opposite, but instead it keeps wrecking the situation by giving them excuses. [Robert Koehler]

DJ’s suggestion that those policies were “hardline” or “neocon” would later be undermined by none other than President Barack Obama, who continued and expanded North Korea’s economic isolation in the face of more North Korean provocations, and North Korea’s refusal to disarm in exchange for significant U.S. concessions.

Nor did Kim ever come to terms with the failure of the Sunshine Policy, its failure to change North Korea, or North Korea’s responsibility for destroying the crumbling facades it built at Kaesong and Kumgang. Toward the end of his life, Kim’s criticism of the current South Korean president grew increasingly shrill and distanced from the reality of North Korea’s refutation of Kim’s own legacy. Most bizarre was the juxtaposition of Kim’s accusations against Lee of “dictatorship” and “strong-arm politics” with his criticism of Lee for failing to censor North Korean defectors who floated anti-Kim Jong Il leaflets across the DMZ to their homeland.

South Korea: Always There When They Need Us

South Korea, whose main contribution to the war in Afghanistan so far has been to pay the Taliban a $20 million ransom, has ruled out sending troops there to help fight them.

Who still thinks that the unsound fundamentals of the US-ROK alliance have suddenly renewed under President Lee, or doubts that Lee’s decision was an acknowledgement of the anti-American sentiments of South Korean voters, sentiments that can only remain latent for so long?  Who still thinks that Obama’s election has changed that?  Certainly not those of us who were posted in South Korea during the last years of the Clinton Administration.

Oddly Enough, Mass Hysteria Did Not Ensue

AFP reports that “South Korean officials said … they have found harmful bacteria in a French baby formula product and vowed to step up tests on future shipments.”

Being Loved Is Overrated

Good morning, America — the world hates you slightly less! They took a poll shortly after Obama’s election:

Views of the US showed improvements in Canada, Egypt, Ghana, India, Italy and Japan. But far more countries have predominantly negative views of America (12), than predominantly positive views (6). Most Europeans show little change and views of the US in Russia and China have grown more negative. On average, positive views have risen from 35 per cent to 40 per cent, but they are still outweighed by negative views (43%, down from 47%). [BBC]

And in other news, Europe (and South Korea, and Japan) still isn’t willing to help more in Afghanistan, which has a few more moments as “the good war” until the usual suspects start urging us to flee from that front, too. Ecuador just expelled someone from our embassy in Quito. Anne Applebaum points to a newly emerging school of “thought” — for now, emerging from a collection of cartoonish kooks in Russia and China, mostly — that the Obama presidency is a hoax by the hidden illuminati who really run America. And there’s always North Korea and Iran, for whom hatred of and tension with America are existential.

Here’s a prediction: two years from now, the world will still hate us. We will be hated as long as we are envied. We will be hated most, paradoxically, by many of those whose most ardent desire is to live here. It will take a little time for world opinion’s lowest common denominator to reconfigure its personalization of anti-Americanism around the figure of Barack Obama, which I suppose means that it will be heavily blended with some ancient old-world prejudices about our new President’s race. We’ve already seen some of this: a pro-government Iranian news agency called Obama a “house slave,” and the terrorist Ayman Zawahiri called Obama and other African-Americans who have served in our government “house negroes.”

Let me tell you a dirty secret about world public opinion. Try to research trends in the growth of global anti-Americanism, and you’ll notice something curious: perhaps because of the pollsters’ own assumptions or biases, most of the data only begin with the Iraq War. But in those relatively rare cases in which the assembled data go back to 2001, you can see that anti-Americanism really took off in Europe in 2001, before the Iraq War.


The conclusion is almost too ugly to contemplate: that European anti-Americanism became fashionable because of 9/11 and the events immediately thereafter, possibly to include the U.S. attack on the Taliban shortly thereafter. In Britain, Turkey, and Pakistan, for example, views of the U.S. declined more in the year after 9/11 than in any year since. Indeed, while it’s a popular myth that “the world rallied to our side” after 9/11, aside from a few politicians and editorialists, the evidence is the opposite: anti-Americanism rose dramatically after 9/11. In the Muslim world, a majority believed that the 9/11 attacks were “not carried out by Arabs” (so who then?). In Europe, a majority believed that the attacks were, as the expression goes, a case of the chickens coming home to roost. Anyone who was reading the opinion pages of The Guardian in those days will remember it all well enough. It is also true that anti-Americanism continued to rise through most of the Iraq War, though without acceleration, and didn’t begin to decline (modestly) until 2007, a year when more U.S. troops were sent to Iraq, but when America began to win the war. Overall, this doesn’t suggest that anti-Americanism is a function of America’s humbleness so much as the natural human tendencies toward envy, toward blaming victims, and toward taking the side of those perceived to be victors. It also suggests that Obama will eventually have to choose between the approval of those abroad who viscerally resent us and the approval of American voters. Place your bets.

