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Power & Nationalism
Koreans seems to have grown tired of the American presence in their country. Is this a fact? What are its causes and how has it come to this status? The American presence in the Korean Peninsula dates from the Korean War, which was the first major war after the Second World War. The war started in 1950 with the invasion of South Korea by the Communist North. The war had been predictable for some time, as the Communist threat had become more persistent in that part of Asia, with the Communists having gained power in China in 1949, however, the United Stats had previously stated that it held no interest in the area and that it would not intervene.
Albeit this, Harry Truman and his advisors decided to send air strikes in North Korea and gained a United Nations mandate to send troops under its emblem to the Peninsula. This was the only way to intervene, as the Soviet Union had boycotted the Security Counsel and did not use its veto. Yugoslavia was the only country to oppose United Nation help to South Korea. The first stages of the war proved disastrous for the American army: the overwhelming North Korean forces drove the combined Allied forces towards the South of the Peninsula, in a small region around the city of Pusan, where the front stabilized.
However, an inspired move by General Douglas Mac Arthur, who ordered an invasion in the North Korean territory, around the city of Inchon, reversed the course of the war and drove the North Koreans all the way back to the Yalu River. This proved to be a mistake, for China, who feared an American invasion of its territory, entered the war against the United Nation armies. Even if Soviet assistance was feared, this was only in the form of some MIG 15s in Chinese colors that helped gain air superiority for the Communists. The Chinese pushed the Allied troops back to the 38th parallel, former border between Communist North Korea and the Southern part of the peninsula. The war stabilized there for the later years of the conflict and negotiations carried on for the remaining part up to 1953, when a general cease fire was signed. No peace treaty has been signed even today and North Korean troops on one side and American and Korean troops on the other still defend the two territories.
This was the origin of the presence of American troops in Korea. As we can see, these troops still remain there, with the intent to protect the Democratic south from the Communist invasion. What rules do these troops abide by? The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that was signed between the Republic of Korea and the United States provides the legal basis for the troops stationed here. SOFA applies not only to the members of the armed forces, but also to civilian employees, invited contractors, technical representatives and their dependents, as well as to civilian and military personnel of the United States Embassy. It practically has the effect of a law by which the stationed Americans abide.
Although it is claimed to have "few privileges and a lot of requirements," SOFA was clearly designated to the best interest of the Americans living in Korea. It is first a mean to protect U.S. rights under U.S. constitution. Secondly, economically speaking, it makes it possible to import goods that are excerpted from duty taxes, which allows U.S. service members to purchase goods duty-free. This can prove a serious impediment to the Korean government, not necessarily because it could be considered an economic damage, but mainly because the goods that are purchased in a duty-free regime can then be sold on the black market. Of course, this is counter parted by the fact that a ration control system has been established, but does this system actually work? Who can guarantee that goods purchased cheaper will not later be sold at higher prices on the market? Of course, there are two plans to be analyzed here: on one side, the Korean government can surely not be pleased by what could be an increased factor of crime and traffic on the black market that can intervene in healthy economical processes. On the other side, however, the Korean people can have a positive interest in this: goods sold on the black market are cheaper. Could this be a cause for the increased anti-Americanism in Korea. If we look at it from the government's point-of-view, then the answer is affirmative, however, the population can't find it all that displeasing.
A second thing that Koreans find displeasing in the SOFA agreement is the fact that, even if the agreement acknowledges the right of the Korean government to exercise its laws on American citizens, the United States holds full custody of the presumed innocent until all proceedings are complete, including the appeals. This is a serious clause and could be one of the causes of Korean anti-Americanism. Let me detail a bit here. The fact that the Americans hold full custody over somebody who can be accused of a serious crime is a serious offence brought to Korean justice and one that they are most likely to perceive as such. Practically speaking, until all the proceedings have ended, they have no power over somebody who can be a criminal. This can lead to two things: on one side, to the fact that it is an offence to the Korean government and the second one, perhaps the most important, is that somebody who could be a murderer for example, could possibly walk free because of pressure from high American officials.
Let us take the following practical example, true unfortunately. This actually happened in Korea in June 2003. An armored vehicle of the American Armies crushed to death two Korean girls in a car accident. Court-marshaled, the two American soldiers driving were acquitted of the negligent homicide charges and this certainly led to a wave of anti-Americanism in the country. The official declaration that followed from the Korean government clearly stated its resentment for the situation, asking even for an immediate revision of the SOFA. Note that, most importantly of all, this was an official declaration.
A third issue I need to address as an argument for the growing wave of anti-Americanism in Korea is race. It is by no doubt that the some of the new generation of Koreans, those that have not lived through the War and have only read in history books about the threat of communism, are reticent to see Americans and probably perceive them as invaders. It will have been probably easier to assimilate someone of the same race. Suppose the Chinese stationed troops in Northern Korea. They probably would be seen more like 'our people' than if Russians did for example. It is the same case here. Although we do live in the 21st century, race and cultural issues are still to be discussed. The people from Eastern Asia have a totally different culture from the Western one. Different tradition, different human relations, different conceptions about time and space. It is difficult enough to have to do business with them and conclude a transaction, let us think how it is to have to try to cohabitate for half a century. It is probable that the American troops have sometimes stepped over these cultural differences in their attempt to promote American values, as they usually do wherever they are stationed. It is also probable that they have offended without being aware of it, unconsciously done so, but the Koreans are a sensitive people. You can bring high offences without knowing it. For example, shaking hands is considered unhygienic and is not practiced. However, this is the common practice for the Americans, but it can…[continue]
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