Confused in Korea

|

Writing in the New York Times, Aiden Foster-Carter is sad that South Koreans won't agree with his analysis of what's most likely to annihilate them:

Knowing what to be scared of is, sadly, a skill we all need. But South Koreans seem a bit confused about this, judging from what's making waves in Seoul right now.

According to Foster-Carter, South Koreans are angry about the U.S. military presence when they ought to be angry at North Korea. (They have to choose one.) His analysis? South Koreans are confused.

Leaving aside the question of why the Times would commission a British policy wonk to tell us what an Asian peninsula full of literate people is thinking, this is a pretty disingenuous reading of South Korea's discomfort with U.S. policy. If South Koreans actually think a direct attack from the U.S. is likelier than one from Dear Leader, well, that's a problem. But it's fairly clear that Koreans fear the U.S., in feeding Kim's militant paranoia, makes North Korea more dangerous. The U.S. does this by, say, listing North Korea among three countries it would love to see regime change in, then going ahead and changing the regime in one of those countries.

South Koreans have favored gradual engagement, with an eye toward reunification, for a long time. Maybe the Sunshine Policy is ultimately futile. But when U.S. neocons start talking about the need to "get tough" with North Korea the way we got tough with Iraq, the people most likely to die horrible deaths in the event of nuclear war get a little uncomfortable. I guess they're confused.

NEXT: They've Created a Lamonster

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Eine wirklich super Seite!

  2. “Leaving aside the question of why the Times would commission a British policy wonk to tell us what an Asian peninsula full of literate people is thinking”

    Because we never ASK the South Koreans what they’re thinking. In fact, South Korea doesn’t get any respect at all, they’re the Rodney Dangerfield of east Asia. I mean, really, it’s a country of 40 million people with a first world economy- shouldn’t we take them at least as seriously as we take the goddamn French?

  3. So the South Koreans, wishing to avoid feeding Kim’s militant paranoia with confrontation, instead prefer to literally feed North Korea with aid. This, of course, feeds Kim’s belief that his regime can survive without reforms, that democracies are pushovers if dictators act tough, and gives him more time and resources to build his nuclear arsenal. Sorry, South Korea sounds confused to me.

  4. Dey wirr fear us.

    We have Arec Barwin.

  5. We didn’t ask the Iraqis what they wanted either. That’s because, of course, we know what’s best for them and for the rest of the world.

  6. “The U.S. does this by, say, listing North Korea among three countries it would love to see regime change in, then going ahead and changing the regime in one of those countries.”

    This also happens when a sitting US Senator (who is a much bally-hooed “moderate” presidential prospect) writes an op-ed piece in which he advocates launching an attack on North Korea over the objections of the South Koreans:

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/002/093wsmmh.asp

    The use of military force to defend vital American security interests must always be a last resort, as it is in this crisis. But if we fail to achieve the international cooperation necessary to end this threat, then the countries in the region should know with certainty that while they may risk their own populations, the United States will do whatever it must to guarantee the security of the American people. And spare us the usual lectures about American unilateralism. We would prefer the company of North Korea’s neighbors, but we will make do without it if we must.

  7. PapayaSF,

    I understand what you’re saying. I’ll stipulate that both ways of looking at the problem are reasonable.

    Doesn’t the fact that the Koreans, who are Korean, live in Korea, know Korean history, and presumably understand Korea better than we do, come down so strongly on one side of the questions suggest anything to you?

  8. Uh, Papaya, Seoul is well within range of thousands of artillery pieces, & millions of rounds.
    That might well encourage circumspection about stirring turds for the hell of it.
    And I bet S Koreans have a better handle on thier co lingual, co historical, sadly abused relations to the North than any blog bombardier…..

  9. I don’t know if you can ascribe a single opinion to South Korean wrt North Korea. At least a few years ago, there was a strong split between the older people who saw NK as a threat (with 10,000 artillery pieces) and the younger well, idiots, who wanted Korean reunification so much that they were willing to live under NK rule.

