Stars & Stripes journalist Ashley Rowland last week published a four part series of articles exploring the perceptions South Koreans have of the US military presence in their country. I have read through all the articles and found them to be a good summary of current US-ROK relations for those who have not been following affairs on the peninsula these past few years.
Let’s start with the first article Rowland published concerning the 2004 survey where 34% of first year South Korean military cadets named the United States the main enemy of Korea with only 33% declaring North Korea as the main enemy. This topic was covered in detail here at the ROK Drop with many great comments left on it. The former military academy superintendent blamed faulty textbooks for the skewed views of America that the new cadets held.
Rowland interviewed an education researcher from the South Korean Education Ministry to comment on the claim:
Today, more than half of South Korean high schools are still using the old textbooks, published by a company called Golden Star, said Shin Sun-ho, an education researcher for the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.
Shin said a few South Korean politicians have criticized the book for being sympathetic to North Korea, but he said that wasn’t the case.
“If it was, it wouldn’t have been adopted as a textbook by the government,” he said.
The textbook is used in elective history courses for 11th- and 12th-graders. [Stars & Stripes]
If I was interviewing this person I would have asked why over half of Korean students are failing their national history exams if these textbooks are adequate? I would also ask why the Korean Teacher’s Union (KTU) is teaching pro-North Korean propaganda in the classroom among of host of other pro-North Korean activity? Finally I would ask why the (KTU) is teaching anti-Americanism to their students and celebrating the 9/11 attacks? I think the answers to these questions would go a long ways to explaining why 34% of the cadets thought America was the main enemy of Korea.
In the second article Rowland mostly discusses the long history of US forces stationed in Korea along with the agenda of the upcoming summit between President Bush and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. Also in the article Rowland discusses the current state of US-ROK relations with Frank Concilus, a professor of sociology, anthropology, and Asian studies with the University of Maryland. Here is what he had to say in regards to the 2002 Armored Vehicle Accident:
“I think the United States really blew it,” Concilus said. “The United States said they were sorry, but they didn’t show the kind of remorse and regret that I think would be expected in either Japanese or Korean culture. [Stars & Stripes]
A common myth about the 2002 Armored Vehicle Accident is that the US military did not show proper “remorse”. It is bad enough when Koreans make this claim, but it is even worse when an American university professor is making the same claim because he should know better.
The good professor appears to be reading too many of the same Korean media reports claiming the US did not show proper remorse. I have to wonder if the professor ever read the official response from the US embassy to these claims:
Unfortunately, there have been many inaccurate reports that have created false impressions in the Korean public concerning the genuineness of our sorrow and the actions we have taken since the accident. We want to address those inaccurate reports so the Korean people have a clearer understanding of the sincerity of our words and actions.
First of all, many media reports continue to suggest that no statements of remorse or official apologies were made or that they were late in being presented. On June13, the day of the accident, Lt. Gen. Daniel R. Zanini, the commander of the 28,000 soldiers assigned to Eighth U.S. Army, made the following statement: “We are deeply saddened by this tragic event. I want to express my heartfelt condolences to the families of the children and pledge our resolve to vigorously investigate this accident.” That statement was followed by official apologies by the Commander of the Second Infantry Division, Major General Russel Honore; the Commander of USFK, General Leon LaPorte; and Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly. Ambassador Thomas Hubbard has on several occasions publicly apologized on behalf of the U.S. government.
Furthermore, the Second Infantry Division Commander and the Chief of Staff visited the families following the accident to apologize personally for the accident and to offer their assistance to the families. In an effort to provide for the immediate needs of the families, we presented an initial solatium payment of one million won to each family the day following the accident. USFK immediately initiated the process in order to accelerate the compensation to the families. USFK realizes that no amount of money will lessen the pain of the grieving families, but USFK is working diligently with the ROK government to present a final and just compensation to the families.
The men and women of USFK also felt compelled to respond. Hundreds of soldiers of the Second Infantry Division held a candlelight vigil to honor the two girls and express their remorse. Donations of more than $22,000 (26,400,000 won) collected by the soldiers in the Second Infantry Division have been presented to the two families as a sign of their heartfelt sorrow and deep respect. Additionally, a memorial fund has been established to build an appropriate memorial to honor Ms. Shim Mi-Son and Ms. Shin Hyo-Sun and to further assist the families. [US Embassy Korea]
I think it is also important to note that even the President of the United States George Bush went on to apologize for the accident. Here is even more information on the remorse shown by USFK after the accident.
Candle light vigil at Camp Red Cloud
After reading this does the professor’s claim of not showing enough “regret” according to Korean and Japanese culture hold up? Judging by when Koreans kill GIs in vehicular accidents such as with the accident with SPC Vang Herr and other GIs there were no apologies made all the way up to the Korean president, there was no large financial compensation made, there were no candle light vigils, or any fundraisers by Koreans to provide funds for the deceased soldier. Instead the killing of these soldiers is hushed up and everyone acts like it never happened. US servicemembers raped, assaulted, and even murdered by Koreans get the same treatment if not worse. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise either that the average Korean knows nothing about these incidents.
