GI Korea asked me if I’d like to do some posts here at his blog and I was honored. He runs a top flight K-blog, and it is a little daunting to prepare to write at a level to do the blog justice.
I admire GI Korea and One Free Korea for doing the difficult day jobs they have - yet also - finding time to write out long, detailed, sourced posts for their blogs.
I avoid that kind of writing for the most part on my blog. I spent too many years in college and grad school writing research papers. Blogging was a way to release some of that stress by just typing as I thought. I did long posts for the www.usinkorea.org website, but that only required a few days of intense work combing the media archives, collecting notes, then writing then going back to being lazy the rest of the year.
But, in posting here at GI Korea’s, I plan to beef up my typical posts.
With that introduction stated —- on to the current post — which concerns what might happen on the anti-US front in the near future now that Cows Gone Wild!! Hysteria has died down:
It is safe to believe Korean society feels strong after pushing President Lee around for a month - and that the society feels good about feeling strong.
That is not a good combination for the US in Korea…
In 2000, Korea put on months and months of anti-US activity over a variety of issues — The Great Water Dump was the most memorable one (GI Korea’s Review). But, the Koon-ni/Maehyang-ri Bombing Range Saga was also finally picked up by average Koreans. And there were other much smaller issues brought up during this period as well.
Both the water pollution and training range issues were as frivolous as the beef issue: The pollution case involved a small amount of formaldehyde dumped in the Yongsan base sewer system. It had no potential whatsoever to harm a single Korean - but this editorial illustrates how far Korean society was willing to freak out about it:
These toxic chemicals are widely known to cause cancer and birth defects. The Han river supplies drinking water for over 10 million citizens residing in metropolitan Seoul and its satellite cities. Are Koreans disposable people?
The news is ethically repulsive. Environmentally, the act is destruction-friendly. In psychiatric terms, it comes close to an act of quasi-murder [oh my!]. For, what matters here is the sick mind and attitude that made possible the dumping of the cancer-causing substance. Whether or not the quantity of the discarded was enough to cause cancer is not the issue here.
The myth that was created during the Maehyang-ri incident was that a USFK plane dropped a bomb that missed the range and landed “in the heart of the town.” But, in reality, the initial spark was simply that the plane dropped the bomb, on the range, unannounced:
No pilot training was scheduled that day, because the plane that dropped the bombs was heading for another range when it developed engine trouble and was diverted to Koon-ni to drop its load before returning to base.
The fact that villagers weren’t notified ahead of time was the original cause celeb for the protests — but when the media and average Koreans jumped on board — they quickly altered the truth to justify the level of anger put on display by claiming that the bombs had hit outside the range and hurt people and did “much” damage to houses in the area.
This shifting of “root cause” is typical in anti-US culture — and we saw it in the Cows Gone Wild!! Hysteria too: when it became obvious that Korea might look stupid in the world’s eye due to the irrational “fear” of US beef, they shifted to the idea it was about President Lee’s arrogance…
The main point here —- however —- is that Korean society does not need a solid reason for even large spikes in anti-US activity to occur.
So - Anything might set off the next spike after Cows Gone Wild!!
But the Korea Times editorial above also demonstrated another factor we need to include in guessing about future activity:
Frankly, some Koreans are also scared of the idea of a defense by those who commanded to dump the toxic substance; who murdered many Korean hostesses, the poor souls, who had to sell sex to earn their subsistence; and, who care little about those Koreans suffering from constant bombing exercises like the one in Maehyang-ri. Why are they reluctant to fully disclose the facts about Nogun-ri massacres? Is the SOFA really a fair arrangement?
“Are they here to defend us? Thanks but from whom?” The answer to the question is in a sense becoming more and more ambiguous and ambivalent in the post inter-Korean summit detente.
See. 2000 was the year of the Great NK-SK Summit.
For a few months back then, even many die-hard Korean conservatives really believed peace in our time might be at hand.
Korean society as a whole was drunk with the idea North Korea was really going to change.
That made Koreans feel really, really good - and proud -
- and that feeling was easily transferred into venting long-held anger at the US in Korea — especially with the summit making it seem USFK was no longer needed…
Pent up and long held are perfect ways to describe the phenomenon. Look back at the last quote from the Korea Times editor: he throws in all the big ticket anti-US/USFK issues - pollution, GI crimes, Maehyang-ri, the SOFA, and so on. Economic bullying is absent, but he hit most of the others.
And that is how it goes. We witnessed it again with Cows Gone Wild!! Of course other issues were quickly mixed together in the street demonstrations — that is simply how the process works.
All of these issues peculate in the society, with periodic reminders spaced throughout the year - every year - waiting for the right time to activate. And when one item scores a direct hit, the others are usually brought along.
And one thing that activates them is Korean pride.
In 2002, what made Korean society feel strong and prideful wasn’t another summit with North Korea —– it was their impressive showing in the World Cup - coupled with pride in hosting the games on Korean soil.
My Korean language skills are weak — but I believe in this video from 2002 - the Korean student demonstrates the link between World Cup fever, Korean pride, and anti-US activity.
