Sunday, June 12, 2005

Tragic story below the radar

On Friday night I had drinks with some people associated with US interests here in Seoul. They recounted the very stressful afternoon they had in the wake of news that a 51-year-old Korean woman had been killed by a vehicle driven by a USFK truck at 2 p.m. that day in Tongduch'ŏn. With reports that there were already to be vigils marking the third anniversary of the two junior high school girls tragically killed by a USFK military vehicle in 2002, which sparked a major wave of anti-Americanism that year, there was a great deal of concern that a new round of angry protests would be coming.

I went to bed on Friday night without looking at any news sites, fearing it would make me too upset about the ensuing chaos. The next morning, I was surprised at what I found -- or didn't find.

The Korea Times carried the above linked story that US President George W. Bush, meeting with South Korea President Roh Moohyun, had expressed condolences to the family of the accident victim. His words at the beginning of their joint appearance:
I first want to express my country’s deepest condolences for the accident that took place, where a U.S. military vehicle killed a Korean woman. And we send our deepest sympathies to the woman’s families. And Mr. President [Roh], I just want you to know our hearts are sad as a result of this incident.
This was done with amazing swiftness and tact, no doubt helped along by the focus on the two leaders' potentially tense meeting. But I believe it was also reflective of the US embassy in Seoul and USFK learning that they need to handle Korean grievances more swiftly and with more care. I have long asserted that most South Koreans want the US military presence in Korea to remain (some enthusiastically, some grudgingly), but they want the US military to remain as small a footprint as possible.

Among a variety of things, that "small footprint" means (for some) few or no foreign troops in the capital (something based on historical reasons), bases that don't occupy huge tracts of prime real estate, and a US military population that is perceived as playing by the rules and behaving themselves.

To be fair, the USFK's reputation for crime may be somewhat exaggerated, with anti-Americanism pushed along by agenda-driven segments of the press that promote anti-USFK, anti-American, anti-Japanese, anti-business, anti-this, or anti-that sentiment. I have also frequently asserted that if even half of what the average Korean finds in the media were true, that would be reason to be very, very upset.

So I was fully expecting at least some parts of the press to be making a big deal out of this tragic story. But there it wasn't. Some news sources carried no stories in English at all, and few in Korean.

Was it Bush's nearly instantaneous apology (matched by an as-swift USFK apology), the type of treatment Koreans have long complained Washington gave to Tokyo but not Seoul? Was it careful treatment by the Korean media, which has learned the painful lesson that constant bashing of the US really can damage the US-ROK alliance and make some Americans consider leaving? Was it the lack of outrage on the part of the Korean viewers/readers, who can distinguish between negligence and an unavoidable accident? Sphere: Related Content

11 comments:

  1. I was impressed with the way that the Pres came out and publicly apologized for the incident so quickly. That was a very smart and judicious move in his part.

    Well, it's early days yet; we'll see if anything materializes. I could say something about how schoolchildren versus a working-class ajumma are seen by large swaths of Korean society, but that would be a pat answer that would be speculative and quite possibly incorrect and misleading, so I won't say it.

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  2. Sewing, you are right. In Korea, old ajummas are dispensible while young children are viewed as the future of Korea.

    Kushibo, there is a backlash coming for all the leftwing commies' effort to make Korea to be a satellite of China. The majority of Koreans sees that it is time for Korea to go back to the middle.

    People no longer cheer for the upcoming 6-15 unification meeting. Many, even ardent supporters of NK, see NK is not easy to deal with. SKs are finally realizing that NKs are liars.

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  3. It seems like there's less and less respect for old people in Korea these days.

    It's too bad, because its the harabônim and halmônim who suffered through the darkest days of the Japanese period, the turmoil of 1945-50, the Korean War, the decades of poverty, the working for low wages to make South Korea wealthy, and all the rest of it.

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  4. You're right, sewing, it's still early. But even in today's papers, very little of it and mostly focusing on the condolences by USFK and the US govt. And the huge demonstrations yesterday didn't really materialize.

    Baduk, I believe you are wrong about the "old ajumma" being dispensible. While I agree that the two junior high school girls' case went extreme in part because of the perception of innocence destroyed (two junior high school girls, on their way to a birthday party...), there have been a number of cases where people's ire got up even in the case of older men and older women.

