Here's why some South Koreans really don't like the United States

07.03.2015 13:49

SEOUL, South Korea — Wearing traditional
garb and wielding a 10-inch fruit knife, the
assailant stood up and shouted for the
unification of the two Koreas before
slashing his supposed enemy: the guest of
honor, US Ambassador to Seoul Mark
Ironically at a lecture pushing for North-
South reconciliation, Lippert was rushed
into a police cruiser, leaving behind a trail
of blood from cuts on his face and wrist.
The ambassador was hospitalized and had
surgery but is apparently okay.
The governments of Seoul and Washington
may enjoy good relations, but every so
often a fervent South Korean nationalist
squares off against the country’s largest
Over the years, the United States (along
with historical rival Japan) has been the
target of raucous anti-foreign protests,
which have occasionally spun out of
control. Among the myriad of grievances,
some Koreans accuse the United States of
meddling, and interfering with Korean
This time, the suspect is 55-year-old Kim
Ki-jong. He writes a blog full of
nationalistic, anti-American screeds. His
attack coincides with the start of joint
military exercises between the United
States and South Korea.
“There is most likely no direct tie between
the slasher and Pyongyang,” said Benjamin
Young, an analyst and historian on Korean
affairs. “Pan-Korean nationalism has a pro-
North tinge to it that is troubling. In turn,
this influences the way Korean nationalists
view US intervention on the peninsula.”
In other words, he represents a marginal
and probably powerless faction of rabble-
rousers that first emerged among the
country’s pro-democracy movement of the
dictatorial 1980s. South Korea today is a
stable democracy, but unruly protest
tactics like knife attacks and smoke
grenades are somewhat common.
Before the attack on Lippert, the most
dramatic protest happened in 2011, when a
left-wing lawmaker set off a tear-gas
grenade on the National Assembly floor in
protest of an impending free trade
agreement with the United States. The bill
passed regardless.
Opening Korea’s markets to Washington
has long been a controversial topic among
leftists. In 2008, tens of thousands of
protesters challenged certain imports of
American beef, accusing the government of
bowing to US dictates during free trade
That movement came on the heels of
another nationwide crusade against
American military bases, which many
Koreans say contribute disproportionately
to crime and pollution. Leftists also worry
the US military presence gets in the way of
ant potential unification with North Korea.
In 2007, during the annual military
exercise, protesters slapped anti-American
stickers on US military vehicles, and
unable to get past security the next year,
stayed on the sidelines with shouts of
“Yankee, go home!” Even Psy, the clownish
horse-galloping dancer from “Gangnam
Style,” bellowed protest slogans in the
early 2000s, rapping about “Yankees
torturing Iraqis” and destroying a model of
a US tank.
While such anti-American sentiment has
died down in recent years — in no small
part due to Lippert’s efforts to make
himself accessible to Koreans — it lingers,
and sometimes it erupts, as it did today.