A few years ago, when the late South Korean President Kim Dae Jung visited Washington, D.C. to meet with then U.S. President George W. Bush, Kim Dae Jung was utterly humiliated when the U.S. did not publicly support Kim Dae Jung's Sunshine Policy. George W. Bush was not a very popular figure in South Korea.
(The memory of two drunk Korean men trying to incite a fight by asking whether I liked Bush in Korea a few years back will probably always be plastered to the back of my mind.)
Anyways, after this public repudiation, which it essentially was, of Kim Dae Jung's Sunshine Policy, South Korea soon after experienced massive, nationwide Anti-American demonstrations from about the end of the 2002 through to the beginning of the current South Korean administration . The "causes" of these demonstrations ranged from unfair Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to a more independent South Korean defense policy and, most recently, with respect to beef.
I'm not at all suggesting that Anti-American demonstrations in South Korea were a direct result of the public repudiation of the Sunshine Policy, but it is something to consider, especially when there is an entire generation of South Koreans that largely equates authoritarian rule in South Korea with the U.S. (Somehow, totalitarian, 1984-esque North Korea can be overlooked.)
Anyways, what brings me to this is the "inflammatory" remarks made by U.S. Pentagon Spokesman, Geoff Morrel; he made the mistake of calling the East Sea, well, the Sea of Japan.
A couple weeks ago, the Korea Herald:
A ruling party lawmaker sent letters Saturday to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates concerning the recent reference by a U.S. official to the East Sea as “Sea of Japan,” which has irked Koreans.
Rep. Won Hee-ryong of the Grand National Party, who chairs the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and trade, sent them after Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell last Wednesday used the sensitive name while talking about where the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercise will take place.
South Koreans were dumbfounded when Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell repeatedly called the waters the "Sea of Japan," not the East Sea, during a press briefing last week on a plan to hold joint naval drills with South Korea there.
While I find it to be absolutely absolutely hilarious that here is this Pentagon spokesman, who is announcing a plan to hold joint drills that demonstrate the vitality (I'd like to stay away from using the word solidarity) of the US-ROK alliance and U.S. support of South Korea's position, that upsets enough of a country to get a South Korean legislator to write letters, I think it demonstrates to an extent how clumsy the Pentagon is. I personally find it to be border on the nonsensical that South Koreans could get so upset over what the naming of a body of water in other languages, but the ostensible purpose of the press release and the military exercises themselves were to show that the U.S. cares about South Korea. In this context, I think that the extent to which how South Koreans are so sensitive to the issue of the East Sea/Sea of Japan issue shows how clumsy the Pentagon can be. I mean anybody that even randomly by chance happens to fall upon news or events pertaining to South Korea, would realize how sensitive the East Sea/Sea of Japan and Dokdo/Takeshima/Liancourt Rocks are to South Koreans.
But anyways, here is the sea change in U.S. sensitivity to how South Koreans may feel...
"A joint statement to be adopted at the two-plus-two meeting includes the contents of South Korea-U.S. combined exercises in the East Sea and West Sea," the source said on the condition of anonymity. "As far as I know, they plan to describe the venues as waters 'off the east and west coast of the Korean Peninsula.'"
On a side note, it's often said that as the vast majority of Americans -- aside from the sheer advantage of possessing so many heritage speakers -- only speak English, it seems to be a case in point of yet another example of American ignorance. But, imagine how different the EU or India or to a lesser extent China or the Philippines (or Indonesia, etc) -- would all be if they all spoke the same mutually intelligible language or if the United States historically had neighbors that spoke a language other than English. (As a bilingual speaker, I guess this more than hints at where I stand on ESL instruction.)