The Korea Herald, South Korea
'Anti-Americans' Ought to Ponder the Alternatives ...

By Jasper S. Kim*  

August 17, 2006
South Korea - Korea Herald - Original Article (English)

South Korea's new summer hit: The Host. (above).

—Movie Trailer: The Host WindowsVideo

RealVideo[SLIDE SHOW: Pro/Anti-U.S. Rallies in Korea].


During this summer's unprecedented heat wave, in a scheme to convert nationalism into commercial success, Korean cinema is riding another wave: the wave of anti-Americanism. With the success of the film, The Host RealVideo, the question we should ask ourselves is this: In the long-run, does such blatant anti-Americanism really benefit Korea's national interest?

The plot of The Host is a basic one. A mysterious child-eating monster from the Han River, spawned by chemicals allegedly emitted by the U.S. military, wreaks havoc on Seoul. A sort of Jurassic Park meets JFK. As is well known, this movie's attempt to tie U.S. influence with negative effects reflect the current belief held today by many (but not all) here in Korea.

If you ask why such anti-American sentiment exists here in Korea, you will get a laundry list of responses. But rather than try to defend or attack such notions, I'd like to try a different approach. I'd like to look at the current wave of anti-Americanism from a different angle, by arguing that compared to alternative superpowers, the United States is a relatively benign (yet robust) one, and thus, should be given due respect for not exercising its full might and will upon other nations, including Korea, as other superpowers most likely would have chosen to do.

First, imagine if the United States and allied powers had not won World War II. What would the world look like today, and more to the point, how would this alternative victorious superpower look upon and treat Korea? For example, if imperial Japan had managed to stake its claim to the Asia-Pacific region and entered into a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany, I think it quite obvious that Japan would continue to treat Korea as it did from 1910-45. That is, it would have turned all of the defeated nations into mirror images of itself, and would have used them as sources of raw materials for the Japanese empire. This would mean, for example, that the Korean language would not exist today, along with most (if not all) of Korea's historical treasures and documents.

Moreover, if Japan won the war instead if the United States, Japan wouldn't be carefully seeking the permission of Korean officials about the placement and use of Japanese forces on the Korean Peninsula. It's safe to say that this would be a strictly one-way decision-making process.

Second, imagine if Nazi Germany had won World War II, didn't sign a nonaggression pact with Japan, and later controlled the Korean Peninsula. I think it's just as easy to surmise that they would treat Koreans not much differently than they treated the Jews and other races viewed as unequal to their own. And the case with Japan would be much the same with the Nazi-German military, which I doubt would patiently negotiate the terms and conditions of how long and under what circumstances German forces could live and stay within the Korean Peninsula. Nor would they agree to defend Korea in the event of any attack by enemy forces.

Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions tear an American
flag at an anti-U.S., pro-unification rally, Aug. 15. (above and below).

RealVideo[SLIDE SHOW: Pro/Anti-U.S. Rallies in Korea].

Anti-U.S. protesters calling for a complete U.S. withdrawal
clash with riot police on their way toward the U.S. Embassy
in Seoul, Aug. 14. (above).


Third, imagine if China were the world superpower, hypothetically, following the 1950-53 Korean War. Many Koreans hold the view that during its long history, China has been predominantly a non-aggressive power. But if you actually look at history (which is the best, if not a flawless, indicator of future behavior), this has not always been the case. In fact, China has also had expansionist tendencies, with colonies up and down the African coast, along with the Philippines (before the Spanish), Indonesia (before the Dutch), and Malacca. Not to mention that during the reign of the Mongols RealVideo, the Chinese launched against Japan one of the largest naval military offensives in world history RealVideo (which failed despite a significant numerical superiority and a surprise attack). Obviously, China attacked Japan because they viewed Japan as a menacing threat. Currently, China stakes a claim to Taiwan and other disputed islands.

Fourth, imagine if Korea (yes, Korea) were the world superpower today. How would it treat Japan, China, and its European and American counterparts, if it had both the military and economic dominance to strike anywhere, anytime, with little or no repercussions? Would its government use its superpower status to maximize its national interests, or play down its position and behave as an equal with non-superpower states, potentially at the cost of losing its superpower bargaining power?

Fifth, and finally, imagine if the same level of anti-American sentiment in Korea were matched with a wave of anti-Korean sentiment in the United States. Keep in mind that in the 1980s, a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment erupted in the United States, leading to Japanese radios and cars being smashed in Washington as a sign of anti-Japanese hostility. This could just as easily happen to Korea. If so, Korean exports would plummet (as Korea's economy is extremely export-dependent), leading to a severe recession, and Korean students overseas would confront public demonstrations and demands that Koreans be expelled from the country and calls for leading U.S. universities to use their precious limited resources for American rather than foreign students), which would set back Korea's high-tech workforce for decades, just to name a few of the many possible repercussions.

So, when viewed from this perspective, does anti-Americanism really benefit Korea's national interests?

Jasper S. Kim is a law professor at the Graduate School of International Studies, Ewha Womans University, and author of the book, "Crisis and Change: South Korea in a Post-1997 New Era." - Ed.