I, for one, resolve to take perverse pleasure from documenting the end of the liberal illusion that Obama can make us loved again, and the greater illusion that it really matters.

S. Korea Finally Ends Subsidies to Violent ‘Civic’ Groups

Drink a toast to President Lee for this one:

The government cut financial aid to non-profit organizations by half this year. Civic groups hosting or participating in illegal violent demonstrations will have their aid scrapped, and the government has asked the National Police Agency for background checks. [Chosun Ilbo]

One of the most infuriating things the Roh government did was to subside extremist groups that engaged in violence, including violent demonstrations against U.S. installations. Why any government would subsidize violent organizations and thus feed civil disorder is simply beyond me. I’m amazed it took Lee this long to end this waste of the taxpayers’ money.

(Thought: Could South Korea’s government be as bureaucratic and inefficient as ours?)

Among the groups the government had previously subsidized was the extreme left Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, whose president is now in jail for organizing violent demonstrations and strikes.

As KCTU Calls for ‘All Out War,’ Rally Attendance Declines

The thugs at the Korean Confederation of trade unions see opportunity in their country’s bad economic times, reports the sympathetic Hankyoreh:

The KCTU plans to launch an “all out war” against the Lee administration in February, since it has again made known its intention to have the ruling Grand National Party pass revisions to laws on irregular workers and the minimum wage in the extraordinary National Assembly session scheduled for that month. The KCTU plans to launch its offensive with demands for labor-government negotiations early in the month, and will then hold large daily rallies beginning in the third week, leading to a protest involving 30,000 of its members on the 28th.

“We can’t stop the bad legislative proposals originating with Lee Myung-bak,” said KCTU Secretary-General Lee Yong-sik. “Unless we have a war. [The Hankyoreh]

If you live in South Korea, mark your calendars and plan on spending those days with your Wii. The KCTU has a history of bringing iron pipes, bamboo poles, and like implements of free expression to its demonstrations. Yet things aren’t really working out the way the KCTU had hoped:

It is unfortunate to see that the economic stagnation is weakening the union’s ability to wage labor struggles and that it could see a rise in self-interest among regular, as opposed to irregular, workers, and among unions at different companies.

For starters, there are fewer participants at KCTU rallies. Fewer than 100 KCTU members actually joined in its “48-Hour National Action to Stop the Broadcast Law” in the final days of 2008.

Union officials confirm that they are seeing a continued lack of power to involve large numbers of people in protests.

The Hanky helpfully theorizes that in bad economic times, workers may not want to rock the boat. I wouldn’t be astonished if the KCTU’s violence had begun to alienate workers, employers, and smaller unions considering an affiliation with them.

The KCTU has also suffered from its sudden inability to sow anarchy in the streets with impunity. The jihad the KCTU declared against Lee Myung Bak a year ago played a significant role in the beef riots that seriously damaged President Lee’s presidency, but when the entire basis for the riots was exposed as false, the radical left may well have emerged from the entire crisis with less public confidence that the U.S. beef that’s now flying off Korean store shelves. President Lee, not the sort to back down magnanimously when confronted, arrested the KCTU’s president and several other of its leaders in December for organizing “illegal” and characteristically violent demonstrations. The KCTU president sits in jail to this day.

When you subtract out all of the hours the KCTU devotes to anarchy and juche, it’s a wonder they have any time at all to think of their rank and file. Personally, I’ve long believed that South Koreans need to set aside an outlet for their more combative side where the fisticuffs wouldn’t impede traffic. They could set aside a special gladiators’ arena for that specific purpose, complete with bamboo poles, riot shields, and tear gas grenades for rent by the opposing sides. Think of the revenue the season ticket sales would generate … for education, of course. We could call it “Demo Land.” I even know where there’s some vacant land they could use.

FTA Prospects Still Bleak

You know, with all of the anti-American falsehoods some Koreans proliferated before the FTA was signed, I thought the entire effort was more trouble than it was worth even before the beef riots, also inspired by asinine libel, and largely attended by people so stupid as to legitimize the issue of reproductive licensing. Then came the recent parliamentary brawls:

And for a moment, South Korea blessed a troubled world with the gift of laughter. (If you polled Koreans about how the world views them, and there’s a topic about which too many Koreans are obsessed, at least 85% of would list “hub of celadon pottery,” “four distinct seasons,” and “rightful owners of Tokdo” as their top responses. And not in that order.)

