Attack leaves scar on Korea

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Attack leaves scar on Korea


U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert is recuperating from the injury he suffered in a knife attack. He is expected to return to work soon, and the security and number of guards for the ambassador have been enhanced. The assailant, Kim Ki-jong, will serve a long prison term. Korea and the United States say that after a storm comes a calm. Things are going smoothly. But does it really mean we can be rest assured?

More escorts and heightened security cannot completely prevent danger, no more than enhancing personal hygiene can eliminate the chance of getting ill. Improving the environment is more effective. The same goes for extreme anti-Americanism. We need a climate of healthy historical awareness and strict order to prevent anti-American terrorism. And Korean society has a rather cowardly and slack record.

Horrific incidents mostly occurred during the Roh Moo-hyun administration. One happened on Sept. 11, 2005, four years to the day after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York. On that very day, the statue of Gen. Douglas MacArthur at Liberty Park in Incheon was attacked only days before the 55th anniversary of the Incheon Landing Operation led by MacArthur. Thousands of anti-American protesters called for the removal of the statue and withdrawal of U.S. Forces from Korea. What had been a peaceful protest ended in frightful violence.

Some extremists brandished steel pipes and bamboo sticks. When you strike a bamboo stick on the ground, the end is cracked and turns into a sharp spear. The bamboo sticks were more than 2 meters (6.6 feet) long, while riot police used 1.25-meter-long sticks. The police helmets covered only half the face. The bamboo sticks pierced the faces of young riot officers and they were beaten about the shoulders with pipes.

Corp. Moon Jeong-hyeon suffered the most severe injury. He must have been frightened. The violence must have changed his life. I searched for him to write about his testimony, but I could not locate him. Incheon Jungbu Police Station, Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency, the Police Hospital and Riot Police Association did not know his whereabouts. If he reads this column, I’d like him to contact me.

The Blue House secretary for civil affairs at the time was Moon Jae-in. He was in charge of the public authority dealing with protest violence. In 2004, Moon had served as secretary for civil affairs. Back then, he had visited Venerable Jiyul, who was on a hunger strike to protest the Mount Cheonseong tunnel. However, as a secretary for civil affairs, Moon neither met the anti-American protesters nor visited injured riot police officers.

Anti-American protests continued the following year. A group of protesters attacked the construction site of the U.S. Forces base in Pyeongtaek in May 2006. They attacked not just the police, but servicemen. Citizens used force against the military. In a developed country, it would have been handled seriously. But in this country, strange things happened. Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook was ambiguous about accountability. “The police officers, servicemen, protesters and residents are all our sons and daughters and brothers and sisters,” she said. “Every involved party needs to take a step back and be calm.” What will happen to the country if policemen take a “step back” when faced with violence?

Even during the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration, extreme anti-Americanism on our soil didn’t change. In the summer of 2008, protests and occupations opposing beef imports from the United States spread. Some protesters attacked the police again. Two young officers were lynched in downtown Seoul early one morning. The mob stripped off their shirts and beat them. One of the police officers lowered his head in fear, and someone hit his face with a rock. The protesters handed them over to the police unit as if they were the criminals. When such an incident happened in a country built on a Constitution and laws, the president and the administration seemed helpless. What kind of country has Korea been to these young police officers?

From 1950-3, more than 5.7 million American troops participated in the Korean War and 37,000 were killed. That means each soldier had about a one in 154 chance of not surviving. As it is written in the memorial park in Washington, D.C., they crossed the Pacific Ocean to “defend a country they never knew.” The chance of contracting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease from consuming American beef is said to be one in 100 million. The anti-American protesters instigated violence and blamed their ally by exaggerating this trifling chance. They wouldn’t have acted so violently if it was Australian or Argentinian beef.

The Kim Ki-jong case is not just an individual act. If society had come down resolutely against anti-American violence when the statue of MacArthur was destroyed, the Pyeongtaek base attacked and the mad cow disease protests staged, Kim Ki-jong wouldn’t have dared to carry out such an attack. Korea has failed in its duty. Ambassador Lippert’s scars will remain forever. And the scars are shameful evidence of Korean society’s weakness in the face of violence.

JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 18, Page 31


*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin

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