Why South Koreans Think of the United States as a Global Bully





Mr. Matray is the chairman of the history department at California State University, Chico. He is the author of The Reluctant Crusade: American Foreign Policy in Korea, 1941-1950, which won the Phi Alpha Theta Best Book Prize in 1986, and editor of Historical Dictionary of the Korean War, which won Choice magazine's Outstanding Academic Book Award. His latest book, East Asia and the United States: An Encyclopedia of Relations Since 1784, was published in October 2002.

Anti-Americanism became a powerful force in the Republic of Korea (ROK) during the 1980s. It has reached new levels of intensity since the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001. A major catalyst was President George W. Bush's State of the Union address four months later when he named North Korea a member of an “Axis of Evil” that included Iran and Iraq . His inflammatory remarks infuriated many South Koreans because Bush's public statement of hostility toward North Korea contradicted President Kim Dae-jung's “Sunshine Policy” of seeking engagement with the DPRK.

In October 2002, the Bush administration intentionally reignited the nuclear crisis with North Korea. The revival of anti-Americanism that followed provided the latest example of the destructive consequences of an historic pattern in U.S. policy of subordinating Korea 's interests in pursuit of American goals elsewhere in the world. Ironically, in 1882, the United States was the first Western nation to sign a treaty with Korea pledging that in the event “other powers deal unjustly or oppressively with either government, the other will exert their good offices . . . to bring about an amicable arrangement.” Thereafter, U.S. leaders never made much of an effort to learn about Korean history or culture, resulting in actions that have injured the Korean people.

In 1905, Washington did nothing when Japan annexed Korea. That same year, President Theodore Roosevelt, in the Taft-Katsura Agreement, approved Japanese hegemony in Korea, in return for Japan 's acceptance of American domination over the Philippines. President Woodrow Wilson's unwillingness at the Versailles Conference after World War I to insist on restoration of Korea's sovereignty only confirmed and deepened the feeling of bitterness and betrayal among the Korean people. When the United States declared war on Japan in 1941, Koreans welcomed President Franklin D. Roosevelt's declaration of Korea 's independence as a war aim.

Unfortunately, Japan's defeat would bring not Korea 's liberation, but military occupation and artificial division. A few key U.S. policy decisions after World War II have infuriated even moderate Koreans for more than five decades. Roosevelt's support for a postwar trusteeship in Korea heads the list. Also, Koreans have never forgiven the United States for dividing their country in 1945 and indeed blame the Truman administration for Korea 's partition. Many South Koreans view U.S. military withdrawal from Korea in June 1949 as an act of abandonment that invited the North Korean invasion one year later. Though grateful for U.S. intervention, anger and disappointment have lingered because Washington refused to fight for reunification.

Washington's apparent support for military dictatorship in the ROK has been a second reason for South Korean anti-Americanism. Some believe that the Central Intelligence Agency was complicit in General Pak Chong-hui's overthrow of the ROK's first democratically elected government in May 1961. Thereafter, $12.5 billion in U.S. military and economic aid helped to keep Pak in power. The Carter administration applied pressure for democratic reform after Pak's assassination in 1979, but Ronald Reagan's election as president in 1980 ended this brief shift in policy. Persistent U.S. indifference about democracy set the stage for the most incendiary event fueling South Korean anti-Americanism. In May 1980, ROK forces suppressed anti-government protests at Kwangju, killing about two hundred people. Pointing to U.S. operational control over ROK troops, dissenters charged that Washington “master-minded” the “Kwangju Incident.”

Progress toward democracy after 1987 shifted the focus of animosity toward the United States in South Korea to protesting the presence of U.S. forces, which constitutes the third reason for anti-Americanism. A 1988 poll of university students found that nearly half thought that the presence of U.S. forces made “the division of Korea permanent.” After German reunification in 1990, South Koreans increasingly blamed Korea 's continued division on the U.S. presence in the ROK. Making matters worse were treaty terms that denied the ROK criminal jurisdiction over U.S. servicemen and their dependents in South Korea. This issue reemerged as an intense source of anti-Americanism on June 13, 2002 when a U.S. soldier driving a 50-ton armored vehicle during a training exercise north of Seoul struck and killed two young schoolgirls.

