Sunday, June 14, 2009

Anti-Americanism, Unfair and Unwarranted

I remember one night in Korea a few years back, I was eating at a street vendor(압구정동에 Rodeo길에) with a couple other Korean-American friends. We were of course speaking in English, but there were these two native Koreans there as well. One of them asked me if I liked Bush, the American president at the time, trying to provoke a druken fight...

I like to use the expression that the way in which countries treat each other has not quite matured to the same fashion as that of how people treat each other. Diplomacy between countries hasn't quite gotten there yet. But, I'd say America is an exception. In fact, I'd like to think that America is the only country in the world that actually does things because she believes she's doing something good for the world (well, actually, it's like a bi-polar thing, but that's been at the heart of American politics since the nation's birth).

A long time ago, but not that long ago, there was a country that actually believed that alcohol and problems caused by alcohol could go away just by passing a law. Very idealistic, you might say right? Well, this is the United States of America. During this time the Prohibition of alcohol gave rise to organized crime (yes, more crime and lots of corruption) as well as an entire genre of movies that have romanticized this period). But, I bring this up, to point out how idealistic and optimistic America is. Imagine that, alcoholism and drugs and broken families and the like can all go away just by passing a law. That's the United States of America.

These principles can still be seen in the War on Drugs. Most countries in the Western World have already de-criminalized the usage of illicit substances, such as marijuana. They believe it's just part of human nature that there will always be a select few that will be addicted to drugs and, people, if educated and then given a choice, will choose not to do drugs. However, in the U.S. things are different as the country follows a different morale compass (in that the country actually has a morale compass. Compare with the realpolitik eagerly practiced by China. Or the attitude with which Europe scolds American foreign policy.).

If you do drugs, you're doing something bad. If you do something bad, you should get punished.

Take the twenty or thirty year War on Drugs. While there may be huge industries that have and are benefiting from the War on Drugs, the War on Drugs continues as the U.S. has no problem shipping helicopters to Columbia or even trying to pass a free trade agreement in an effort to rid the supply of Cocaine, but the country can't come to accept that legalizing drugs is the "right" thing to do. Even now, the country still hasn't legalized Medical Marijuana (at the federal level) and it will probably take a fairly conservative Republican administration to demonstrate the limits of states rights... (Ron Paul would not be happy).

It's this idealism and perhaps naivete that also shows in America's foreign policy. America is indeed a country that believes she does things out of what is good and right rather than because that country is strong or this country is weak and America is big and powerful, etc etc.

Of course, you can also probably see this to explain why America has a death penalty and its penal system is more about meting out punishment rather than rehabilitating those back to a normal life in society. I forget which country had more executions last year, China or the United States. But, I do know that China has 1 billion more people than the United States and, oh yeah, China's still a communist dictatorship (not too optimistic about Democracy with Chinese Characteristics taking hold anytime soon)...

There are also these lanes in California, carpool lanes that the state continues to build. Yet, research has shown that carpool lines add to traffic congestion, but the idea that, carpooling makes so much "sense" that even as these lanes continue to make traffic worse in the state, these lanes keep getting built.

So, I say, it definitely would not be fair to say America is an evil country. I'd say the country is just very idealistic. I realize that the U.S. government stood by as military dictatorships crushed demonstrations and violated civil rights left and right in Korea, but nonetheless, to blame this on America is not fair nor is it just

But, also consider, and I might get shot by some Koreans here, that America saved Kim Dae Jung's life by bringing him to Japan, made former president Chun Doo Hwan promise to hold free elections in 1987 when the olympic were to be held in seoul (hodori, 1988), as well as of course guarantee the security of a nation for half a century so Korea could basically get all the security benefits of America's love of purchasing guns and nuclear weapons and missiles, not to mention get Japanese financial and technological aid at America's urging, and, of course, buy Korean products as the country openly practiced Mercantlism). By the way, no where is it written that developing countries should get special treatment from developed countries (you're invoking morality/ethics when you bring that in)...

So, definitely, America doesn't deserve this Anti-Americanism that seems so pervasive in America.

But yeah, I definitely do miss Korea and would love to go back. In fact, I signed up to study at Yonsei University this summer before backing out at the last moment (I've never been to London or Europe for that matter). I went to Yonsei for a quarter to study Korean and also lived in 연희동 for like a half year. And, Jesus, my sleeping schedule is a bit off.


  1. Thanks for your comment. Actually this Anti-American sentiment in Korea is way more complicated than you think. I can immediatley think of several aspects that you failed to mention.

    First has already been mentioned by you. The US, calling itself the protector of free democracy, remained silent as Dictator Cheon massacred protesters in 1980 and afterwards. In fact, Reagan praised Cheon as "the protector of freedom." Of course he probably meant different kind of freedom... but that statement was a big blow to many of the protestors in Korea, who looked up to the US to help building democracy. This feeling of betrayal is the origin of the first serious Anti-Americanism in Korea.

    Second wave of Anti-Americanism is more personal. Most famously you can think of Hyosoon&Misun incident... the legal status of US military in Korea is such that they can go largely unpunished even if they commit heinously crimes such as rape, murder or both (often both). US military bases are also not restrained by ROK environmental restrictions, so the military officials take the liberty to dump used oil right on the soil (watch KBS documentaries... you can see soil on fire). And there's the noise problem. The list is endless.

    One might claim that such crimes are rather rare, but media is over-publicizing it. It is not true. The history of US military's crime in Korea is long and very... rich. For your information, check out

    I do agree that the US was a great benefactor for South Korea. But I might say that the US themselves helped waste all the goodwill and build up enmity. It is true that they protect us, but you are too angry to realize that when that GI's cousin, not even GI himself, just killed your son for fun and got away with it (actually happened: search McDonalds murder case).

    Waiting for your comments. And I again urge you to visit .

  2. You bring up some good points and ones I feel many Koreans feel.

    And, I think the way, certain people in Korea perceive America. It definitely is an "ism." I'd say it stems from the traditional Korean belief that all things foreign are bad.