[VIEWPOINT]Maintaining the middle groundWhat does the United States mean to us? Does it protect our country from danger? Or is it merely a foreign power binding our nation's foot for its own imperialistic ambitions?
Looking at popular sentiment today, one can assume that those who have been pro-American tend to advocate a pragmatic approach to the United States. And, those who were anti-American tend to vent their anger by demanding revisions of the SOFA rather than the removal of the U.S. military bases in Korea.
In general, people are making efforts to establish neutral positions. The situation strikes me that Korea has no other choice but to maintain the middle ground.
If so, what is it about the United States that makes us feel so confused?
First, the political ideology of the United States has become the common ideology of the modern era. The United States has systemized and disseminated the concepts of freedom, equality, human rights, democracy and constitutionalism. In fact, these are the values that Korea has been aiming to adopt during the past century in the names of industrialization, democratization and national independence.
The economic situation is similar. The reforms that Korean companies are now making -- transparency, separation of business from politics, protection of shareholders' rights -- are based on U.S. economic traditions.
The United States also is in the forefront of modern civilization in terms of education and intellectual thought. Talented students from abroad pour into the United States to study.
In this regard, the United States is a model -- even an ideal -- for societies wanting modernization in politics, economics, culture and schooling.
On the other hand, the United States is a country of its own, acting in its own interests. In order to protect its citizenry and corporate interests, the United States sometimes makes unfair deals and imposes tariffs.
To protect its citizens abroad, the United States exercises its power and violates the sovereign rights of other nations.
To protect its soldiers, the United States enforces a pact with extraterritorial rights, and it willingly punishes organizations or countries that intrude on its land or attack its citizens.
And because it is a strong nation, the United States sometimes ignores other country's requests, exacts pressure on them and uses violence.
When U.S. authorities maintain a certain balance of their opposing standards in their diplomatic policies, the gap and contractions of their dualities are not readily perceptible. But as soon as the United States begins to speak out about issues that involve its interests and its relationships with other countries, the gap between its image as a civilization and a nation grows complicated.
When that happens, ethnic groups and nations that have been restraining their uneasiness about American influences in their countries -- while admitting the inevitable need for the American presence -- start to criticize the United States. Such responses pertain not only to Korea, but also other countries, including Japan and European nations.
There are many countries that accept American ideals, that benefit from trade with the United States and that host American military bases. The question is how do we respond to wrongdoings by the United States?
For one thing, we should be able to point out that the United States sometimes contradicts its value system and ideology that we are trying to emulate. We should note its unfairness regarding human rights, freedom, equality and humanism.
Perhaps the relationship between Korea and the United States is destined to be uncomfortable. The structure of our relationship inevitably includes situations where we benefit but feel shameful at the same time.
It is the role of our leadership to preserve self-respect and national interest by enhancing the U.S-Korea relationship while acknowledging our uncomfortable position. We need their wisdom more than any time in the past.
* The writer is a professor of political science at Yonsei University.
by Hahm Chai-bong