Perceptions of American racist attitudes are a fourth reason for anti-Americanism in the ROK. Many South Koreans think that U.S. officials have treated Korea as a dependent state and engaged in behavior reflecting attitudes of racial arrogance, superiority, and contempt. Hostility toward the United States because of racism was intense during the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Not only did American Olympians behave badly, but South Koreans thought that television coverage either ridiculed or ignored the performance of their athletes. They found particularly humiliating non-sports coverage of sweatshops, prostitution, and foreign adoption of Korean children.

More recently, anti-Americanism flared with renewed intensity in September 1999 when the Associated Press reported that during the first month of the Korean War, U.S. soldiers killed hundreds of innocent civilians at No Gun Ri. President Bill Clinton worked hard to pacify South Koreans who saw racism in the U.S. government's refusal to compensate survivors and families of the victims. For most South Koreans, No Gun Ri has become “Korea 's My Lai.”

Whatever progress the Clinton administration had made in reducing anti-Americanism in South Korea through showing respect for Korean interests ended abruptly when George W. Bush became president. His determination to force the ROK to adopt a policy of confrontation toward North Korea connected with every reason for anti-Americanism. The most dramatic display of resentment came in December 2002 when South Korean voters elected No Mu-hyun as president because he refused to “kowtow” to Washington and advocated cooperation with North Korea .

It is no surprise that so many South Koreans have defended North Korea 's resistance to American dictation since the nuclear crisis renewed in October 2002. The Bush administration seems unconcerned that more than 25 million of the total South Korean population of 47 million reside within seventy miles of the demilitarized zone. During 2003, the United States pressed for international sanctions against North Korea, while the ROK government negotiated cooperative ventures with Pyongyang . Meanwhile, South Koreans watched a series of movies projecting a positive image of North Korea, while depicting the United States as an evil force in the world.

Incredibly, the Bush administration continues to inflame anti-Americanism in the ROK. In November 2003, Washington affirmed plans to move U.S. troops from the demilitarized zone to south of Seoul, prompting charges that the United States was planning a preemptive attack on North Korean nuclear facilities. Then came a new outburst of angry anti-Americanism when the Bush administration pressed Seoul to deploy ROK combat troops in Iraq . Young South Koreans believe the arrogant behavior of the United States reflects its desire to achieve global hegemony. Countless people in other nations would agree, explaining why so many direct their anger not at extremist groups who commit acts of violence against the innocent, but against the United States and its “War on Terrorism.” South Korean anti-Americanism demonstrates that this apparent disconnect results from the worldwide perception that the United States is a global bully.



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stephen Brody - 9/2/2005

Interesting that John manages to blame the US for BOTH WWII and the Korean War.

I'll leave it to the readers to decide if John betrays his own bias and ethnocentricism by suggesting that the US and not the Japanese and Noth Koreans were to blame for those wars


john Pel. Pel - 5/16/2005

keep in mind these are not two insignificant events in Korean history and have a great deal to do with the korean mind-set with regard to the US. Acheson's comments lead up to a war that killed some 3 million koreans, a number and percentage of the population killed that americans have no experience of, and the taft-katsura agreement led the way to the colonization of korea for almost half a century. since Prof. article dealt with these essential events in understanding the korean attitude towards america his article is less ethnocentric and a more objective presentation than steve's.


john Pel. Pel - 5/16/2005

1. why doesnt' steve comment on the Taft-Katsura agreement between Roosevelt and Count Katsura. it was this appeasement of the imperial japanese empire by the US that led to WWII. it's ironic that steve's ethnocentrism derides chamberlain but refuses to acknoledge or even mention the appeasement of the japanese empire who went further than even the british colonists by forcing koreans from using their own names or their own language. i guess british appeasement is fair game but US appeasement is rational and ok, go figure!


"President Theodore Roosevelt, in the Taft-Katsura Agreement, approved Japanese hegemony in Korea, in return for Japan 's acceptance of American domination over the Philippines. President Woodrow Wilson's unwillingness at the Versailles Conference after World War I to insist on restoration of Korea's sovereignty only confirmed and deepened the feeling of bitterness and betrayal among the Korean people."


2. also, steve doesn't mention the withdrawal of US forces in 1949 mentioned in Prof. Matray's article nor the declaration by Sec'y of state Acheson's declaration that South Korea was outside the US defense parimeter.

