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South Korea

In places like South Korea and Germany, it is American plans to reduce the U.S. military presence that stir controversy, not what one would expect if there was a widespread fear or hatred of overweening American power. ~Robert Kagan

As far as South Korea is concerned, this is a remarkable, false claim.  Most South Koreans resent that American soldiers who violate their laws remain under U.S. military jurisdiction, especially when there are incidents involving military personnel that result in the deaths of South Korean civilians.  The deaths of the two girls in 2002 sparked general outrage, and the episode likely still sours some on the American presence.  Many South Koreans are not what you would call fans of the U.S. military, and this long-standing resentment has been stoked by the combination of the withdrawal of some soldiers from South Korea all together and the movement of other U.S. forces to new bases.  The abandonment of the “tripwire” has understandably created some controversy of its own, but this takes place against a backdrop of strong opposition to the military presence among a large minority of the population. 

Five years ago, at least 44% of South Koreans had an unfavourable attitude towards the United States, and this year only 58% of South Koreans expressed a “positive” view of the U.S.–only a slight improvement over five years ago, and one that still implies a lot of resentment and dislike.  Five years ago, South Korea was among the ten most “anti-American” countries in the world:

Survey data suggests that South Koreans have been increasingly critical of the US since the 1980s, and that negative views have become more widespread since George W. Bush took office. An August 2002 poll by the Pew Research Center revealed that South Korea ranked eighth among the 44 countries surveyed in terms of unfavorable attitudes toward the U.S, with higher rates of disapproval than Indonesia and India.  

In the realm of pop culture, South Korean horror films connecting the American military to the spawning of evil creatures have done booming business. 

Evidence for significant South Korean opposition to the American presence is abundant.  Naturally, South Korea’s political elite does not express such sentiments, just as most allied states’ political leaders say the things Washington wants to hear rather than what will most satisfy their own people.  Kagan’s handling of evidence here is typical for his foreign policy tradition: whenever a regime expresses pro-American sentiments in defiance of large numbers of its people, the regime’s position is taken as the more meaningful one.  It was in this misleading way that war supporters invented “New Europe” as a concept, even though the governments who represented this supposedly different Europe and supported the invasion were overwhelmingly opposed by their constituents.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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