Gettin’ Those Last Few Bites In…

Is there a Korean expression equivalent to “biting the hand that feeds you”?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not American, and I’m not cool with everything the American government does — in fact, neither are most Americans I know and hang out with, which is something that gets lost in the rhetoric about America over here, just as much as it does in left-wing circles in Canada. Canadians know how to diss America. It’s the other national pastime, after hockey and digging out your car from the snow and voting for increasingly bad governments.

But, let’s get one thing straight: if the US hadn’t sent troops into the Korean peninsula, the South would likely have ended up as part of the DPRK. Isn’t that so?

I mean, yes, who knows what would have happened then — after all, the South, being poorer (as far as I’d heard) but more populous (a good reason for being poor), might have integrated badly. Or maybe those wily sorts who did things like assassinate Ito Hirofumi would have killed Kim Il Sung before he begat himself the two-year-old Hitler, as some Chinese representative called Kim Jong Illness… maybe by now, the whole peninsula would be dancing the kang-kang suwolae together in peaceful, blessed hanminjok joy. It’s an interesting possible alternate history, though whether it’s SF or fantasy is moot, as that didn’t happen.

What did happen is that the US and troops from a bunch of other countries in the UN came in, and then the USA kept sending troops here, and don’t fool yourself, they sent them here at the request of the Korean governments. Yes, governments. I’ve read that one of the only things that kept Kim Dae Jung alive when he was sentenced to death under Chun Doo-Hwan was Jimmy Carter’s threatening to pull out all American troops from the peninsula, in fact. Most of the government, current administration and opposition alike, don’t want America pulling out at all.

Which makes Kim’s comments even more weirdly ironic:

During a talk Wednesday at Chonnam National University, Kim said, “Under the Sunshine Policy, was North Korea engaged in nuclear development? With the U.S. refusing to even talk while bullying North Korea, isn’t nuclear development the only option left (to North Korea) to ensure its survival…. During an urgent plenary session at the National Assembly, Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook said, “I do believe that the U.S. sanctions and financial pressure on North Korea may be one of the causes for the nuclear test. The initial responsibility falls to the North, but it is hard to name any one country….

Ah, I understand.

That’s kind of like that famous, often-reported scene where the well-meaning foreigner steps in to stop some guy who’s slapping the living crap out of his girlfriend on the street, and both he and she get mad at him for interfering? That must be it. Because, obviously, she’s getting something out of being slapped around, right? If someone steps in, and he gets more pissed off and whacks her around even more, it’s the fault of the person who interferes for stepping in… not the abusive guy’s, for being a violent piece of shit, right?

Oh, no, wait, so it’s not that America wasn’t tough enough on North Korea, wasn’t watching close enough or getting compliance — which seems to be the way criticism in the US is going on this — but rather it’s that America was so damned tough on North Korea that North Korea couldn’t help but make nuclear weapons. Because, you know, backing down or being sensible or integrating with the rest of the goddamned world is just impossible for North Korea.

So, back to our analogy, that guy stepping in between you and the guy who’s beating you up is okay, but if he pulls a gun, then it’s the fault of the guy who stepped in, is that it? Not the fault of the guy who’s packing heat, who’s been bent on beating you into a pulp and then raping you, no, it’s the fault of the guy who stepped in and said, “Hey, wait, this ain’t cool.” And when the nutter pulls a gun, you start blaming the guy who stepped in for it, because the nutter was forced into it? Is that about it?

Because from the rhetoric, you’d think folks like Kim have forgotten that the only thing that prevented Russian- and Chinese-backed North Korean invasion over several decades in this century was the presence of American troops. Though I’m not hoping for an American pullout right now, I would understand why many people really strongly want it — on the American side. (And I’m not even American…)

The answer to the question Kim posed, by the way — “Under the Sunshine Policy, was North Korea engaged in nuclear development?” — is very strongly probably yes. They may not have been refining fissile materials at the time, but one does not develop nuclear weapons overnight. It takes a long time, as Mr. Kim knows well. A very long time, and a lot of money. A lot of money. Like, say, the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of won that have been flowing northward since his government was running the country.

Ironic, how the cost of a peace prize worked out in the end, huh?

But really, we don’t need to play a blame game. Everyone was profiteering, marking time. Whose fault it is, maybe, historians will decide, long after the nasty North Korean government has perished and its victims found a way to integrate with the world. Long, long away from here, in the future, if they overcome the racist tripe that the Kim Dynasty fed them and which they inherited from time immemorial, maybe they’ll blame everyone a little, but save the bulk of it for the North Korean nutters with the nuclear weapons in their pocket. That’s my wager.

