[FORUM]Time for war of images in KoreaA U.S. government official whom I met at Georgetown University said, “The propaganda and agitation of the left wing is remarkable. They have the experience and technique to spread anti-American sentiment. It is not easy to block them, and it is an unfortunate tradition for us.”
The “unfortunate tradition” the official was talking about was that of South Korea. He was referring to the U.S. media coverage as an indicator of how shaky the Korea-U.S. alliance had become.
The official said that there had probably never been such a concentration of news on North Korea (its nuclear program) and on South Korea (its anti-Americanism) since the Korean War in the 1950s as there has been in the past few months. There had not been such coverage, he said, even at the time of the Koreagate scandal in the 1970s or the first nuclear crisis in 1994.
The “unfortunate tradition” began just after Korea’s liberation. There are materials in the Library of Congress in Washington that describe it vividly.
In August 1945, after the defeat of Japan, U.S. troops advanced into Korea from the south while the Soviets came down from the north. The declarations issued by the two allies were striking in their contrast. General John Hodge, commander of the U.S. troops, issued the following declaration: “The U.S. occupation is here to promote democracy in this country and keep order among the people. Everyone should concentrate on his own job. Any act of selfish riots, acts of rebellion against the Japanese or the U.S. Army or rash and thoughtless acts of destroying facilities are forbidden.” It was a dry and commanding speech, enough to startle Koreans who were ready to thank him and the U.S. occupation forces for driving out the Japanese.
General Ivan Chistiakov, the Soviet commander, issued a very different declaration: “People of Chosun, the Red Army and the armies of its allies have driven out the Japanese exploiters. Chosun is now a free country. The slavish past will be gone forever. Remember: Happiness is in your own hands. You have found liberty and independence. Cheers to the liberated Chosun people!”
The “liberation” speech of General Chistiakov left a strong impression on Koreans. Intellectuals discomfited by General Hodge’s words were won over. It was a typically charismatic leftist speech, brimming with emotion.
The United States had been the leading force that defeated Japan, and the Soviet Union had played only a bit part. Through ingenious propaganda, though, the Soviet Union fast gained influence over the public in the Korean Peninsula. On the other hand, the U.S. occupation forces neglected their public image. One of the reasons was the arrogance of the strongest power in the world. Americans, with their emphasis on practical matters such as order and jobs, weren’t used to propaganda words such as “liberation” and “cheers.”
This difference has remained, to become the characteristic difference between the right and left in Korea. Because the Korean culture emphasizes honor more than practicality, the emotional leftist propaganda is the more effective. Extreme leftists have quickly learned that the two words that beat “alliance” and “cooperation” are “independence” and “nationalism.”
General Hodge sent a telegram to Washington saying: “The Koreans resent noisily that the United States has divided their country. ‘Pro-American’ has become a bad word here.” The tears of Lieutenant General Charles Campbell, commander of the U.S. 8th Army in Korea, in a CBS-TV program half a century later recalls the discouragement of General Hodge.
Within the framework of the Korea-U.S. alliance, Korea achieved both democracy and industrialization. Still, the mainstream of our society, the healthy right wing, has done a poor job of preserving and promoting the significance of this dramatic achievement.
Nationalism and independence is not the exclusive property of the left. Syngman Rhee, Park Chung Hee and Kim Young-sam concentrated on economic growth and democratization because they believed that was the way to fortify our people and independence in international society. They effectively put to use a cooperative relationship with the United States.
Their nationalism and independence-mindedness was quite different from the hypocritical nationalism and independence of the North Korean government, which spends money shamelessly on nuclear armaments while millions of its people go hungry.
A healthy mainstream should present the achievements and future of Korea as a sophisticated image. It is time for a war of images.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo, currently on a research project at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.
by Park Bo-gyun