  10. I worked in South Korea for a time teaching English and the college students in the south were convinced that Japan was a bigger threat to them than North Korea. I found this to be far fetched, seeing as Japan hasn’t had any substantial army or navy since WWII, but the South Koreans were convinced that the Japanese Empire was only biding it’s time until it could re-acquire the valuable Kim chee resources of the Hermit Kingdom.

  11. The South Koreans undoubtedly have some legitimate gripes about the way that the U.S. has carried out its diplomacy with the North, but I think part of the reason why public opinion in the country has reached its present state is that it’s become fashionable for many South Koreans (particularly younger ones) to take up foreign policy attitudes that are all but diametrically opposed to those held by the military dictatorships that previously ruled the country.

    So whereas the military dictatorships portrayed North Korea as public enemy #1, the U.S. as a benevolent protector, and China as a hostile adversary, many South Koreans now prefer to see the North as a wayward cousin, the U.S. as a domineering, warmongering colossus, and China as a relatively friendly neighbor. Attitudes towards Japan don’t seem to have changed much, though.

  12. The solution is for South Korea to invade North Korea. Have you seen their legislative puching matches? They are *ready* to kick some Ill ass . . .

  13. Why not pull our troops out. If N. Korea wants to take S. Korea, let them. And then mabe afterwards we can come clean up the mess.

    Maybe a dismissal of that scenario has something to do with the agitation. South Korea’s population is almost twice that of the North, and it’s GDP is now at least 35x larger. The country could probably go nuclear in a short amount of time, if they felt that it was necessary. All of this is likely contributing to a growing attitude in the country that U.S. aid isn’t necessary for South Korea to effectively defend itself against the North.

    Of course, even if the South could win a war against the North on its own, the mere withdrawal of American support could entice the North to attack and cause a lot of damage in the process, given that the regime hasn’t always acted too rationally in the past. And over the long run, China might think up of ways to cause problems for South Korea as well, particularly given the Korean Peninsula’s history as a geopolticial football fought over by China and Japan.

    So, yeah, it probably isn’t in the rational self-interest of the South Koreans to tell the U.S. to get lost and proceed to take a “go it alone” approach to foreign policy. But with the South having emerged as a wealthy, industrialized nation-state with a population of almost 50 million, it can’t be too surprising to see such attitudes pop up more frequently.

  14. I’m all for pulling US troops out of the ROK, as is now being scheduled. Let the Koreans kill each other, I say.

    Doesn’t the fact that the Koreans, who are Korean, live in Korea, know Korean history, and presumably understand Korea better than we do, come down so strongly on one side of the questions suggest anything to you?

    That Koreans are no less susceptible to being colossally wrong about what is in their best interest as anyone else on the planet? Especially when the beliefs described above are rather more easy and comforting than the alternatives?

    I mean, its not like sizable groups of people in the US believe things that joe thinks are utter rubbish. Tell me, joe, if a majority of your compatriots can be total knobs, why can’t a majority of Koreans?

  15. Joe: As people have said, older Korean folks know the threat of the North, but too many of the young seem to live in some sort of PC Cloud-Cuckoo Land, where Japan and the US are the real dangers to them. As a rule, people closer to a problem don’t always see it more clearly. Lots of Austrians and Ukrainians thought they’d be better off after the Wehrmacht showed up, but it didn’t work out that way.

    MUTT: Hey, I never said the alternative was simple or safe or easy. But feeding the crocodile in hopes of reforming it generally only gets you a bigger crocodile.

  16. I love the way we all project our simplistic opinions as if they matter. I have been to SK 4 times in the past year. The South Koreans (young and old) are quite aware of the thundercloud over their heads, even if they refuse to articulate it to the stoopid Americans.

    We don’t get to make all the rules anymore. I grew up thinking I lived in the most advanced country in the world. Today, I don’t believe that so much.

