Sunday, January 12, 2003

Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come back again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.

Sun Tsu's The Art of War, edition by James Clavell

Sometimes spinning a globe can be a little depressing. Look how many of the countries are repressive dictatorships. Look how many are democracies without human rights or the rule of law, where an ethnic group which is 60 percent of the population ruthlessly oppresses another group which only makes up 40 percent - the tyrany of the majority. Look how many democracies exist at the whim of a military the civilian government does not actually control. Look how many democracies are in danger of willingly electing a religious dictatorship and making it their last election. Look how many avoid all this, yet have failed to create prosperity for their people and may someday fall into one of the traps above.

I mention all this because it reminds me how precious South Korea is. Think of the attitudes of different groups of Americans towards the Soviet Union in the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, just before the Soviet Union fell, and some time after. Large swings of public mood and opinion from decade to decade in a democracy are not uncommon. Remember Sun Tsu, and also remember American interests. A defeat for a democracy allied to us for so long would be a massive blow to American prestige. After a war, I do not think the resulting country would be a force for peace and democracy - or even a prosperous country with no need to blackmail the world with nukes. So not only is it worth fighting to help them defend themselves, it is also worth trying to learn why their feelings toward us are sometimes not what we would expect considering that we give them military aid and they don't give it to us.

I was just reading this editorial Anti-Americanism and Anti -Koreanism in the English language edition of the Korea Times. The author talks about how there was a time when most Koreans felt positive about almost everything to do with America. Perhaps the largest part of the column is about American soldiers in South Korea, who are after all the only Americans many Koreans will ever meet.

"When there was a draft in United States, many college-educated soldiers came to Korea, and they were not only soldiers but many were students who want to learn something about Korea while they were here. And as educated men, they were sensitive about Koreans and their pride, and their feelings."

Even when not talking about Americans soldiers the problem is similar - a feeling of lack of knowledge of and respect for Koreans. Many Americans may find it exasperating that South Koreans should worry about this when they are in immanent danger from North Korea and want much of the aid that they hope will pacify them to come from us, but in view of the many and frequent changes in public opinion everywhere we've been talking about, I think we should try to do it anyway. Feelings can change.

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