‘Is anti-Americanism dead?’The recent opinion piece by Aidan Carter-Foster in the Sept. 17 edition of the Korea JoongAng Daily covered a good bit of modern history of South Korea’s anti-Americanism, along with his extrapolations from his experiences in the UK. Considering that Carter-Foster is hampered by his remote observation post, he may be forgiven for overlooking a critical factor that does not exist in Britain.
Namely, anti-Americanism has been a reliably safe venue for anti-establishmentism. Prior to the 1980s, directly attacking the ROK government and its sponsors was a certain path to jail and potentially worse. Since then, the country has become one of the leading democracies, but many of today’s mentors of younger people learned their political craft from repressive times. Consequently, while times have changed, graying advisors’ thinking and methods have not.
What is common in both the UK and South Korea is that the U.S. government has not dictated who has ruled their countries, leftist nonsense notwithstanding. The only exception was America backing Syngman Rhee for his first election; but after that, it was left to the Koreans for better or worse. When in fact matters turned to worse, it has been the Americans who were blamed by many rightfully outraged but thoroughly confused citizens.
At the time, many of these young protestors got their political bearings from specious, intellectually dishonest mimeographed tracts that were circulated when press censorship was excessive. During the 1990s, a British journalist came up with a joke with the punch-line that when a Korean finds his wife in bed with a lover, rather than shooting someone, he organizes a demonstration in front of the U.S. Embassy. In any event, this is one reason why there remains a tradition of gullibility rather than more widespread critical thinking.
So, where Carter-Foster falls remarkably short is not recognizing the inherent foundation of anti-Americanism. Much, if not most, of what we have seen actually stems from politically and economically disenfranchised people who naively blame it on America, similar to the South Park song, “Blame Canada!” Their frustrated concerns are very well placed, but their aim is often wide of the mark.
by Tom Coyner, Long-term resident of Korea and author of “Doing Business in Korea: An Expanded Guide.”