This was really ODD since after the North invaded it suddenly became crystal clear to Acheson that the South was INDEED important to US interests. Acheson commented after that war that "I don't think there was any alternative to going into Korea. It was a perfectly simple thing to do."

So if in January SK was not worthy of being defended then why did the US change it's mind 6 monthes later and and send the troops back? it was this rediculous and in my mind criminally negligent flip-flop by the state department that should be blamed for the deaths of over 50,000 US servicemen. the widows of those 50,000 dead US soldiers need to ask the State Department why they declared that South Korea was outside of the defense parimeter when everyone knew that the Soviets were spending million for tanks and weapons for the North while the south had basically nothing with the US refusing even to arm the South. it'll never happen but those widows and families should recover compensation for the criminal negligence by the state department, at least as much as the families of the dead soldiers get from the Iraq war.

Also, it should be noted that many Americans at that time blamed Acheson for the stalemated Korean war.



Steve Brody - 3/16/2004

Readers should also bear in mind that even though Matray's article seems to blame President Bush for South Korean anti-Americanism that most of the causes that he listed pre-dates the Bush Administration.

South Korean university student unrest is not new.


James Irving Matray - 3/16/2004

Again, I wish to thank Steve Brody for taking the time to comment on my article. I agree that "we?ll [sic] just have to agree to disagree . . .." Now readers will have plenty of information to help them arrive at sensible beliefs on the reasons for anti-Americanism in South Korea and the ongoing crisis on the Korean peninsula. Good luck to all in this endeavor.

Best,

J. Matray


Steve Brody - 3/15/2004

Jim. Let me say at the outset that I do not believe anything I posted amounts to “ character assassination”. I believe that your opinions about the Agreed Framework and Bush’s response amount to appeasement on a par with Chamberlain. That may be an attack on your judgment. It certainly isn’t an attack on your character.

Your allegation that I used “breathtaking falsehoods” is certainly more akin to “character assassination” than anything I posted.

That being said let me address your issues:

1 “North Korea did not cheat on the Agreed Framework.”

Your evidence for this statement is a reference to the fact that Bosworth, Perry, Carlin, and Sherman all say that NK didn’t cheat, therefore NK must not have cheated.

So a bunch of Clinton Administration officials, whose fingerprints are all over the Agreed Framework, claim that the North Koreans didn’t cheat. Lord knows, they’d have some ’splaining to do if they admit that the North Koreans did cheat and the Clinton administration missed it or let it slide.

I could provide a long list of people who do believe that the North Koreans cheated on the agreement, but rather than that, I’ll simply point to those elements of the Agreement that I believe the North Koreans cheated on.

Article III of the Agreement states, in part ..” Both sides will work together for peace and security on a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.” And “The DPRK will consistently take steps to implement the North-South Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

It’s clear that North Korea began its covert uranium enrichment program not long after signing the Agreement. This is a clear violation of the North-South Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Article IV of the Agreement states, in part, that “The DPRK will remain a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and will allow implementation of its safeguards agreement under the Treaty.”

Thus, North Korea agreed to remain a party to and abide by the NPT. North Korea’s enrichment program is clearly a violation of the NPT and thus a violation of the Agreed Framework.

With respect to the building of the LWR’s specified in the Agreed Framework, I certainly agree there have been delays. The North Koreans themselves, however, have caused many of the delays. To wit:

-In 1996 a North Korean submarine grounded itself of the South Korean coast. After violating South Korean waters, the crew was unable to free the submarine, thereafter abandoned it, and attempted to make their way back to North Korea on foot. The crew killed a number of South Korean citizens before they were stopped. Construction came to a stop for months while South Korea threatened to pull out of the consortium.

-In 1998 North Korea fired a long-range missile over Japan, which held up a financing agreement.

-Many suppliers were forced to pull out of the project because NK was not a member of international conventions that insulate these suppliers from liability in the event of a nuclear accident.

-In 1997, a South Korean worker tore up a picture of Kim Jong Il. NK shut off the electricity and water, and confined the workers to quarters when the consortium refused to turn over the worker. This went on for several weeks and made the recruitment of foreign workers difficult. The North Koreans termed this "the most serious incident in North Korean history".