    As I alluded to, the backlash (from the right), plus a realization that things have gone too far (on the moderate left) and could really far apart (US-ROK relations-wise), are perhaps at work.

    BUT, I think mostly what this comes down to is that this particular traffic accident doesn't seem to be something (as far as what I could tell, including the description by the people who first told me about it) where the USFK driver was at fault. As a driver I have seen it many times -- pedestrians who would be responsible for their own demise if their luck ran out just at that moment -- and it's something I worry about.

    So what I'm saying is that I think this shows that -- the agenda-driven press factor notwithstanding -- the average Korean is a lot more rational about these issues than he or she is given credit for. Or at least more savvy.

    In 2002 people could tell by what was presented, even after sifting through all the crap, that something was wrong. At that time it was a combination of many things (the US military's seeming foot-dragging on apologies was only was aspect), and this time around they apparently aren't there. The USFKer was apparently not at fault, the USFKer was doing nothing unreasonable that Korean vehicles don't do on the same roads (different from military armored vehicles going down country roads where pedestrians are walking), and the US military and the US government at many levels apologized immediately.

    I do think the response got out of hand in 2002, but I guess what I'm saying is that that didn't mean that some of the grievances weren't legitimate. But to some on the US side, the Korean side was supposed to keep playing shut-up-and-just-put-up-with-it, and they complain that Koreans are complaining. Let's just pull out if they don't want us here!

    Well, if you think the message of 2002 was that they don't want "us" here, then you werne't paying attention. I'm just very, very, very glad to see that the message some of us were trying to get out (I was on NPR talking about this, and I drive this message home in the "extra" work I do at the base), is being heard and heeded.

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  5. Hi, Kushibo:

    Like the change to you made to your masthead! ("Kushibo-e Kibun: Less kimchi, more nunchi!") Hmmm, where have I seen that before?

    This reminds me of a lighthearted fellow who used to comment prolifically on another blog, under the name of an illustrious Chosŏn-Dynasty naval admiral. Have you seen him around these days, by any chance?

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  6. An interesting tidbit about the protests that were expected up here in Tongduchun that didn't happen: they did. About a 50-100 Hanchongryun types gathered here on the anniversary of the two girl's deaths and started moving up the street towards Camp Casey. They didn't get very far. Local bar, club and other business owners came out, heckled them and blocked their progress. They dispersed pretty quickly. Too bad, eh?

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  7. "that a 51-year-old Korean woman had been killed by a vehicle driven by a USFK truck at 2 p.m. "

    WTF, the USFK's that high-tech now?

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  8. Corpy wrote:
    An interesting tidbit about the protests that were expected up here in Tongduchun that didn't happen: they did. About a 50-100 Hanchongryun types gathered here on the anniversary of the two girl's deaths and started moving up the street towards Camp Casey.

    Even if the accident hadn't occurred, people knew there would be vigils and other protests. The size seems a bit smaller than I expected. I drove through Yongsan Garrison on Sunday and didn't see anything when I crossed the overpass.

    They didn't get very far. Local bar, club and other business owners came out, heckled them and blocked their progress. They dispersed pretty quickly. Too bad, eh?

    You don't know how delighted I am to hear that. Those communist-leaning agitators have caused so much damage to US-ROK relations it's unbelievable. The worst thing is, they're making me sound like Baduk now.

    Anonymous wrote:
    "that a 51-year-old Korean woman had been killed by a vehicle driven by a USFK truck at 2 p.m. "

    WTF, the USFK's that high-tech now?


    Amazing, isn't it? You know, if they really wanted to do something high-tech, they'd create a word processing program that writes what you meant to say instead of what you carelessly typed.

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  9. Corpy,

    That is great. Business owners should beat the crap out these commies. These commies are getting paid by KJI.

    How come I don't read that story in Korean media? The media is afraid of reporting anything that may upset these commies.

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  10. Admit it Bo, you were happy that that old yougert cunt is dead. Now you can protest and preach your hatred against the "yankee gold stealers"

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  11. Admit it Bo, you were happy that that old yougert cunt is dead.

    Anonymous, if you really think something like that, you need serious help. While I'm tempted to remove them, I think it's a good idea to keep them here because otherwise no one would believe that someone would come up with such bile and vitriol.

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