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The Rise and Fall of Anti-American Sentiment in South Korea

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Mark Barrow

on 26 July 2017

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Transcript of The Rise and Fall of Anti-American Sentiment in South Korea

Heon Joo Jung
The Rise and Fall of Anti-American Sentiment in South Korea
It's traditionally argued that older people, many of whom experienced the Korean War, have strong emotional ties to America, seeing her as an ally.
Alternatively, younger people who only
learned
about the war, and who attended university in the 1980s/90s, are said to have a much more negative assumption of America.
However, Jung argues that this belief fails to take into account variations in anti-American sentiment, and became problematic towards the end of the 20th century.
Why is that?
The general consensus following Korea's division and the subsequent Korean War was that North Korea was the main enemy. This idea of the North being 'evil' and 'threatening' prevailed throughout the following few decades.
At the same time, under successive authoritarian regimes, American was viewed as South Korea's 'best friend' in their opposition to the North. Positive images of America were constantly reproduced and uncritically accepted.
Attitudes towards North Korea and America were on one axis: either Pro-US/Anti-NK or Anti-US/Pro-NK.
This view was accepted until into the 1970s.
'Threat' of North Korea
This positive image of American began to be questioned in the early 1980s.
This was first seen during the 1980 Kwangju democratization movement and radical student movements of the 1980s.
These movements began to see America as an occupier, controller and puppeteer, rather than the liberator and protector that the prevailing view had instilled in South Korea.
However, anti-Americanism waned by the 1990s. Democratic transition of South Korea, especially after the election of civilian President Kim Young-sam in 1993, largely took away the need to blame America for the political situation in the South.
Rise of Anti-Americanism
Anti-American sentiment and threat perception
Most scholars, when assessing anti-Americanism in South Korea, focus on changes in South Korean society - economic development, generational differences, low-threat perception of North Korea etc.
However, it's felt that demographic composition is most important. Younger people, especially those in their 20s and 30s, tend to have a less favourable view of America than older generations.
New wave of Anti-Americanism
Anti-Americanism returned in the 2000s.
It emerged after an American armored vehicle ran over and killed two 14 year-old girls in June 2002.
Controversy arose out of the court-martial's non-guilty verdict for the US service members.
This led to an eruption of anti-US protests, with calls for the immediate withdrawal of US troops from South Korea.
Younger people participated enthusiastically.
Yet again, attitudes towards America became more positive from the mid-2000s.
There is clearly other factors behind the waxing and waning of Americanism.
Changing perception of North Korea
The perception of the North as a major threat has changed since the 1990s as the balance of power between them has dramatically favoured the South.
The single axis anti-North, Pro-US theory has become irrelevant with the collapse of the Soviet Union and South Korea's economic advancement.
Attitudes towards the North began to become independent of views towards America: being anti-American no longer meant to be pro-North.
The destruction of the threatening view of North Korea was evidenced in the 'chujok' debate and inter-Korean summit of 2000, when the South's defense ministry claimed it would no longer use terms such as 'Northern Devil'.
The Nuclear North and change of attitudes towards the US
North Korea's nuclear program and tensions around it changed South Korean attitudes again, with the South starting to feel threatened. The North admitted it had a uranium enrichment program in 2002.
A survey showed that four-fifths of South Koreans felt threatened by the North's possession of Nuclear weapons. Most people disagreed that the North was investing in nuclear arms for self-defense.
It was this that led to a reappraisal of attitudes towards America - the more South Koreans felt threatened towards the North, the more favourable they felt towards the US.
The threat of North Korea significantly impacts upon attitudes towards America.
Conclusion
The past decade saw the waxing and waning of anti-American sentiment.
From the 1980s, the hegemonic ideas of anti-communism, anti-NK and pro-US were dismantled, with the simple pro-US/anti-NK view being shown to be inaccurate. A range of factors, including the growing economic gap between the two North/South Korea contributed to this.
However, from the mid-2000s, when the North began to experiment in nuclear weapons, a more positive view of the US began to grow again.
There is a clear correlation between the threat posed by the North and attitudes towards America.
The past decade saw waxing and waning of anti-American sentiment.
From the 1980s, the hegemonic ideas of anti-communism, anti-NK and pro-US began to be dismantled. A range of factors, like the growing economic gap between North/South Korea, contributed to this.
However, from the mid-2000s, when the North began to invest in nuclear weapons, a more positive view of America began to grow.
There's a clear correlation between the threat posed by the North and attitudes towards America.
Questions: Is there evidence of anti-Americanism in other countries/where you live? Should South Korea feel threatened by the North's nuclear experiments?
The perception of the North as a major threat has changed since the 1990s as the balance of power between them has dramatically favoured the South.
The single axis of anti-NK, pro-US has become irrelevant with the collapse of the Soviet Union and SK's economic advancement compared to NK.
Attitudes towards NK began to become independent of views towards America: being anti-US no longer meant being pro-NK.
The elimination of the threatening view of NK was evidenced in the 'chujok' debae and the inter-Korean summit of 2000, when SK claimed it would cut back on terms such as 'Northern Devil'.
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