-NK demanded and was refused a six-fold increase in the wages of the NK workers. NK then withdrew the workers, requiring more than a year for the workers to be replaced.

2. “I am unaware of any Soviet agreement for UN supervised elections in Korea.”

You are correct. The Soviets never agreed to UN supervised elections in North Korea. In fact, they fought bitterly any attempts by the UN to conduct elections in North Korea (and South Korea, for that matter).

What the Soviets did commit to, at Potsdam, was a free and independent Korea. They surely reneged on this agreement.

3. “South Korea forces under the United Nations Command in Korea certainly did not have autonomy at the time of the Kwangju Incident.”

Since 1978, some (not all) South Korean military units have been assigned to a binational combined forces command center (CFC). The commander of the CFC, in turn, reports to the national command authorities of the United States and Korea.

South Korea, however, retains sovereignty and autonomy over these Korean Military units assigned to the CFC, and has the right to withdraw these units from CFC at anytime, for any reason and without the consent of the United States. This is, in fact, what the South Koreans did in the Kwangju incident. The units used at Kwagju were a combination of units not assigned to the CFC and units that were withdrawn from the CFC.

If you have facts disputing this, lets see them.

4.” The AP story on No Gun Ri was based on interviews with hundreds of Korean War veterans. Ed Daily was only one of many-and a very minor figure in the report at that--who verified South Korean recollections of the killing of innocent South Korean civilians by U.S. soldiers on 26 July 1950. To dismiss this incredible tragedy by suggesting that it was a myth mirroring the Tailwind affair is truly offensive. Brody needs to provide details and demonstrate some real familiarity with the facts surrounding No Gun Ri.”

First off, The AP story was not based on “interviews with hundreds of Korean War veterans.” Only a few were quoted in the article and only Ed Daily was quoted in complete sentences. Furthermore, it was Ed Daily who provided the most dramatic quotes for the article, claiming to still remember “the little kids screaming”. As it turns out, Daily was never at No Gun Ri, was not the machine gunner he claimed to be and in fact, was a mechanic in the rear area. Daily has now pled guilty to fraud against the Government charges, based upon his false stress claims to the VA related to this incident.

Furthermore, it appears that Daily has contaminated some of the 50-year-old memories that this article was based on. Several of the witnesses quoted in the articles insisted that Daily was present at No Gun Ri, even after Daily admitted that he wasn’t.

In addition, you can count on one hand the number of Vets who support the central thesis of the AP story: that over a four day period and for no reason US troops intentionally and under direct orders from their officers slaughtered up to 350 Korean civilians. Some of the Vets spoke of North Korean soldiers firing from the midst of the civilians.

Jim, if you’ve got evidence that the AP story is based on “hundreds of interviews, produce it.

Another problem with this story is that aerial photos of No Gun Ri, taken a few days after the “massacre” and at a time when “hundreds of bodies” were supposed to be strewn about, are still available. These photos were analyzed and show no bodies.

The Army investigation and investigations conducted by other authors and journalists concluded that an unknown number of South Korean civilians (but probably far fewer than AP claimed) were caught between US and North Koreans troops and some were killed. This type of situation is hardly news to readers of 40-year-old histories of the Korean War by Toland, Fehrenbach or Appleman. Of course, reporting old news was hardly likely to garner a Pulitzer for the AP.

Jim, you find my opinions about the No Gun Ri incident to be “truly offensive”. I find your glossing over and denial of the serious controversy and questions surrounding this story and your comparison of it to My Lai to be despicable.

5.” First, I did NOT write that U.S. soldiers did not fight for Korea's reunification. I wrote that AFTER CHINESE INTERVENTION the U.S. government did not fight for reunification.”

“Though grateful for U.S. intervention, anger and disappointment have lingered because Washington refused to fight for reunification.”… James Matray, 3/1/04.

Jim, I see you now qualify your statement by adding “after Chinese Intervention”, which was not included in your original piece. Be that as it may, the facts are that in late 1950, Korea was close to unification militarily. Save for the intervention of 300,000 Chinese troops, Korea almost certainly would have been united.