Not long ago, it seemed that Korea had negotiated a deal so great — for Korea, that is — that no congressman would dare vote for it.

At long last, some are predicting that the National Assembly will finally pass the FTA at long last. Meaning we’ll soon have an FTA with our vestigial quasi-ally across the Pacific? Not exactly, says U.S. trade official Jay Eizenstat:

“I think FTAs with Panama and Columbia will be ratified by Congress in the second half of this year. As for the Korea-U.S. FTA, however, the chances of ratification are remote because of tricky issues including the auto industry. [Donga Ilbo]

If there’s one point of overwhelming agreement among Americans about the U.S. auto industry, it’s that it should become more competitive, bailout or not (not, if you care to know my preference — bankruptcy and restructuring could do the automakers much good, and a bailout would do our Treasury much harm.)

Foreign competition is far from Detroit’s only problem, of course: Detroit makes shitty cars, and it’s burdened with smothering labor contracts that drive costs too high and inhibit business flexibility. But Detroit can’t be competitive when its offshore competitors, who are unburdened by the EPA and a slew of other acronyms, insist on parasitic trade policies that haven’t made sense since Korea’s economic recovery became an established fact in the 1980’s. Want to be treated as a more equal partner? Being an equal trading partner would be a good first step.

The idea behind the FTA was to strengthen the strained U.S.-Korean relationship at a time when the two governments agreed on little else. Unfortunately, the exact opposite has happened, because Korea’s public discourse is being shaped by the lowest elements of its political culture, elements that have far less regard for civil debate and democratic governance than the achievement of their aims through mendacity and, when convenient, violence. Who thinks that Korean society will have outgrown those flaws in its character before the U.S. and Korea renegotiate the one part of this FTA with the greatest financial impact on the rank and file of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions?

Korean Kids Face Twin Perils: Poisoned Chinese Milk, Moms Who Use them as Human Riot Shields

Update, 12/08: Here’s how history will record this whole ridiculous episode.

BY NOW, WE KNOW THAT THERE WAS NEVER ANY SCIENTIFIC SUBSTANCE BEHIND all of those “Mad Cow” protests in Korea over the imports of U.S. beef.  So why so little protest over melamine contamination in food imported from China poses an actual, no-sh*t health risk to Korean kids who drink powdered milk?   It might even be a greater risk to the health of Korean kids than strapping them into strollers to serve as human shields at a riot over a non-existent health risk.

The “human shield” moms are now under criminal investigation, and if this world is as just as I know it not to be, their kids will be taken away and redistributed to sane, loving, childless couples from Singapore to Fire Island.

Americans can’t help but wonder at the absence of such exploitive panic over tainted Chinese food products.  Chinese fisherman have just killed a South Korean Coast Guardsman, and an expression of “deep regret” suffices (contrast this to North Korea’s no-nonsense method of dealing with illegal fishing).

Then there were the Chinese thugs who ran riot in Seoul.  Korean authorities didn’t charge them.

Chinese farmers and pimps see North Korea as one big comfort woman reserve, string North Korean refugees together like fish on a line with wires through their noses, and lead them back to the firing squad.  No outrage.

So the sensible question Robert beats me to asking is, “Where are the candle zombies?”  Clearly, part of the answer has to do with which “usual suspects” have the resources and skill to mobilize the mobs, and where their sympathies and hostilities lay.  It had also occurred to me that Robert’s own gravatar goes far to explain why the mobs show up to hate America and not China, but then again, there’s always Japan as an example of Koreans nursing irrational hatred of other Asians, too.  So, a related reason may be that the great majority of Korea’s most emotional, least rational people are in the sway of people who hate America and sympathize with China.

Then there’s the fact that China is big, menacing, and seldom seems to care what Koreans think.  Americans think in terms of apologies in the same way that senior North Korean officials think of hundred-dollar bills.  For Asians, promiscuous apology is a mark of low status, even inferiority.  I have often wondered:  if America treated Korea with courtesy, but with a little less excessive, obsequious, endlessly apologetic courtesy, would we be such inviting targets for every inferiority complex within the outer boundary of Kyonggi Province?

Is the problem that we’re too damn nice?  Or is it just that as long as they sleep under Uncle Sam’s blanket, Koreans will never see their interests and the dangers beyond with anything resembling rational clarity?  Of course, the threats of which we speak are much more threats to South Korea than to America, so we have only ourselves to blame if we’re being used.  I doubt that most Americans even know we still have troops in Korea, so it’s little wonder they’re not questioning the reason for that increasingly anachronistic presence.