I don’t know where you went to college, usinkorea, but in classes where I went they were willing to talk as freely about the problems in other countries as about the US. But I know a lot of people have had something like the experience you mention (and some people in our school got a little goofy about Whites and racism, so some of that Ivory Tower loopiness invaded our campus, too).Now if only I could summon Lost Nomad and Asia Pages from the great beyond.
American culture does have a self-critical streak (which counters and contradicts the “love it or leave it” streak). The result is that all America’s warts are out there in the open for anyone to see. Since US-based media (CNN, UPI, AP, NYT, WaPo, etc.) tend to be dominant world media, everyone outside the US sees America’s warts as well.
Not so with, say, Korea. In the Korean media, Koreans constantly talk about a whole bunch of Korean problems, including whether or not Roh is irresponsible for the things he utters, whether or not it is wise to try to make South Korea a “balancer,” and whether North Korean refugee problems should be downplayed in favor of better relations with North Korea and China. But since almost all of this is in Korean, it doesn’t get very far beyond the peninsula.
Self-criticism of one’s nation is not a uniquely American trait, but the unique position of America means that Americans’ own criticisms of their country (which are often right) are magnified for all the world to see. And then the great and the good of America are forgotten or obscured.
God forbid if the radical leftists really do succeed in pushing USFK off the peninsula, it will be as much to do with people like Bruce Cumings, a self-loathing American who tried so hard to paint the US presence in Korea as near-evil while depicting the North Koreans as misunderstood patriots, and whose books became a bible for the student movements as they formed their anti-American sentiment. It’s an American telling us the truth about America, so that’s all the credibility checking that’s needed.
And not just people like Bruce Cumings, but also the American who was helping the “Eradicate US Crimes” group with their English-language resources, who I once called up (2000?) about getting data about violent crimes committed against Korean nationals by USFK personnel. After asking about murder rates, I asked if he had similar data on USFK personnel killed by Korean nationals. His incredulous response: “Does that even happen?”
Of course it does, but he didn’t care. He was part of the matrix of Americans who respond to excessive American patriotism by trying to depict America to others in the worst possible light, even if that requires ignoring at least half of what America is and does.
Yeah, I do believe that if the US were to leave Korea, it would be a disaster for Korea, for the US, and for its other allies here. But if that ever happens, we’ll have Americans like Bruce and this other guy to thank for it.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Annals — American versus Korean self-criticism
Every now and then, usually while looking for something else, I run across something I wrote on someone else's blog and think to myself that I should have made an entire post about that. Instead, I think I'll just reprint some of them right here, pretty much as.
From June 2005, from a
Mizar's Marmot's Hole post entitled "On Being an American Expat in Korea":