After the Chinese intervened, UN troops were pushed south of the 38th parallel. Over the next few months, operations were conducted to attempt to clear the Chinese from North Korea. These met with some success. In May, 1951, after what some refer to as the “May Massacre” in which tens of thousands of Chinese troops were annihilated, 8th army began an advance that only stopped when the Communists requested truce talks. The Communists then stalled around for months while the Chinese reinforced their positions and resupplied their troops. Ultimately, the Chinese were so well entrenched that atomic weapons would have been required to dislodge them. There being no political will to use atomic weapons, reunification became an impossibility. This stalemate dragged on for two years before an armistice agreement was signed. Tens of thousands of US troops were killed and many times that many were wounded, even after Chinese intervention.

Thus I can’t agree that even after Chinese intervention, “Washington refused to fight for reunification.”

6 “Second, Brody maliciously and erroneously states that I agree with South Koreans who believe the U.S. government was part of a conspiracy leading to the Kwangju Massacre.”

Who knows what you believe, Jim? What I stated might be erroneous but it certainly wasn’t malicious. Frankly, it’s difficult to discern where your beliefs stop and the South Korean beliefs start.

7.”Third, I have written elsewhere on numerous occasions that if the United States had not acted in August 1945 to propose division of Korea that all of the peninsula would be under Communist rule today. For this, the United States deserves South Korean gratitude.”

Well hooray, at last something we agree on. I noticed, however, that you made no such statement in this article.

8. “Readers should reflect on the ethnocentrism that laces Brody's comment. For example, U.S. Intelligence, and we know how reliable this is, claims that North Korea has missiles capable of reaching the United States. Well, we know for sure the United States has nuclear missiles capable of reaching North Korea. Why should North Korea have any less right to defend itself than the United States?

Jim, the North Koreans have implied that they possess missiles that can reach the Western United States. Our intelligence has confirmed that they may well have.

As for the US possessing missiles that can reach North Korea, I doubt that many rational people equate our possession with North Korea’s possession of them.

9. “Furthermore, Brody writes that other East Asian countries have concerns about North Korea. I agree. But that certainly does not mean that these nations agree with U.S. policy toward the Korean crisis. In fact, Brody provides not a single specific example of a East Asian country that supports the Bush policy of provocation toward North Korea.”

North Korea insisted on bilateral talks with the US. Bush insisted on multi-lateral talks, which included other involved nations. Why do people who castigated Bush for being “unilateral” in Iraq now accuse him of “provocation” for including other involved nations? Frankly, the provocation seems to be on the part of the North Koreans.

10. “Criticizing the Bush policy of regime change at the risk of incinerating the peninsula, in my opinion, does not expose my ideological slip, but my crystal clear realism based on assessing facts. By contrast, Brody waves the American flag while he flippantly offers unsubstantiated opinions.”

Jim, you haven’t demonstrated that Bush has a “regime change policy” with respect to Korea. Frankly, I think Bush would be happy if North Korea lived up to its agreements and stopped proliferating missiles.

And because I happen to disagree with your judgments on these matters, I offer “ “unsubstantiated opinions”, flag waving, and flippancy, while you offer “crystal clear realism” Reeeaaally. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that, Jim.


James Irving Matray - 3/12/2004

I want first to thank Steve Brody for taking the time to comment on my article. Next, I want to emphasize that most of what I wrote summarized the perceptions that many South Koreans have of the United States. Brody often unfairly identifies these views as my own. However, he is correct that I see little warranting praise in the Bush administration's Korea policy. My position is based on an objective assessment of what has changed on the peninsula from January 2001 to today and is not the result of my partisan affiliation or ideogical proclivities. Indeed, I think that Bush's father followed a measured and wise policy toward both Korea's which provided the foundation for what the Clinton administration accomplished thereafter. My, how things have changed!

Turning to Brody's comment, I must say that I resent his resort to character assassination. Likening me to Chamberlain is a sucker punch worthy only of rebuke. Genuine intellectual discourse is not possible when participants allow emotions to get in the way. I am sorry that Brody does not like what I write, but he needs to provide actual facts, rather than personal attacks and breathtaking falsehoods, to support his position. How is his comment riddled with inaccuracies? Let me count the ways.

1. North Korea did not cheat on the Agreed Framework. Those directly familiar with the negotiation and implementation of the accord ranging from Stephen Bosworth to William Perry to Wendy Sherman to Robert Carlin all agree that North Korea complied with terms of the Agreed Framework. In fact, it was the United States, South Korea, and Japan that failed to comply with the basic provision of the Agreed Framework requiring the building of light water nuclear reactors in North Korea. How does Brody think that Pyongyang should have assessed the motives behind the failure to fulfill this provision after it had frozen it plutonium program?