So yes USFK did not show proper Korean remorse for the incident, instead they went far above and beyond the level of remorse expected in Korean society for a similar accident. The protests after the accident had little to do with remorse and more to do with politics and a public fury manipulated by a biased and sensational Korean media.
Ashley Rowland’s third article deals with the views US servicemembers have of Koreans while serving in Korea. Most of the servicemembers had positive experiences in Korea with few instances of anti-Americanism. From my experiences in Korea I agree with this assessment because I have myself overwhelmingly had more positive experiences in Korea then negative though the few negative experiences I have had really pissed me off at the time. To put things into perspective though, at no time in Korea has any of the negative experiences I had matched the hate I witnessed myself by anti-military protesters I saw while stationed in the United States.
Here though is a statement from a servicemember I agree fully with:
“If you go to a Korean area of town, where it’s nothing but Koreans and no Americans, they like you,” said Smith, who has been in South Korea for eight months. “They’re always waving and saying hi.” [Stars & Stripes]
This is very true, if you travel around Korea and get away from the ville areas and Seoul you will have a more positive experience while stationed in Korea. I have traveled all over Korea and in particular the rural areas and have met nothing but friendly Koreans except in Gwangju where I have had a couple of negative experiences there, but overall Korea is a great place to tour around as an American.
The fourth and final article discusses the perceptions South Koreans have of the US military presence in their country. Rowland reports that most showed gratitude or indifference to the US troop presence, but a few showed resentment. Here is a quote from one of the people interviewed that resented the US troop presence:
Although Kim said she rarely sees U.S. soldiers in Seoul, she has a largely negative image of them: impolite, even though they’re visitors in a foreign country and should be on their best behavior.
“They act like they’re masters of this nation,” she said. [Stars & Stripes]
This statement is so illogical that I don’t know where to begin on this one. First of all, if you rarely see a soldier how do you know anything about them? This leads me to believe she probably forms her opinion of soldiers off of what she reads and sees in the Korean media which as I have shown on this blog over and over again is extremely biased.
Also soldiers are not “visitors” to Korea, they were ordered to go Korea to help protect their country from North Korean aggression. Soldiers are not in Korea for some sight seeing tour. However, soldiers are part of a disciplined fighting force and ambassadors to their nation which means they should be on their best behavior anyway, which as statistics show they largely are. USFK has a lower per capita crime rate then the general Korean population to include the last murder committed between a GI and a Korean was committed by a Korean and the last fatal accident between a GI and a Korean was committed by a Korean. This is of course information you will never read in the Korean media.
The impolite accusation is especially humorous considering many people consider Koreans to be extremely rude and this prior posting of mine on, Why are Koreans Rude?, continues to be a highly commented on posting here at the ROK Drop. The “masters of this nation” claim is even funnier because she doesn’t even provide any examples to back it up other then GIs are rude. If GIs are "masters of this nation" then why the heck are so many GIs getting screwed over by shady ajummas as well as getting screwed over in Korean court rooms?
Here is another naive viewpoint which obviously was created by watching the Korean media:
“I think they behave very carelessly and rudely, without respect,” she said. “Maybe it’s because they’re not being punished for what they do, and they feel entitled to do it because they are protecting us.”
Not being punished? I have an entire USFK crime archive that shows the number of soldiers tried and convicted in Korean court to include those dubiously convicted in Korean courts. If I was interviewing this woman I would have instantly asked her who are these soldiers not being punished? Somebody please point them out? I can name a number of Koreans not held accountable in Korean courts. Here is even more information about how GIs are treated in Korean courts.
GI bashed with metal pipe by Korean man.
As naive as these viewpoints from some Koreans maybe as I mentioned before, it is even worse when they come from Americans who should know better:
Americans and South Koreans often view the U.S. presence here differently, said Catherine Lutz, a Brown University professor who studies the relationships between military bases and the communities that host them.
Americans don’t realize how important reunification is to South Korea, and they don’t know how much South Korea contributes toward keeping the U.S. military here or what the United States gains in return — a continued foothold in a key spot in Asia, she said.
“They see U.S. bases as simply security gifts to Korea,” Lutz said in an e-mail to Stripes. [Stars & Stripes]
South Koreans don’t want reunification with North Korea because it would collapse the South Korean economy. That is why the failed Sunshine Policy was implemented, to prevent the collapse of North Korea and immediate reunification. South Koreans saw the economic damage to Germany after the sudden reunification there and reunifying with North Korea will be much worse both socially and economically for Korea.
As far as what South Korea contributes to USFK, they don’t even contribute half the cost of the US-ROK alliance and in fact last year sent more money to North Korea then what they paid to maintain the alliance. The fight to get Korea to properly fund the alliance continues to this day. Lutz’s claims of a "continued foothold" in Asia is also interesting since the US military has been greatly downsizing in Korea to reduce the force footprint on the peninsula. In fact the Korean government are the ones doing everything possible to delay the troop withdrawals.
However, Lutz doesn’t stop here, she even has more to say:
Civic groups that oppose the U.S. presence have varied reasons for doing so — environmental damage at bases, deaths and rapes at the hands of soldiers and a feeling of loss of sovereignty about the planned expansion of Camp Humphreys, Lutz said.