In 1997-98, Korean pride was the primary factor in the IMF bailout short spike in anti-US activity: In that case, Korean pride was badly damaged as their Miracle on the Han economy, the greatest source of their national pride, tanked. In Nov. and Dec. of 1997, within about a week’s space in time, Korea’s president both stated Korea would not ask for an emergency bailout, talking as if such a thing would be too dishonorable to even consider, then asked one. Korean society felt great humiliation.
And - they decide to release some tension about that by — going nuts over how the IMF chief sat on a couch in a media photo op with the Korean president when the IMF team was in town discussing the bailout. You see — the IMF chief, who wasn’t American, sat back on the cushion and even dared to cross his legs - looking comfortable, while Korea’s president was forced to sit ramrod style on the edge of his chair kowtowing to the foreigner.
The US government, through the IMF, was providing billions of dollars in an emergency loan to stabilize the Korean economy that was in a rapid downfall, and this is how Korean society chose to respond — with hurt pride and anti-Americanism. (thus showing that the pride factor is at play whenever Korea’s sense of national pride is too low or too high)
So what does this mean for us today?
Korean society most likely feels strong and proud of itself with what they accomplished through their hysteria over US beef imports.
President Lee is supposed to be arrogant and a bulldozer.
His mandate after the last election was very strong. The GNP/conservatives were given a very strong hand in the National Assembly and they controlled the Blue House. The liberals were crushed…
…But Korean society, through massive protests, brought the conservatives to their knees immediately after handing them so much power. Pres. Lee even went several times on TV in front of the nation and kowtowed - begging for forgiveness.
That only validates the society’s sense of pride and strength…
So, I do not think we will have to wait two or three years for the next anti-US spike to occur.
In the 1990s, my rule of thumb said that an anti-US spike in activity occurred about every 8 to 16 months — or about once a year.
I don’t think we’ll have to wait 16 months.
I can’t give a good guess about what might spark it.
We’ve seen clearly - anything can.
I don’t know what stage the Pyongtaek base expansion is in. One of the big hurdles was crossed a year or two ago when the moved off the squatters. If that was something that needed to be done this year, I’d put my money on it, but it has already passed.
USFK base pollution is an issue always ready on hand.
This recent Korea Times article said pollution is becoming a bigger issue for Korean society. The cost of decontamination of US bases has been in the news. Maehyang-ri was in the news on the pollution angle this past January.
Pyongtaek could finally be the spark - much like with Maehyang-ri.
In both issues, The Priest had been trying to generate a society-wide outrage for years before such an outrage finally arrived. He just hasn’t been successful with Pyongtaek, yet.
Don’t be surprised to see him and his people repeating the violence of 2005.
That video is just one of several from 2005. You can see the others via this page.
The objective in most of those violent protests was to rip down the fence line at the USFK base. The Priest did the same thing at Maehyang-ri in 2000 to grab the society’s attention.
It didn’t work in 2005. In fact, the media didn’t report it at all. I just happened to catch it on a routine review of video postings at the leading anti-US/USFK website www.voiceofpeople.org that I do every 4 to 6 months or so.
Those multiple riots were large and very violent. They were staged by both the usual shock troops - university students + union members. But, because they had the potential to harm the US-SK relationship and possibly motivate Roh to “do something” — when they couldn’t trust what the hell Roh might do — the media decided to bury them.
With President Lee in the Blue House, The Priest might be much more successful if he makes this play again.
The cost of relocating USFK bases off the DMZ and out of Seoul could be the spark itself — especially because Korean society has long opposed the perceived “weakening” of the US commitment to defend Korea such a move implies. This link is to a Korea Times archive search for “bases” in which you can see the costs have been in the news.
A crime by a US soldier could be the spark - but I wouldn’t put my money on that…
GI Crimes and The SOFA are two bedrocks of anti-US culture in Korea, but oddly enough, they don’t directly inspire that much street protest activity. (GI Korea’s SOFA Review + GI Crimes and GI Crimes again)
Technically speaking, the 2002 armored vehicle accident and the 2000 water contamination cases were about crimes and the SOFA, but I have seen murders and rapes pass without significant street protests.
Those events do help solidify anti-US ideas in the society through the media and schooling. But, the 1995 subway brawl and the early 1990s Markle murder case are the only two I can think of that caused significant street activity.
Given the society’s mood, the militant labor unions might also strike gold sometime this year over things like the FTA that it wasn’t able to generate support for with President Roh in the Blue House.
Even North Korea could help start the next spike:
Things are looking bad in the North — as One Free Korea has been showing repeatedly the last few months.
South Korea under President Lee is also unlikely to give Pyongyang as much as it has been used to getting since 1998 when President Kim started the Sunshine Policy.
So, we could see North Korea do some very provocative things this year.
And when tensions rise on the peninsula, South Korean society often transfers that tension onto the US-SK alliance.
This article noted by GI Korea and others in the K-blogsphere says that 28% of Koreans believe the US is the biggest security threat to South Korea. That number rises dramatically when tensions with the North go up, because Koreans take it as a given the North will not attack as long as USFK in is Korea, because it would be suicide, but they have MUCH less faith that the US will not bomb the North - thus potentially starting a war.
So, if Kim Jong Il decides to act up this year in a big way, it could directly lead to another anti-US spike in South Korea.
Time will tell what the next spark will be - and how long of a wait until it comes - but my money is on the idea that it will take place within 8 months.
Winter break for the universities might be a time to watch….