2. I am unaware of any Soviet agreement for UN supervised elections in Korea. Could Brody please provide evidence to support his fantasy?

3. South Korea forces under the United Nations Command in Korea certainly did not have autonomy at the time of the Kwangju Incident. Could Brody please provide evidence to the contrary?

4. The AP story on No Gun Ri was based on interviews with hundreds of Korean War veterans. Ed Daily was only one of many-and a very minor figure in the report at that--who verified South Korean recollections of the killing of innocent South Korean civilians by U.S. soldiers on 26 July 1950. To dismiss this incredible tragedy by suggesting that it was a myth mirroring the Tailwind affair is truly offensive. Brody needs to provide details and demonstrate some real familiarity with the facts surrounding No Gun Ri.

Brody misrepresents what I have written on three other specific issues. First, I did NOT write that U.S. soldiers did not fight for Korea's reunification. I wrote that AFTER CHINESE INTERVENTION the U.S. government did not fight for reunification. Would Brody please provide evidence to demonstrate that what I actually wrote on this matter is inaccurate. Second, Brody maliciously and erroneously states that I agree with South Koreans who believe the U.S. government was part of a conspiracy leading to the Kwangju Massacre. Third, I have written elsewhere on numerous occasions that if the United States had not acted in August 1945 to propose division of Korea that all of the peninsula would be under Communist rule today. For this, the United States deserves South Korean gratitude.

Readers should reflect on the ethnocentrism that laces Brody's comment. For example, U.S. Intelligence, and we know how reliable this is, claims that North Korea has missiles capable of reaching the United States. Well, we know for sure the the United States has nuclear missiles capable of reaching North Korea. Why should North Korea have any less right to defend itself than the United States?
Furthermore, Brody writes that other East Asian countries have concerns about North Korea. I agree. But that certainly does not mean that these nations agree with U.S. policy toward the Korean crisis. In fact, Brody provides not a single specific example of a East Asian country that supports the Bush policy of provocation toward North Korea.

In closing, I wish to emphasize that I see nothing to praise in North Korea, other than a people who have suffered much under Communist rule. North Korea's government has been guilty of unspeakable cruelty, not the least offense being a massive fabrication of the historical record in educating its people. But the United States has to deal with the government that is in power in Pyongyang whether it likes it or not. Criticizing the Bush policy of regime change at the risk of incinerating the peninsula, in my opinion, does not expose my ideological slip, but my crystal clear realism based on assessing facts. By contrast, Brody waves the American flag while he flippantly offers unsubstantiated opinions.


Steve Brody - 3/7/2004

“In October 2002, the Bush administration intentionally reignited the nuclear crisis with North Korea…”

Ahh, so now it was Bush who “reignited” the nuclear crisis by blowing the whistle on North Korean cheating on the Agreed Framework agreement. It wasn’t the North Korean’s fault for cheating in the first place; it was Bush’s fault for calling on them on it.
If only he’d continued to ignore the cheating, ala the Clinton Administration, we’d be so much better off.

Talk about blaming the victim. A view worthy of Chamberlain. Of course Matray ignores the concern that many other East Asia nations have for a nuclear-armed North Korea.



“His inflammatory remarks infuriated many South Koreans because Bush's public statement of hostility toward North Korea contradicted President Kim Dae-jung's “Sunshine Policy” of seeking engagement with the DPRK.”

“…provided the latest example of the destructive consequences of an historic pattern in U.S. policy of subordinating Korea 's interests in pursuit of American goals elsewhere in the world “

So, some South Koreans are angry that the United States sometimes pursues it’s own national interests rather than those of South Korea. Unfortunately, South Korea is not the only country in the region with a stake in whether North Korea develops nuclear weapons; North Korea has developed missiles capable of hitting the Western US.



“Also, Koreans have never forgiven the United States for dividing their country in 1945 and indeed blame the Truman administration for Korea 's partition. Many South Koreans view U.S. military withdrawal from Korea in June 1949 as an act of abandonment that invited the North Korean invasion one year later. Though grateful for U.S. intervention, anger and disappointment have lingered because Washington refused to fight for reunification.”