(Via Marmot, of course)

4 thoughts on “Gettin’ Those Last Few Bites In…

  1. Okay, not that I agree, because I don’t understand enough to agree or disagree…but I did learn a few things while studying abroad in Korea in the 1990’s from various instructors and professors at Yonsei and Koryo universities about why so many students were resenting America. It sharply contrasted my American schooling of Douglas MacArthur and America as “hero” to Korea.

    The viewpoint is that Korea was a pawn of the Cold War. That America’s intention was not so much to “save Korea” but to gain a foothold in Asia (at the time, the U.S. did not have a firm ally in Asia)–and damn it if Russia wasn’t going to gain the entire Korean peninsula. And that as a consequence of being a pawn of the Cold War, Korea became a divided country.

    Now I don’t know much more than this, but maybe this will add to the complexity of the question?

  2. hrm. i also think that it’s psychological: it’s easier to point the finger at a 3rd party than be mad at your own “family” (in this case, your brother on the northern side of the DMZ).

  3. Right, I don’t think that America was selfless in stepping into Korea, and I don’t think it’s not tragic that the country ended up divided because of Cold War polarization. I don’t know if I’d call MacArthur a hero, but I certainly don’t think America is white as driven snow — especially since, in a way, you could argue the whole Cold War was a massive governmental-business make-work project, pursued at the cost of millions of lives.

    But like it or not, the Russians and China were backing the communists in Korea, and had America not stepped in, South Koreans would probably have had to get themselves used to what we know today as North Korean rule. Which, as we all know, is a totally insane system. Had America not pressured South Korea, Kim Dae Jung might well have been executed. Had America not been present, chances are good that in the 50s or 60s, North Korea could have defeated South Korea militarily. Pragmatically, that’s what history looks like to me, from what I’ve read.

    And then, all those South Koreans who are now quite comfortably adapted to living in a pseudo-American society… which, materially, they are living in — would probably have been living in huts, starving, moving into gulags because there’s more to eat there, envying the people in the more-rat infested huts their better meals. North Korea was better off after the war than the South, so imagine how bad South Korea would be right now. Assuming things had gone the same way, that is…

    So, while some of the political indignance about the result of the Cold War is understandable — I long viewed both of the major superpowers of the Cold War as equally frightening bullies, both to be reprimanded for basically commandeering the planet — I also think that there’s a point where you have to say, “Okay, that’s history, and right now, we need this ally.” I’m not talking about becoming blood brothers, I’m talking about anti-Americanism looking sort of, well, I’ll be tactful and say it looks nuts to me.

    In any case, what happened during the Cold War still doesn’t excuse Mr. Kim’s comments about how America caused North Korea to test nukes, nor does it explain why he actually believes North Korea suspended all nuclear research and trade and so on during his presidency. Or, for that matter, Roh’s.

    I mean, how can research not have happened under his or Roh’s government, if the test happened under Roh’s and Roh’s was preceded by his? It makes no sense, unless he believes the North Koreans already had nuclear tech in 1998. Which I find unlikely.

    (And if he did believe that at the time, he shouldn’t have pursued a policy that could so easily be used to fund armament. And if he didn’t, then what does he mean when he says research didn’t happen during his Presidency? Are we supposed to believe that, in this one single case, North Korea acted totally opposite to how it normally has over its whole history, by actually keeping a promise?)

  4. This “psychological” response from Kim is an irrational response, which is something worth criticizing.

    There is a point when that brother north of the border needs to be seen for what he is, which is a fucking sociopath. (The commoners, in contrast, are brainwashed hostages of a psychopathic family, to be pitied.) Pretending otherwise, and fueling beliefs that are otherwise, is not helpful.

    If my brother were a psychopath with a gun, an unrepentant, seemingly unceasingly mad psychopath, and I started saying to my peers, “Hey, it’s YOUR fault he’s waving a gun around, you told everyone in town not to sell him bullets or crack or fertilizer for explosives!”, I should probably expect to lose all any and all support from those peers. Would such a loss be surprising? No. Would it be tragic? Well, it depends — but to me, whatever bad the US has brought about (mostly by not resisting the worst of what South Koreans have done to their fellow citizens) doesn’t compare in the slightest to what the North would have done to this place.

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