Y'all need to make some time and read GI Korea's post "GI Myths: The 2002 Armored Vehicle Accident." He recaps in great detail the events surrounding the deaths of two middle school girls six years ago, and the intense, intense outpouring of anti-Americanism across the entire nation. The article, in our own time of nationwide anti-beef protests and rampant yellow journalism, provides an important reminder of how hateful and how ugly our friends and neighbors can be at the slightest provocation, and is something to keep in mind the next time you hear about Korea's desire to embrace foreigners or its love affair with English. It's exactly why I don't feel at all comfortable around large numbers of angry Koreans, such as we find at the beef protests going on today. Then, after you've read GI Korea's report, go over and read the Metropolitician's take, as well as the vast compilation of material on USinKorea.org's page on the incident and on other anti-American orgies of hate, to appropriate his term.
One of many massive anti-American rallies, this one 50,000-strong.
Here are a couple of excerpts from GI Korea's post, though you really ought to go and read them in context:
Simply telling the truth about what happened on that road side that fateful June morning along Highway 56 would not be enough to cause the general public to join the anti-US groups’ cause to expel USFK from Korea. Instead of the truth to mobilize the masses, the NGOs had to create a perception, and the perception they chose to create was one of a great injustice against the Korean people that everyone could identify with. The NGOs launched a propaganda campaign centered around creating an image of evil, non-apologetic American GI’s mercilessly running over two angelic school girls on their way to a birthday party and getting away with it. This image is so powerful because Koreans love their children just like any culture, but it was also equating the US military with the Japanese Imperial Army that colonized the Korean peninsula prior to the country’s liberation after World War II. Due to this sometime extremely brutal colonial period, many Koreans today still hold a very bitter grudge against the Japanese. The fact that the Eighth United States Army headquarters is based out of Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, which used to be the headquarters of the old Imperial Japanese military only helped to feed this perception. It would be an easy leap of logic for someone in Korea to conclude that the Japanese had disrespected and brutalized Korea than and the US military is doing it now.
. . .
The NGOs decided by spreading simple disinformation through the Internet about what happened would be the most plausible way to implement their strategy. Stories on internet message boards spread about how the American soldiers had intentionally ran over the two girls. The most famous story that made its way around all the Korean internet message boards was how the US soldiers in the convoy that day were laughing at the fact that they had ran over the two girls. The laughing so angered KATUSA (Korean Augmentee to the US Army) soldiers serving with the unit that they started a fight with the laughing soldiers. This story is not supported by any of the witnesses that were at the scene that day and additionally no one can produce the KATUSA soldiers that were allegedly involved in the fight. Despite the lack of evidence to support the claim that KATUSA soldiers fought with laughing GIs that day, it is still a common belief among many Koreans that this story is in fact true.
. . .
One of the common themes in the media was that even though the US military apologized for the accident, the apology was not “sincere”[ix]. After the accident every commanding US general in USFK issued an apology after the accident happened, the US Ambassador apologized, an initial solation payment was made to the family, a candle light vigil by US soldiers was held, and a fundraising drive was initiated that raised $22,000 for the girl’s families and another $30,000 for a memorial in their honor. Despite all this, the Korean media declares the US military’s response insincere. Incredibly even President Bush would later go on and apologize for the accident.
Before long the misinformation being put out was not limited to internet message boards and print newspapers, but was on the average Korean’s television screen as well. The networks repeated much of what was already available on-line and is wasn’t too long before the networks produced sensational misinformation of their own making. The most infamous example of misinformation was when the major news network MBC aired footage of someone claiming to be a former Korean Army tank driver who was able to “prove” in an interview that the American soldiers in the AVLB intentionally ran over the girls and then ground guided the vehicle back over the bodies again to make sure they were dead. This interview entered into the common mythology of what happened that even to this day, much like the KATUSA story, many Koreans believe this story to be true.
. . .
The sensationalism by the Korean media of the armoured vehicle accident was made quite clear when on June 29, 2002 North Korean patrol boats deliberately ambushed a South Korean Naval vessel patrolling the maritime border between the two countries. Six South Korean sailors died in the attack and the South Korean government, NGOs, and media did everything possible to minimize the deliberate murder of six South Korean sailors while continuing to sensationalize the accidental death of the two school girls[xiv]. The hypocrisy is quite stunning but when it comes to the Korean media they could care less about hypocrisy and more about ratings and sensationalism of the Highway 56 traffic accident was bringing in those ratings. There would be plenty more sensationalism to come.
The slander and accusations against USFK continued to fly both on the web and through the television networks. The tragic accident had taken on a life of its own as the major media outlets competed with the new start up internet media sites in their rush to condemn these soldiers for murder. The propaganda against USFK would become so effective that US soldiers were being assaulted and spat upon on the streets of Seoul with waiting Korean news cameramen recording it all for the nation to see[xv]. Signs went up all around Seoul refusing service to Americans in restaurants, hotels, and businesses. Massive rallies were held where demonstrators burned and tore American flags.
. . .
Probably the most blatant example of anti-US hate was when three US soldiers on a Seoul subway were assaulted by Korean protesters travelling to a rally on university campus. The protesters beat the soldiers and then abducted them from the subway car and began dragging them towards the anti-US demonstration. Korean policemen were able to free two of the soldiers but the third soldier was dragged into the demonstration held at the university’s sports stadium. He was threatened and forced to make coerce statements against the US by the demonstrators and make forced apologies. Despite everything that happened to them, the soldiers were charged with assault by the Korean police.
