June 10, 2005
Bush's summit meeting with South KoreaBy Alex Powell
President Bush is scheduled to meet with South Korea's President Roh Moo—hyun today to patch up the cracks that have appeared in the 53+ year—old alliance.
Where these differences of opinion came from is worth investigating. In fact, it's time for the U.S. to seriously re—examine the reasoning for our maintaining troops in South Korea.
Back in 1980, the South Korean 2—star General Chun Doo—hwan seized power in a military coup and ushered in an oppressive dictatorship. No huge fuss was raised at the time because dictatorships and South Korea had arguably gone hand in hand up until then. But Chun made the repression worse, and did something truly mad: he sent in troops to quash the civil uprising that was protesting his illegal seizure of power. This action became known as the Kwangju Massacre, and from this point on, arguably, the alliance has deteriorated.
Why? Because President Carter wouldn't intervene in the political crisis which became the massacre. Carter's view may have been one of level headed pragmatism (as in 'Let the South Koreans work this out for themselves'), but there have been serious consequences, as America is seen even today as responsible for the abuses of Chun and his military coterie.
Today's hostility of the Korean left toward America really began with Kwangju. The demonstrations against General Chun were led by university students with big ideas about what democracy means and why it was worth fighting for.
As the massacre died down, Chun began to hunt out any who defied his authoritarian rule, forcing thousands to flee South Korea and study in China. This mass exodus, out of fear of reprisals and even execution, fostered a sense of resentment in these young patriotic ideologues — resentment against the U.S. for letting this happen.
After all, in their minds the U.S. created South Korea and was responsible when it ultimately become a dictatorship. The communist influence that living in exile in welcoming Chinese hands imparted in these victims continues to reverberate through that generation's collective psyche.
Fast forward approximately 20 years and we see their hero Kim Dae—jung (who was imprisoned and even tortured for his beliefs by the militarists) sweep into power in the first real shift away from the right in South Korean history. It's during this presidency that Kim Dae Jung visibly brought the two Koreas together in a summit meeting, and won the Nobel Prize in the process. And it's here that things really started going awry for the alliance.
The apparent warming between North and South Korea was not the great step forward for dialogue that we've imagined, but rather was in large part a financial transaction.
The Hyundai group pumped over $200,000,000 into North Korea, effectively keeping the dictatorship alive, just so this wondrous summit could occur and Hyundai would be granted access to the vast untapped market in the North.
'What are we doing there if the South itself is pumping up North Korea?' lamented some U.S. senators. Hyundai's vast resources allowed it to hush up the scandal, and all was soon forgotten, with the exception of the occasional fuming letter written by a Korean War Vet appearing in the odd U.S. newspaper.
South Korea was abuzz as its joint hosting with Japan of the World Cup approached. North Korea, however, was in a real hole. Supporting over 2 million troops in a nation of 20 million, without any real industries to support this incredible military force, was quite a burden. The only way for the North to survive was to blackmail the world for aid by keeping up relentless threats, without triggering a total war.
The attack and subsequent battle got very little attention; the overwhelming desire to make the World Cup a success was shared by both government and media in the South. But, at around the same time, an American armored vehicle accidentally ran over 2 girls in the South Korean countryside. The driver couldn't properly see the rural road through the vehicle's armor.
Unlike the North Korean incursion, the South Korean press and students had a field day publicizing this 'outrage.' This is where the fracture in the alliance became a visible crack. Two weeks passed during the Cup playoffs, and, with the exception of young South Koreans hurling constant abuse at the American soccer team, nothing really eventful happened.
I recall going down to KBS (the state broadcaster) to shoot a historical drama, and being forced to view enormous displays of the most vile sensationalism I've ever seen in my life. There were huge photographic blow—up shots of the two girls' brains squashed on that country road placed boldly in the foyer of the government broadcaster's building, just 500 meters away from the National Assembly building (South Korea's parliament).
This came on top of years of racist and biased news reporting in South Korea. The sort of reporting that fails to see the dozen or so sexual abuse cases that occur every night in South Korea by South Koreans, but which requires front page scrutiny when a U.S. soldier does that on average once every two years in South Korea. Having suffered repression under military dictators allied to America, most of the South Korean press almost instinctively takes an anti—military, anti—American stance.
The U.S. gave each of the girls' families $100,000 and the U.S. repeatedly apologized for the accident. Not that the press gave much weight to this gesture of contrition and responsibility.
North Korea gave nothing, not even an apology, for deliberately killing 4 sailors, though.
South Korea's politics have become even more bitterly divisive than America's. There was an impeachment of Roh Moo—Hyun, Kim Dae—jung's successor as president, in March last year, with the pro—military party in favor, and the leftist parties emphatically (see the picture) against. There were even whispers about the need for a coup. The following month, voters elected a strong majority for the Pro—Roh Uri Party, and the impeachment was thrown out in May, 2004.
Young South Koreans now vote en masse for the progressives. Older South Koreans vote for the pro—military conservatives. The young vastly outnumber the elderly, though.
The real victims needing human rights help, of course ,are the North Koreans, including defectors or refugees. President Bush has a new favorite book, it seems: The Aquariums of Pyongyang details life in the gulag state, and was written by a defector now living in Seoul. President Roh doesn't like this book. In fact, he doesn't like any North Korean defector speaking on TV or radio in South Korea for fear that it will upset North Korea.
South Korea has announced it will hold defense exercises with China, a swing away from the United States alliance. Now, the U.S. must wonder how much intelligence to share with its ostensible ally. China rakes in billions of dollars annually from South Korean investment, whose major corporations are setting up manufacturing operations there. Economics are pulling South Korea's giant chaebol closer to China.