&#91SCRIVENER&#93Some therapy for a nettled couple

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&#91SCRIVENER&#93Some therapy for a nettled couple

When Korean civic groups last month accused the United States of a new crime -- failure to understand their anti-Americanism -- I realized that, after two decades of trying, I would never understand this phenomenon among Koreans.

I have given up trying to decipher this sentiment here, after observing nuns in the "Peace Square" near the U.S. Embassy innocently wearing badges that obscenely suggest disparagement for the United States. No more wriggling inside the onion to find the core and coming out empty-handed and in tears.

Shucking my columnist hat and donning my therapist lid, my program to help rescue the Korea-U.S. relationship begins with a basic concept: Americans are from Mars, Koreans are from Venus. It's not my own concept. There was a best-selling book in America, "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus," which purported to explain that no matter how much we may love each other, men and women sometimes inhabit different planets. Americans and Koreans, too, are different in how they express their feelings. Different but of equal value and validity.

Let's explore last year's Winter Olympics. You may re-member that an Australian judge -- now there is another country that needs a therapy column -- at the Winter Olym-pics ruled that a Korean short-track speed skater had blocked another in a gold medal race, and the Korean was disqualified. When the gold went to a Japanese-American skater, people here claimed the Olympics were fixed to make the United States feel better after Sept. 11. A tad over the top, maybe, but this is how Venutians express their emotion.

Americans in Korea, meanwhile, were asking, "What is short-track speed skating?" This indifference may be a kind of passive aggression. On the other hand, it is possible that some Martians truly have no interest in this sport.

Koreans struggle with their dependence on the United States. But then don't we all? Are we not all wives in the American harem? Korea's complaint is that it is fed up with being treated like a little girl. But what does this actually mean? The question seems to revolve around the presence in Korea of U.S. military forces. There are three basic views you could have about this presence: one, that it is all right as it is; or that it needs to be either reduced or reconfigured, or that the troops should be withdrawn altogether.

From the perspective of purely North-South confrontation, there is a good argument to be made for a complete withdrawal. It is possible that just as the Soviet Union gave up after then-President Ronald Reagan proposed taking the arms race into space and focused on domestic issues, so North Korea would throw in the towel when it realizes that it cannot defeat South Korea. Right now, if you follow this line of reasoning, the North finds justification for its aggressive stance in the South's dependence on foreign power.

When you consider regional security, however, all parties, possibly including the North Koreans, understand and accept the rationale for a U.S. presence in the South. Given these two points, the time may be right to reconfigure the troops for a regional role, rather than one solely for the peninsula: Get off the Demilitarized Zone and out of downtown Seoul. On the other hand, you could argue that such a drastic move is not desirable, because it risks being misinterpreted by the North Koreans.

Very few Koreans favor a withdrawal of U.S. forces. What they want to change is the U.S. "attitude." Now this is where my therapist pose breaks down. I am after all, British, which means I am a mini-Martian, and it strikes me that keeping the same measure of dependence on U.S. forces but demanding a different "attitude" means only one thing: Those complaining want mercenaries. But actually most Koreans want allied forces. Do tell me if I'm wrong. I need guidance on this.

* The writer is managing director of Merit/Burson-Masteller and author of "The Koreans." He is a member of the JoongAng Daily Ombudsman Committee.

by Michael Breen
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