Postwar betrayalOn June 6, 1944, the Allies landed at Normandy in what would become the largest amphibious invasion in history. As many as 3 million soldiers, including 1.7 million Americans and 1 million British, joined the operation. About 160,000 soldiers landed on the beach using parachutes and gliders, 1,200 arrived by plane and 5,000 by sea.
After three months of battle, the Allies were finally able to push the Nazis out of France. The invasion cost over 200,000 lives on the Allied side. Dwight Eisenhower, the top commander in Europe, agreed to the demands of French Gen. Charles de Gaulle that his government be regarded as the sole “official” government of all liberated areas of France and allowed his troops to be first to march into Paris.
But the French did not repay their gratitude to the Americans well. During the Cold War, France often veered away from the bipolar struggle between the U.S.-led Western democracies and Soviet-led communist bloc. France walked out of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization and withdrew from the integrated military command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. De Gaulle distrusted American protection and built atomic bombs to ensure France’s independence under “force de dissuasion.”
France’s betrayal partly stemmed from its indebtedness to Americans. The French right wing was deeply involved in collaborating with the Nazis after the German invasion. Popular singers and actresses had to entertain German generals, and French Jews were sent to concentration camps. If the Americans had not come to their aid, the French would have long been under German oppression. To the French, Americans reminded them of their humiliating history. On both an individual and national level, such indebtedness can be burdensome.
The French chose to forget, but Americans did not. When President De Gaulle ordered foreign soldiers to leave France within a year in 1966, Dean Rusk, then the United States’ secretary of state, asked whether the country should exhume the bodies of 50,000 American soldiers buried in French cemeteries. Without them, France would not have been liberated from the Nazis.
Emotion has the power to overrule human judgment. Reason only acts to justify emotional judgments. Deep hatred and resentment from the experience of betrayal can define a relationship in its aftermath. We, too, were liberated from Japanese rule through the help of Americans. South Korea was created on the principles of democracy and a free economy, also thanks to the United States.
While North Korea has suffered through the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has remained faithful to South Korea, from the Korean War in the 1950s through industrialization and into prosperity. We are a hundred times more indebted to the Americans than the French.
And like the French, we have conveniently forgotten what we owe to Americans. Some have been downright ungrateful. President Kim Young-sam intervened and stopped the Americans from striking North Korean nuclear sites. President Park Geun-hye chose to side with China in its dispute with the United States over claims to land in the South China Sea. Liberal administrations were blunter in going against American will than their conservative counterparts.
Distrust from acts of betrayal has influenced the relationship between South Korea and the United States. It’s the only way to explain the barrage of trade retaliation from the United States. The reasonable response would be to mend the broken ties and ease the hard feelings. But the current liberal government is ignoring such a fundamental solution. It simply wants to avoid it by claiming security and economy are separate issues, but the two cannot be separated. The economy is most sensitive to security.
To Americans, the French and South Koreans have both been ungrateful, but France is strong and does not have an enemy threatening war. South Korea, on the other hand, runs the risk of nuclear war without U.S. protection.
In the long run, the Korean Peninsula could become more dependent on China. While Seoul stands up easily to Washington, it also concedes easily to Beijing. The people have not forgotten how Korean reporters accompanying the president in a state visit to Beijing were assaulted by Chinese guards. The Seoul government seems to have forgotten such shame and its promise to the people that it will press on the issue with Beijing.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Sunday, March 17-18, Page 35
*The author is a novelist.