Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Response: U.S./Democracy, Anti-Americanism

Jun brought up some good points that I think a lot of Koreans mistakenly believe in the Anti-American comments. His comments are here.

I believe former President Chun (Shouldn't it be Jeon?) Doo Hwan "gave in" to U.S. demands (by President Ronald Reagan) that S. Korea should hold free and fair elections before holding the Olympics in 1988. This makes sense on a number of levels as you should think about what was going on in 1980-81. The United States naturally wanted to make sure that South Korea at this time was:

1. Prosperous (in 1980(or 81?), Japan under U.S. pressure, gave $4 billion in unconditional aid to South Korea to avert national bankruptcy.

2. Free (Democratic).

With free elections being held in 1987 and Koreans at this time actually choosing to elect another member from the military establishment (and along with the inability of the three Kims to agree on a unified candidate and the dynamics of regional politics in Korea) the U.S. should get much more credit for the establishment of democracy in Korea. I say this as demonstrations by the Korean middle class that led to Kim Young Sam's election was actually the 2nd free and fair election. Nonetheless, it may be hard for South Koreans to accept this, but even as the U.S. military didn’t intervene and only watched as South Korea’s populace was at times brutally repressed (Gwangju), the U.S. had a natural interest to ensure that South Korea was both free and prosperous.

That’s why even as the U.S. military didn’t intervene, former U.S. President Ronald Reagan pressed for democratic elections and pressed Japan to give aid to South Korea unconditionally). As you may very well know, the Olympics in 1988 were a success with boycotts coming only from North Korea and Cuba. Remember, in 1984 (Los Angeles, nations in the Communist bloc boycotted in retaliation for the western world boycotting in 1980 to protest Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan). By the way, a little bit of hometown pride here, it was the second time Los Angeles hosted the Olympics. Imagine that. With all the cities in the world, L.A. was chosen twice. So, I think it’s fair to blame the U.S. (a little) for just watching the brutal repression going on at the time, but at the same time you should also be able to credit the United States for South Korea holding free and fair elections. If that makes sense…


When the Anti-American demonstrations were just starting to get crazy I was in Seoul (fall 2002, 연희동) from where the raging demonstrations/candle light vigils (in 광화문 and 시청) were not too far away. Here, I can sympathize and say there probably isn’t a country in the world outside of South Korea (and perhaps Iraq) where foreign soldiers have a base in the capital of a country, and especially not in the heart of the capital as in Seoul (Yongsan). Unfortunately, though, this isn’t America’s fault. The U.S. military base (picture above) in the Yongsan area in Seoul replaced a Japanese base that was there until the end of World War II. Of course, the Japanese soldiers that were stationed there replaced the Manchurian/Chinese soldiers that were stationed before they were. So, for a proud half of a nation, it must be hard to have foreign soldiers just walking around in the capital, but for many reasons and as history shows – this is not America’s fault. I lived in Yongsan (보광동actually) for a good two years and even I felt this. Of course, I never hear Korean protests against how there’s a high school, college, Taco Bell, Popeyes (American style), etc there. In practice and in the picture above, Yongsan looks like a small American suburb compared in the heart of the capital of South Korea. Though things might have changed I haven’t been there since the last time I was in Korea -- summer 2006. What’s worse though for Korean nationalism and pride is that there’s even a statue of King Gwanggaeto (a Goguryeo king who conquered a lot of land) right next to the base.

Also, I forgot where I read this, but if you take a look at any tourist brochure, and look at a map of Seoul you don’t see any reference to a base that is at the heart of the city. So, I can definitely feel this. I can’t imagine if there were foreign soldiers in Washington, D.C. or even Berkeley for that matter (though I hear the city passed an ordinance/law that makes it illegal for the U.S. army to open up a recruitment office in the city?)

Nonetheless, South Korean anger towards the U.S. regarding the death of the two school girls was irrational, unwarranted, and definitely manipulated by former president Roh Moo Hyun for domestic political purposes. I remember during this time (you also have to remember that this was around the time Iraq was invaded (Mar 2003), so anti-American feelings were crazy high as it was). But, I remember during this time all I had to do was point to South Korea’s own SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) with I believe Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan South Korea’s treaty gives South Korean soldiers the same extraterritorial rights that Japanese merchants got in the Treaty of Ganghwa. Moreover, South Korea did indeed get a renegotiation from the U.S. (and the same treaty that Japan has, where you don’t see large scale anti-American demonstrations). I would put money down (as I did on the Lakers game 5, moneyline) that if a U.S. soldier committed rape or the like then he would receive a sentence much harsher than any Korean national committing rape (especially, with rape being such a common crime in Korea unfortunately. I do love Korea by the way, so please don’t take these comments the wrong way). And, I’m definitely not a lawyer, but I believe that as long as a U.S. soldier is not on duty when he commits the crime then he falls under Korean jurisdiction. And, as having lived in Yongsan for a couple years, you see Korean MPs (헌병대s) all the time, particularly in the Itaewon district in Yongsan and they’re not there for Korean soldiers.

But, on an anecdotal level, I agree. I remember this one time I was in a car with all Korean-American friends crossing the Han river by way of the Hannam Bridge and there was one of those stops, where the police check to see if you were drunk or not. Well, the driver of the car, used an id of a Korean-American friend, who was in the U.S. army, to say that he was, well, from the U.S. army and that he couldn’t speak Korean. The police were too lazy and let us pass. I, of course, was shocked to see this, but, things like this made a huge impression on me at the time. Nonetheless, South Korea’s anger towards the U.S. for the death of the two school girls and the SOFA agreement is completely wrong and misdirected.

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