  17. Eric II is totally correct about the generation gap in South Korea. I look at the Korea Times online everyday, and also Asia Times online. Both note that younger Koreans tend to have a favorable attitude toward North Korea, and an unfavorable attitude toward the USA.

    There is a scandal in South Korea about a teacher’s union promoting the use of North Korean pamphlets in history classes. And yesterday I read an article about a South Korean history book that paints a favorable picture of the North.

    North Korea poses a threat that was never posed by Iraq. Howard Dean pointed this out in 2004, but it was not covered because he was considered an antiwar liberal. He pointed to Iraq as a distraction from the real threats – Al Qaeda and North Korea.

  18. If I were a cop trying to talk a crazy guy into putting down the gun and releasing the hostages, I’d probably be pretty pissed off at the blowhards who point guns at the crazy guy and issue thinly veiled threats.

  19. MUTT: Hey, I never said the alternative was simple or safe or easy. But feeding the crocodile in hopes of reforming it generally only gets you a bigger crocodile.

    yet we fed the various S Korean military crocodiles for decades w/o a peep from freedom lovers like yourself.
    If the S Koreans are too stupid to survive without US kids acting as a “tripwire”- and please tell me how that fulfills thier oath to protect the Republic from enemies, foriegn and DOMESTIC- I say let them go under. But they wont. Because Comrade Kim got nothing, nothing at all.
    i know: give Bolton a tommy gun, & parachute him into Pyongyang.
    No, it aint easy. But niether does it have to be stupid.
    Its not either/or.
    We got enough on our plate, the Korean….uh, what was that again? ended (?) in 54, S Korea is a wealthy nation. Time to bring them home.

  20. Wahhh, South Koreans bitching about the US presence? If the South Koreans are so determined to remove the US from their land, why not just ask? Why not publicly disinvite us? I can think of a couple of reasons. 1. The SK government doesn’t think that’s such a good idea. 2. The people that say they want us out are simply taking shots at the guys that they feel confident aren’t going to knock them off.

    Europeans sucking at the American teat never had a problem bitching all the while.

    Hey, all we need is that invitation to leave.

  21. “Doesn’t the fact that the Koreans, who are Korean, live in Korea, know Korean history, and presumably understand Korea better than we do, come down so strongly on one side of the questions suggest anything to you?”

    Well that Koreans should probably be allowed to determine their own fates is a given as far as I’m concerned.

    But proximity to a situation does not necessarily give one the best perspective on it. This is why we don’t have family members of the victim serve on juries. South Korea’s first world economy exists because the USA (wrongfully in my opinion) intervened militarily against the North Koreans and the Chinese on that country’s behalf. If we leave, are there any guarantees that we wouldn’t be simply seeing the end of a 50 year cease fire? Like I said, that ought to be South Korea’s problem, but a problem it very well could be.

    Furthermore, while the South Koreans favor a less stern approach with the North Koreans, the Japanese do not, and they are probably even more at risk from missile attacks from North Korea than South Korea is.

    So since both South Korea and Japan are both infinitely closer to the situation than we are, and have widely divergent opinions on how things should progress…

    …who is right?

  22. D. Rumsfeld has already written off SK. He’s just taking a measured approach to disengaging so that US allies won’t be shaken. The US’s future allied base in Asia will be anchored in relationships with Japan and Vietnam. Yes, Vietnam. (Google “Crisis on the China Rim” for a great take on how this is all playing out.)

  23. We shouldn’t expect the S Koreans to have the same perspective on the North as we, the Japanese, do. Korea is a nation torn apart by the cold war, but unlike Vietnam and Germany it has not been reunited. I am sure the sunshine policy was partly a sincere outreach to their fellow Koreans, and not just a calculated attempt to placate a dangerous neighbor.

  24. I accidentally wrote:
    “we, the Japanese, do.”

    That should have been.
    “we or the Japanese do.”

    By “we” I meant the USA. Sorry for the misleading error.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.