(I’ve talked about related issues here and here and here, if you want the full story through the eyes of the wonderchicken…)
Anti-American sentiments are on the rise in Korea once again, on the heels of the ‘axis of evil’ script read recently by The Little President That Could. There is a real and legitimate fear that the ill-considered bad-cop posturings of the American speechwriters could push the peninsula into another war. These fears are not ameliorated by reports that the Pentagon believes that the most likely spot for a large-scale regional war in the near future is outside my window. (Aside : Bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, that, isn’t it? Considering the inroads made towards lasting detente, if not outright peace, by President Kim in the last 4 years, gains that have been systematically knocked back by the antics of W, it’s interesting that this report has been released now. By ‘interesting’, I mean interesting in the sense of manipulative, pernicious and propagandistic, of course.)
Anti-American protests have been a feature of the political landscape for about 20 years here. The first real wave of them occurred in 1980 and lasted for over a decade, as a result of the widespread belief that the American government backed General Chun Doo Hwan in his military coup and in the massacre of civilians at Kwangju. Despite the clear need for such a presence, protests have also focussed around the presence of the 37,000 American troops stationed here, and more recently, new revelations from a BBC documentary eye-catchingly entitled “Kill ’em All : American War Crimes in Korea” about the incidents at Nogun-Ri during the Korean War, one occasion (at this point 61 separate incidents involving the killing of civilians by US forces have been registered with the South Korean government) on which American troops were ordered by their commanding officers to open fire on unarmed refugees. A quote from that report :
Coming at the same time as Shrubya’s lumbering, hamhanded comments recently, which have already stirred up resentment about America’s role in matters key to Korea’s very survival, this new BBC documentary has not helped matters much.
So the man in the street here in Korea is angry about what he sees as the American government arbitrarily derailing more than 4 years of work toward peace and reunification by President Kim, for which (I reiterate again for the benefit of the new-to-Waeguk) he was given the Nobel Peace prize in 2000, believing the motivation to be Bushy self-aggrandizement mixed with an unhealthy swath of darker, more colonial purposes. This resentment dovetails nicely with the anger Koreans feel at outside interference in their internal matters of state and culture, and the flames are being fanned by things like the recent controversies over dogmeat and the new revelations about Nogun-Ri. (I talked about the roots of that resentment in the context of the dog-meat ‘controversy’ here – long story short : Japanese occupation and more than 900 invasions in Korea’s recorded history).
Signs of hope are there, though. The North Koreans are reacting cautiously, and seem to be willing to resume dialog. Interestingly, during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics today, when the president of the Salt Lake committee mentioned at beginning of his speech the ‘9-year old boy in Seoul, Korea’, that was the only part of the speech which was not simultaneously subtitled in Korean. It would seem to be have been a last minute addition, a small, politically-motivated olive branch perhaps, but a charmingly American one, for what it’s worth.