Those South Koreans who blame the Truman administration for “Korea’s partition” need to bear in mind that had Korea not been divided at the 38th parallel, in all likelihood, today’s South Korea would look a lot like today’s North Korea. The only reason that the Soviets didn’t take all of Korea is because of an agreement with the US to stop north of the 38th parallel. These angry South Koreans should direct their anger at the Soviets, who reneged on their promise to allow UN supervised elections and eventual reunification.

Any South Korean who thinks that the US “refused to fight for reunification” probably got his history of the Korean War from reading Matray’s books. The fact of the matter is that over 50,000 Americans died and over 100,000 were wounded fighting for reunification”. Save for the intervention of 300,000 Chinese troops, Korea would have been reunified in 1951. Perhaps these “angry South Koreans” should direct some of their anger at the Communist Chinese. Fact is, by the time of the Armistice, the Chinese had reinforced the battle line to the point where it would have taken nuclear weapons to break the stalemate that existed. Maybe these “angry South Koreans” should contemplate that for a moment while they evaluated whose to blame for there being two Koreas.


“Pointing to U.S. operational control over ROK troops, dissenters charged that Washington “master-minded” the “Kwangju Incident.”

This is pure ” conspiracy theory” on Matray’s part. The South Korean military operates autonomously and is not under US “operational control”.


“..the Associated Press reported that during the first month of the Korean War, U.S. soldiers killed hundreds of innocent civilians at No Gun Ri. President Bill Clinton worked hard to pacify South Koreans who saw racism in the U.S. government's refusal to compensate survivors and families of the victims. For most South Koreans, No Gun Ri has become “Korea 's My Lai.”

And it now appears that the AP story, which was based in large part on the word of a liar who is now serving time for fraud, was wrong. Anyone remember CNN’s infamous “Tailwind” story?


“The Bush administration seems unconcerned that more than 25 million of the total South Korean population of 47 million reside within seventy miles of the demilitarized zone. During 2003, the United States pressed for international sanctions against North Korea, while the ROK government negotiated cooperative ventures with Pyongyang .”

Perhaps we should coddle North Korea’s cheating and hope that they will stop.


“Incredibly, the Bush administration continues to inflame anti-Americanism in the ROK. In November 2003, Washington affirmed plans to move U.S. troops from the demilitarized zone to south of Seoul, prompting charges that the United States was planning a preemptive attack on North Korean nuclear facilities.”

Many of the South Koreans themselves would like to move south of Seoul to get away from the 12,000 artillery pieces that the North Koreans have trained on Seoul.

Actually though, I wouldn’t complain if our troops were moved out of the DMZ all the way back to the States. But I suspect that most Koreans would really be upset about that.

Matray’s article is really a muddle: part misinformation, part blindness to North Korea’s flagrant cheating on the Agreed Framework, part revisionist history and part political diatribe against the Bush administration.

Jim, your ideological slip is showing.


james doyne dawson - 3/6/2004

I suppose I should have mentioned that I teach Asian Studies, including Korean history, at a university in Seoul.


james doyne dawson - 3/6/2004

Sirs: J.I. Matray's article is a disgusting piece. The author relays uncritically the America-hating propaganda with which the Pyongyang regime floods South Korea, assisted by its many dupes and spies in the Roh government, and of course by American lefties like Matray. That's the real reason why (some) South Koreans think of the US this way. It's actually a generational gap, with the older people strongly pro-American. But in teaching the history of the Korean War here I have never met any young people who held the absurd views about Korean history that Matray attributes to them: that the U.S. was to blame for dividing Korea, that the U.S. "refused to fight for reunification," that the CIA set up Park Chung-hee, etc., etc. The 50,000 American dead in the Korean War have been airbrushed out of existence. Likewise Matray covers up all the atrocities of the Pyongyang regime (which has starved millions of its people to death and maintains the worst gulag on earth), also covering up its violation of its agreements with South Korea and its arms sales to terrorists; the state-controlled media in South Korea cover all this up too. Matray prattles on about that "countless people" and "worldwide perception" that America is a greater theat than the terrorist groups and fascist states. But they hold that ridiculous opinion because people like Matray lie to them, don't they?

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