Damn Yankees

Interesting Washington Post piece on how countries in general, and South Korea in particular, went from being highly anti-American to strongly pro- in a mere 10 years or so:

“These attitudes peaked in the late 1990s and early 2000s – just as Psy dropped a model tank before cheering crowds in Seoul – and, Moon writes, focused on the ever-visible American military presence. South Koreans were newly organizing themselves around a national pride and consciousness. But their nationalist energies, which they had developed as they formed a civil society and rejected the military dictatorship, suddenly lacked an outlet. Probably no one decided to refocus those energies on opposing the U.S. military presence, but it’s not hard to see how that might have happened organically, as Moon suggests. Though the U.S. force serves South Korean interests, it also can be seen as an insult to Korean nationalism, a reminder that it still relies on outside powers, and an intimation, however true or false, that the country might not be fully in Korean control.

In the mid-2000s, though, South Korea started downgrading its Sunshine Policy and shifting back toward the U.S. Partly this was due to internal politics, which saw power shift from the pro-Sunshine left to the pro-American right. But North Korea also helped, reneging on past agreements, aggressively expanding its nuclear weapons program and, in the process, alienating South Korea and accelerating Sunshine’s demise.”

I moved to South Korea in late 2008, kind of at the tail-end of large, public anti-US protests (that interestingly took the form of anti-US beef protests, but were really about a whole lot more than meat).  I remember the “old-timer” ex-pats at the time (“old-timer” being anyone who’s stayed longer than a single year) complaining about a recognizable anti-US bias from the media that really seems to have been flickering out moving into 2009 and beyond.

What’s most interesting to me is that, if the article is to be believed, the rising popularity of the United States was due entirely to South Korean politics (i.e., North Korea) and had very little to do with anything Obama has done beyond maintaining (and continuing to fund) a close military alliance.

Eye of the beholder and all that.

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