. . .
Out of the 30 nations that compose the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Korea ranked as the most dangerous place to drive. The data gathered from 2003 just one year after the armoured vehicle accident showed that Korea had 137 car accidents per 10,000 vehicles on the road. Additionally for every 100,000 people involved in a traffic accident, 15 people died. Each statistic topped the OECD’s rankings. Probably the most dubious statistic is that Korea ranked first in the OECD in traffic related child deaths. 82 children died every day in Korea with 70 percent of those accident involving children walking alongside a road.
As the statistics show, a tragic accident like what happened in June 2002 is not uncommon in Korea and the reasons for these accidents happening has nothing to do with the US military and the Korean police who helped investigate the tragedy realized this. That is why the police concluded with the USFK investigators that this was a tragic accident like many other tragic accidents involving children in Korea; the only difference was that this one involved the US military.
. . .
Korean NGOs demanded that USFK hand over the two soldiers to be tried in Korean courts despite their SOFA status. This demand was especially hypocritical considering that due to Article 2 of the Korean Military Court Act, the Korean military has jurisdiction over all crimes committed by their servicemembers whether they were off duty or not[xxi]. The fact that ROK military personnel never stand trial in Korean courts is an inconvenient fact that many Koreans would rather not acknowledge. A USFK servicemember on the other hand is subject to Korean civilian court for any crime committed while off duty. With the differences in jurisdiction between the Korean and American militaries, it makes you wonder that if the Korean civilian judicial system is not good enough for the Korean military than why should it be good enough to try American soldiers in? This is an inconvenient fact that is left unaddressed by the anti-US groups and their media allies. The hypocrisy is stunning, but like I said before hypocrisy is of little significance in Korea.
The SOFA was activated and the Korean soldier was handled by a ROK military court martial. In 2006 a Korean soldier driving a military truck was involved in a traffic accident where he caused the death of a 53 year old Kurdish politician. Once again the South Korean military activated their SOFA. This is what Colonel Ha Du-cheol told reporters after the accident, “The traffic accident occurred in the line of duty, so we are seeking ways to compensate the victim’s family.” Sound familiar? It should because it is the same thing the US military did after the 2002 armoured vehicle accident, which these groups were demanding SOFA revisions for. However, when a nearly identical situation happens with a Korean soldier it receives a small passage in the newspaper and no righteous indignation from anyone complaining about an unequal SOFA between Korea and Kurdistan.
The Korean military has never allowed one of their soldiers to be tried in a foreign host nation’s civilian courts, which shouldn’t be surprising considering that Korean soldiers do not even stand trial in civilian courts in their own country. Despite all of these inconvenient facts the anti-US groups and their media allies have the nerve to condemn USFK for an unfair status of forces agreement.
When I brought up this incident and its aftermath in one of my teachers' workshops---as I was making the connection between Mad Bull Shit and total indifference toward terrible traffic safety---I got the familiar lines "the US never really apologized," "people were mourning the girls," and "the US was arrogant." They were completely ignorant, though, of the basic facts surrounding the actual accident and of the particulars of the aftermath of hate. "Some Koreans" participated, they said. Well, after kidnappings, stabbings, numerous assaults and innumerable cases of harassment, intimidation, and discrimination, is it too much for us to demand an apology? I'll tell you what, and yes I'm being completely serious, that's something we as a community ought to be fighting for.
While most of you who read this site are bloggers yourselves and will most likely have read GI Korea's page well before you got to mine, I'd encourage the rest of you---especially my new visitors in Jeollanam-do---to pass these reports along to friends, family, and coworkers, in order to put both these latest protests and ourselves as foreigners into some context here.
The popular song "Fucking USA," which attacks the US for allegedly killing civilians in the Korean War and for winning a speedskating match against a Korean.
And, this is an addendum that comes a few minutes after I published my original entry. Turns out, as we pretty much expected, some are planning to incorporate this anniversary into the latest anti-beef protests. Korea Beat has the scoop, and here's an excerpt:
It appears that on June 13th, the sixth anniversary of the deaths of Shin Hyo-sun and Shim Mi-seon, killed after being struck by a US military armored personnel carrier, will become the main focus of the candlelight vigils which have been going on for over one month.
On the 12th the “Citizens’ Committee on Mad Cow Disease” (광우병 국민대책회의) announced that the 37th candlelight vigil to be held in front of Seoul City Hall on the 13th against the importation of US beef would incorporate a memorial ceremony for Hyo-sun and Mi-seon.
The sixth anniversary of Hyo-sun and Mi-seon’s deaths will easily excite anti-American sentiment among the citizenry, and the Committee will, on the 13th and 14th, intensify its calls for banning the import of US beef.
The Chosun Ilbo, according to Korea Beat, also says the relatives of these school girls do not want their children's and grandchildren's names being attached to these protests, and we recall GI Korea mentioning that they did not want their daughters used as symbols in a larger anti-American crusade back in 2002, 2003.
If you'll recall we saw reminders of this tank incident trotted out on May 17th and May 18th in Gwangju, being tied in both with the anti-beef protests and in the larger theme of repelling the foreign invaders, represented by the military and by the KORUS Free Trade Agreement.