"Environmental damage"? Kind of like the Camp Kyle "no use area" that I exposed as a fraud right here on the ROK Drop. Deaths and rapes? The US servicemembers have been murdered and killed in traffic accidents more recently then vice versa. Loss of sovereignty? The Camp Humphreys expansion was agreed upon by a sovereign ROK government that in exchange for the land outside Camp Humphreys is receiving the land from vacated USFKcamps located on prime real estate throughout Korea to include Yongsan Garrison in the heart of Seoul. The Korean government is receiving far more land in return then what they are giving up to make the USFK transformation a reality.
So who is Catherine Lutz you may ask? Well she is a professor at Brown University and has written a book titled The Bases of Empire: The Struggle Against U.S. Military Posts. This give you an idea of the point of view this woman is coming from. Not exactly an unbiased source to quote in an article. It only gets better, she actually thinks the Camp Humphreys location is happening to allow the US to attack neighboring countries:
Author of the forthcoming book The Bases of Empire: The Struggle Against U.S. Military Posts Lutz said today: "The U.S. is centralizing bases in Korea, from an at least somewhat defensive posture to a more offensive posture. So, the U.S. bases in Iraq, like the bases in South Korea, have the purpose of allowing the U.S. to launch warfare against neighboring countries. [Institute for Public Accuracy]
Does she even know what units USFK is composed of? There is one combat brigade in USFK located in the 2nd Infantry Division. The vast majority of units in USFK are support units and not combat arms units. This is because the US logistical bases in South Korea were created to facilitate the RSOI (Reception, Staging, Onward movement, & Integration) of American units deploying to Korea in case of attack from North Korea. That means a lot of support servicemembers are needed to upkeep the RSOI chain. Many of the other support soldiers work for the USFK and 8th Army command and control units.
The one combat brigade that USFK has is also a heavy brigade combat team (HBCT) which makes it hard to deploy because it has lots of heavy equipment such as tanks and bradleys. USFK is hardly going to use bases in South Korea to attack a neighboring country like China as Lutz claims with one heavy brigade and a bunch of support personnel. Lutz is probably just restating the propaganda that was fed to her by the activists groups that protested against the Camp Humphreys relocation that have since been linked to a North Korean spy ring.
USFK wants to relocate to Camp Humphreys to reduce the force footprint on the peninsula, down size the number of troops in USFK, get soldiers out of North Korean artillery range, as well improve living conditions for servicemembers to allow them to bring their families to Korea. This fairy tale about soldiers at Camp Humphreys being used to attack China is absolute nonsense.
The article goes on to quote statements from the activist group Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea:
Yu Young-jae, 48, policy director for Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea, a well-known civic group with about 1,300 members that opposes the U.S. military presence, said the United States is looking out only for itself by being in South Korea.
“Their ultimate goals are to command supremacy in the world and worldwide military domination,” he said in a telephone interview.
Yu said the number of South Koreans who want to see U.S. troops leave is steadily growing, although college students — typically the most radical anti-American groups — are more focused now on getting jobs in a weak economy. But they are angered at what they see as unfair treatment from the United States, he said.
“I see them as having potential to demand a more equal relationship,” he said.
So who is this group Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea? They are no strangers to the ROK Drop because I previously posted about how they claimed to have a secret document showing the acquittal of two soldiers in the 2002 Armored Vehicle accident was a cover up. Of course they never produced this document. Probably most notable about this organization is that they are a North Korean front group led by Reverend Hong Keun-soo who was imprisoned for two years in the 1990′s by the South Korean government for his pro-North Korean activities.
SPARK protesters push US Marine
Even more interesting is that the woman quoted in the article, Yu Young-jae was previously arrested and sentenced to ten months in jail before the sentence was suspended, for being part of a group that pushed and tackled US Marines participating in a joint exercise with the ROK military in 2006.
Some how I don’t think taking quotes from these North Korean stooges is the best way to determine the attitudes of the general Korean population towards the US military presence.
However, the article does conclude with the funniest quote of all the articles, you English teachers out there are going to love this:
Oh Hae-sik, 36, manager of Geckos, a bar in Itaewon, said U.S. troops used to drink heavily and fight with staff and other customers. That changed three or four years ago, though he doesn’t know why. Now, he said, English teachers from Canada, the United States, Ireland and Australia are the rowdiest customers.
“I don’t know why they’re turning into the good guys at the bar,” he said of the military.
“We are beginning to love serving them.”
I can remember the days when GIs used to disguise themselves English teachers to hit on women in Seoul, but now it appears you low quality, foreign English teachers may need to disguise yourself as GIs if this keeps up.
Anyway, for those of us that follow affairs on the peninsula closely some of the people quoted in the articles definitely raised an eyebrow due to their biased and propagandist views. This article could have been more informative if some follow up questions were asked and if more serious people were interviewed for opinions on the status of US-ROK relations. Overall though the four articles are an interesting read and a good summary of how Koreans and Americans perceive each other on the peninsula and definitely worth reading in full.