Tuesday, June 30, 2009

America the Dangerous?

On a more serious note, I noticed a couple articles in the news that makes me want to explain the other side … the view of the United States as a “normal” nation where the behavior of the nation isn’t explained by how America wants to expand “democracy” or rid “tyranny.”

This is a view I picked up living in Korea and I also hinted before at how shocked I was at the level of Anti-Americanism seen in Korea. How could it be that so many people of the same shared heritage (and, of course, of the same 족(族)) could hate America ? The country gives so many opportunities to so many different countries and is so goddamn beautiful (미국, 美國). On a side note here: One of my favorite lines in Korean, “아름다운 미국을 어떻게 싫어 할 수 있어 ” or “How could you hate Beautiful America?”

There’s a double meaning here and another opportunity to poke fun at Japanese. The Chinese characters used to represent the United States in Chinese and Korean literally mean “Beautiful Country/Nation (美國).” In Japanese, it isn’t (米國). In both, Korean and Japanese (not sure in Chinese), but anyways, the characters for “beautiful(美)” and “rice(米)” are homonyms. So if the Chinese characters that the Japanese language uses were to be pronounced in Korean, it would still be the same (미국 whether it’s美國 or米國). And, if the Japanese language were to call America “Beautiful Country” rather than “Rice Country” as Chinese and Korean do, then everybody in Japan would still be able to understand. Those island savages…

Anyways, to the meat of the post: America is also basically a giant island nation bordered by two much smaller countries to the north and south and an ocean to the east and a “vast ocean (太平洋)” to the west. So, basically the United States has no natural competitors (well, minus a Brazil one day) and dominates an entire hemisphere (half a planet) to herself. And as the Pat Buchanan wing of the Republican Party advocates and has advocated since the birth of this nation, the United States can always hide behind the two oceans with the most powerful navy in the world (Unfortunately, I believe this is why Japan fought a war with the U.S., for the control of the ocean. Consider that Japan has gotten everything the island nation wanted during World War II except for that).

Since the United States controls the oceans and has the most powerful navy in the world and has a string of allies in East Asia, it gives the country one huge advantage: very far-flung borders.
So, the effective border between the United States, and say, North Korea, is the DMZ and the East Sea (Sea of Japan) (For China, it’s even worse. The effective border between the U.S. and China is Japan down to South Korea down to Taiwan – So, that’s why Taiwan is so important to China/U.S.). The United States can attack North Korea from South Korea or Japan or even off the waters near North Korea in the East Sea or (Sea of Japan) without fear of reprisal. North Korea has to launch unreliable missiles over thousands of miles just to hit a Hawaii or Alaska.

But, now, let’s take a look at it from the South Korean perspective:

If you are living in Seoul, particularly Sinchon (신촌), then there’s a good chance a war between the U.S. and North Korea (for a second imagine, that it’s only between the U.S. and North Korea and while the U.S. and South Korea may be allies in name or nominal allies, it’s not in the South Korean or for that matter in any nation’s interest to see her capital destroyed) would not be seen as such a good thing. The reason I mention Sinchon in particular is that there was a study that said a North Korean attack on South Korea would lead to 99% of the people in Sinchon dying in the first fifteen minutes (Of course, I can’t cite the exact study, but hey this is a blog). So, actually, if you’re studying at Yonsei or Ehwa Universities, then there’s a good chance you might be done for. The point is that while a North Korean missile must travel thousands of miles before it can actually hit U.S. territory, the economic and political capital of South Korea is just fifteen minutes away from North Korea.

This can lead to some serious misunderstanding between the United States and South Korea. While the U.S. may think it to be perfectly rational to simply consider an airstrike on a North Korean nuclear facility, South Korea would think it to be utterly crazy. I mean from South Korea’s perspective, how on earth could somebody consider launching a war that would immediately destroy Seoul (half of all Koreans in South Korea live in Seoul and neighboring Gyeonggi province). So, before certain Korean-Americans and other commentators in America are quick to judge South Korea as a disloyal and ungrateful nation, it would also be natural and quite fair to expect that the United States understand and consider South Korea's concerns or else the United States would be the disloyal and arrogrant nation. Anyways, while North Korea has been in the news a lot recently (well up until Iran stole the limelight and the Obama Administration is tackling a real concern -- health care), the United States definitely did respond to North Korean threats by:

1. Upgrading Missile Defenses in Hawaii, which while it may sound ludicrous, it also serves a domestic propaganda function -- President Obama is “taking action” (Ahh, I miss President George W. Bush; well not really, but at least some of his phrases. I am a registered Republican by the way).
2. And, while none of the major newspapers in the United States seems to have covered it, the United States conducted a missile test too. Well, China, South Korea, and, of course, North Korea’s state run news agencies did (American newspapers aren’t state run right?) Basically, while the U.S. president wants Americans to know things are being taken care of (Hawaii), the U.S. wants North Korea to know that "Hey we got hundreds of these missiles that work and isthey are very, very accurate -- to within 6 m? -- and can carry three nuclear weapons at once."

“The Minuteman 3 was fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base during a six-hour
window that started at 3:01 a.m., carrying three unarmed re-entry vehicles that
hit their targets near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, some 4,200
miles (6,720 kilometers) away, the Air Force said” (

Anyways, it's not the type of thing I believed a "good" country like the United States would ever do and maybe it's just coincidental. After all, the United States loves to bomb things. Before the United States gave up possession of Dokdo/Takeshima(독도(獨島)/たけしま(竹島)) and Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, the United States used both as bombing ranges (A link for this will be provided one day). Anyways, America at the same time actually does believe she is a force for good.

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak is "taking action" as well as South Korea is building up a missile defense system of her own. South Korea is buying a lot of weapons from the United States:
"South Korea plans to acquire 40 new surface-to-air missiles within the
month for its Aegis destroyer, a military source said Sunday" (

Anyways, that's South Korea's view.that is how the United States can be seen as a "normal" nation that takes behavior not based upon what is right or wrong, but what on her interests. Interestingly, and what I believe will and has been a recurring theme in American (and World) History is that the United States and, moreover, Americans genuinely believe that what is in America's best interest is also good for the world. They call it naivete in Europe. I call it optimism and a product of the Enlightenment.

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