[INSIGHT]Putting the U.S. in perspective

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[INSIGHT]Putting the U.S. in perspective

Among those who worry about our country's future, there are more than a few who are watching the growth of anti-Americanism in Korea with some concern. The movement is gaining ground among the young generation and some civic organizations, and it looks like it might spread to other sectors of our society.

Korea is not alone in harboring anti-American sentiments, but our geopolitical location puts us in a more complicated position than other countries. Korea needs the United States as its strategic partner.

To have some maneuvering space in a region where powerful nations throw their weight around to advance their agendas, it is natural for us to ally ourselves with another country that is influential in the region.

Sentiment here that supported such a strategic alliance would be a great help, and if that sentiment disappeared entirely, we would have a serious problem in our international relations.

We need to look at the arguments advanced by those who are distrustful of or just dislike the United States. The causes of anti-American sentiment differ by country and according to the tides of the changing times. These days, anti-Americanism has become associated with the far left wing, but the roots of the world's oldest anti-Americanism lie in Canada, where a conservative ideology opposed the American revolution of 1776.

In Germany, the 19th-century romantic movement looked down on the capital of materialism across the Atlantic and dismissed it as not worthy of mention. The immense pride of this ideology carried over well into the 20th century and influenced German anti-Americanism.

According to Ryu Byung-ik, a professor at Yonsei University, there are five kinds of fixed ideas about America that have circulated in Asia since the middle of the 19th century.

The first one sprung from the "center of the world versus the barbaric peripheries" mentality. Anything not within central China, the center on earth, was considered barbarian, and guess where America was situated? A more positive view was that the United States was rich, big and righteous, and hence a strong country to rely on.

Third, the notion of Karl Marx that America was an imperialistic aggressor was popular among Asian intellectuals; they took that idea to heart after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.

America was also pictured as a nation that preached equality but oppressed its minorities and finally that it is a breeding ground for mammonism and hedonism where ethics are meaningless and political corruption dominates. America was viewed as a part of Western civilization that was doomed for oblivion.

All in all, our perceptions of America over the last 150 years have been a mixture of such stereotypical views, to which other ingredients such as the Korean War, the suppression of the popular uprising in Gwangju in 1980 and recent trade disputes have added a bitter flavor.

One problem with these perceptions is that none of them give us a true understanding of America; they zero in on one aspect and overlook the whole. Of course that is true for admirers of the United States as well. It is time for us not only to know America but to know it well. Our perceptions have been too simple and too narrow-minded.

We should not rush to conclusions that flow from only looking at the negative side. That is too easy; the negatives are out in the open for all to see. We need a more balanced view.

Even more important is to avoid falling into the trap of hatching conspiracy theories about America. It is often the case that anti-Americanism is based on theories that are put forward to hide the lack of backing for the instinct to see the United States in a bad light.

Anti-Americanism is based on shaky evidence and lacks any deep understanding of the country. It rejects everything American without reason. It contains no constructive criticism of the United States.

I am not saying that we should embrace with open arms everything that is stamped "Made in America," but we should build a clear picture of the country, well balanced and based on facts.

Our view should be broad-minded but with a healthy dose of criticism.


The writer is president of the Institute of Social Sciences.

by Kim Kyung-won

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