This is related to this Metafilter thread I started last week, which had some interesting commentary from US Army personnel past and present, and may be worth reading, if you are interested.
In a small, plain office over a downtown Seoul grocery, eight young men hunch over a bank of computers. They aren’t writing software or playing video games. This is a command center for protest against American soldiers in Korea. Everyone wears a black ribbon that reads “US troops withdraw.”
The group â one of dozens like it â sprang up after a US armored vehicle accidentally killed two Korean girls walking along a country road in June. The incident continues to galvanize anti-American feeling across the country. Members canvas neighborhoods, run e-mail campaigns detailing American soldiers’ alleged crimes, and help organize a permanent silent vigil outside the presidential palace.
“We are like a military operation” says their leader, known only as Mr. Kim. “US troops here are a mistake of history and we won’t be one country until they leave; 9/11 is not our problem.”
Most Americans believe they are making a sacrifice â stationing 38,000 soldiers here â to defend South Koreans against possible Communist attack. Most ordinary Koreans, however, believe the US troops are actually here to promote American interests, opinion polls show. And “since 9/11, a strange but virulent anti-Americanism has gripped South Korea,” notes one expatriate American who works at a US company in Seoul.
“It may be difficult for us to sustain the same mood we grew up with,” says one older Korean diplomat who served in Washington. “We know the US helped us. But those under 40 … aren’t swayed by what we think. Their human nature is anti-US.”
I reproduce the post here, for your linking-following pleasure, and also to satisfy my own mental-packrat tendencies as senile dementia creeps up on me. Please note that it is not as ranty as those who frequent the ‘bottle may have come to expect – agenda-driven rant-posts at Metafilter are a good way to get a swift kick in the virtual mothras, and that just ain’t no fun, friends and neighbours.
A blip on the radar, or a sign of shifting opinions? Can recent events in the Republic of Korea be taken as an indication that the special relationship between the US and South Korea is changing, and that public sentiment amongst Koreans is turning against America?
There’s always been some friction between US Forces and the locals, what with the 37000 US troops that have been stationed here for decades, protecting against the threat of invasion from North Korea. In the wake of Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ speech, which came at a time when the sunshine policy of Kim Dae Jung (the South’s president, outgoing in December, who won the Nobel peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts) was seeing tangible sucesses, and at a time when new revelations about the ‘My Lai of the Korean War’, No Gun Ri, were coming to light, many Koreans began to think the Americans were less interested in peace than in finding a reason to keep those 37000 troops in place. When Kim visited Bush in 2001, apparently in hopes that the rhetoric could be toned down, he was reportedly given the cold shoulder.
There have been a long series of incidents – hit-and-runs, murders, rapes [Warning : Graphic and disturbing image of rape victim, halfway down page.] – involving US soldiers and Korean nationals over the years. Some would say it comes with the territory. But recently, sentiment turned sharply negative when two 12-year old girls were run down and literally flattened by a US minesweeper during training exercises, an accident in which the USFK admitted it was negligent. This week, there was an altercation between 3 US soldiers, three Korean students handing out leaflets while on their way to a rally (or memorial service – reports vary) to commemorate the dead girls, and one 65-year old lawmaker (who was imprisoned and subsequently released in the late 90’s for visiting North Korea) with them. It’s still unclear what really happened, but tensions are high, and some foreigners I know here are concerned about being caught up in similar events.
This week has also seen Japanese PM Koizumi visit Pyongyang, opening up the possibility of diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea for the first time. North Korea has admitted (recently discussed on MeFi) that it kidnapped Japanese citizens, and has announced it will allow IAEA nuclear inspectors into the country. The fifth reunion between families separated by the Korean War half a century ago (which was never formally declared over) has taken place, and plans are afoot to build a permanent reunion facility. The DMZ has been opened to South Korean minesweeping troops, and rail and road links should be re-established by Christmas.
This latest is perhaps the most important : although no one is speaking in anything but hushed tones of reunification yet, the possibility of an uninterrupted rail link from Japan and Korea through China and Russia to Europe has massive dollar signs floating in the eyes of all concerned.
Koizumi has made a personally risky but successful move towards rapprochement in the region, and the Bush administration, for the moment, has been left on the sidelines. Although Japan is still disliked by many Koreans thanks to decades of brutal colonial rule and unresolved matters like the ‘comfort women’ – tens of thousands of Korean women kidnapped and forced into sex slavery during WWII by the Japanese army – it is the role of the Bush administration in their affairs that many Koreans are beginning to resent more actively. It would be unfortunate for the last of the goodwill to drain away [u:metafilter12, p:metafilter123] unremarked and the opportunity for peace in the region to be lost, but with Bush’s current focus on oil-wars, it appears that this may indeed be the result.