Sunday, January 07, 2007

Ave, Joshua!

UPDATE: Joshua's reply to this post can be found here.

Joshua of One Free Korea left the following comment inside what has now become a 400-comment thread at the Marmot's Hole-- the thread about Gerry Bevers. I don't normally wade into the Marmot's comment threads much anymore, but someone visited my site after stopping by that thread. I saw the visit on my SiteMeter, traced it back, then while scrolling down the thread (which I'd last seen when it had only 90+ comments), I found this awesome little rant (ranticle?) from Joshua:

South Korea is weaving itself into a cocoon where only procrustean groupthink will be permitted on a growing list of off-limits subjects, mostly concerning national disputes with the neighbors, and mostly enforced vicariously through non-state actors. I don't deny that plenty of this goes on in the United States, too, although most of our political orthodoxies are constructed in the name of tolerance, and the courts are mercifully balanced in their correction of excesses.

We saw how South Korea's government and various self-appointed thugs censored open debate about North Korea, and as a result, South Korea lives in a strikingly dangerous alternative reality about the North that no other nation shares. That cocooning has effectively marginalized South Korea in multilateral diplomacy, and has contributed to the unfolding failure of that diplomacy to keep the Korean peninsula peaceful and nuclear-free.

Korea is now doing the same to its relations with Japan... over two barren piles of guano that Korea has occupied for decades, and which hardly anyone in Japan cares about.

Then we have the asinine movement to replace the descriptive term "Sea of Japan"-- which denotes a sea surrounded on two sides by Japan-- with "East Sea," which makes no geographical sense for anyone who lives east of longitude 138 E (or, more succinctly, for anyone outside Korea).

One supposes that open debate about Koguryo will close next.

Koreans thus force not only other Koreans, but every citizen of every nation, into a series of binary choices between Korea's alternative reality and those that prevail among its more populous and powerful neighbors. Korea is not unique in doing this (Turkey gets special props for its denial of Kurdish nationhood or the Armenian holocaust), but Korea is nearly unique in its combination of intellectual hostility and blind presupposition that we'll all take its side.

Imposing groupthink worked for a while in North Korea, but aside from a few dozen unmedicated schizophrenics in juche study groups, it hasn't persuaded many others. Indeed, if you visualize a society that demands unanimity, it's strikingly compatible with equally silly ideas of Korea's racial purity ("we must all look and think alike"). If that succeeds in a modern, industrialized, and supposedly open society, it's very bad news for anyone hoping to change North Korea by exposing its people to new ideas, through permissive means or otherwise.

One can only hope that North Korean groupthink will break down faster [than] South Korea can impose its own version.


I'm all in favor of a total pullout of US troops from South Korea and an official statement by our government that "North Korea is entirely South Korea's concern. Our only warning is this: should a nuclear device be detonated on American soil, no matter the actual source, the United States will immediately launch a retaliatory nuclear strike against Pyongyang and the entire DMZ, thereby forcing NK soldiers and citizens to move northward to China for refuge."

OK, I admit I'm joking. Kind of.

I do think our troops should bugger out. Korea needs greater exposure to reality, even at the expense of regional stability. I don't, however, think that groupthink in Korea is the whole story. Koreans often present a unified public face, but the private reality is far different: disagreement abounds. You don't have to go far to see that Koreans are in engaged in spirited debate with each other about all the geopolitical topics that vex us Americans. I'm charitably assuming that Joshua's rant is directed not so much at all South Korean citizens as at elements of the Korean government (and, perhaps, at certain large Korean businesses). If so, I agree with him. If Joshua is suggesting that Koreans as a whole see the big issues only one way, then I respectfully disagree. The picture is decidedly more complicated than that.

[NB: One thing I resent, as an American, is hearing that Americans all think and act the same way. Bullshit. I heard this accusation frequently in 2003. It might not have been obvious to non-Americans, but the 2003 Iraq war caused a great deal of division and debate-- much to our credit, I should think. How scary it would have been if we had all, down to the last citizen, blindly decided to go to war.

Consistency demands the same charity when looking at a country as complex as Korea. As I've noted before, Korea has certain cultural parallels with Switzerland, in that both countries are populated by mountain people who spent centuries in valley communities, forming local loyalties and caring little for what went on past yon ridge. That mentality is probably still at work on some level in both countries today. My point is that such mountain people are, in the aggregate, far more diverse in their opinions than one might initially expect. Following Andy Jackson's excellent posts on Korean politics has only confirmed this notion for me. Were Andy to follow Swiss politics, he'd probably note parallels with Korea rather quickly.]

As for Koguryo... my own feeling is that Korea will tolerate this nonsense from China for far longer than it might tolerate even a facial tic from Japan. For whatever odd reason, Korea as a whole continues to make moon eyes at China, much to China's delight. Korea's former status as a Chinese vassal state seems to have been largely forgiven and forgotten. A personal example of how cozy things are these days: my buddy JW, now working for POSCO Steel, has been asked to take Chinese lessons. Sign of the times, boys and girls.


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