May 1, 2018

ON MY MIND | What Americans Think (When They Do) About Korea

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As of today’s date — Tuesday, May 1, 2018 — I am officially accepting applications from any and all individuals or entities interested in becoming founding members of Liberty in South Korea (LiSK). Serious inquiries may be sent to [email protected].

What is LiSK? We are a humanitarian organization committed to freeing the South Korean people from the twin terrors of US militarism and hypercapitalism. We have all heard the stories: massacres and imprisonment of dissidents, rampant rape and murder around US military bases, strings of puppet-dictators succeeded by nepotistic puppet-heads of state, corruption suffusing every level of economic activity, widespread disillusionment with the cutthroat education system, and the second-highest suicide rate in the developed world.

Too long have Americans sat back and listened with complacency — now is the time to act. It’s clear that the South Koreans are in desperate need of foreign aid, and it’s up to us (in the US-of-A) to save them by whatever means possible.


You think I’m kidding, and I am. But it’s not really a joke, is it?

If it is, it should leave a bad taste in your mouth.

It’s been two-and-a-half months since my last article about Korea was published. In that stretch of time, two important things have happened: One, I finally saw Black Panther. Two, on April 27, 2018, Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in met for the Inter-Korean Summit in Panmunjom and officially declared their mutual commitment to ending the Korean War, denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, reunifying separated families, and normalizing relations between South and North with the end goal of “co-prosperity and unification led by Koreans.”

The former might seem inconsequential in relation to the first, but I promise I’ll tie them together. But first, an anecdote that will hopefully contextualize the beginning of this article:

Picture me, Wednesday of last week. Picture me walking on Ho Plaza, minding my own business, when suddenly I notice a lone table, covered with a banner that’s labeled,

“Hosted by Cornell Republicans”

There are four students standing behind the table. There are four white students standing behind the table. A liquid rage boils up from the pit of my stomach to the tip of my tongue. I want nothing more than to rush these people, flip their table over, and scream in their dumbstruck faces,


I want nothing more than to crush these empty-headed Americans for having the gall to see themselves as God’s Own Good Guys, despite all of their country’s history pointing directly to the contrary. I want to shake them until they realize that their future careers as US foreign policymakers, global finance capitalists, think tank experts, NGO executives, and political journalists will invariably perpetuate the same cycles of wanton aggression and sickening justification that the United States has directed at less powerful nations for the past century and a half. I want to make them understand that the world in which they live has no actual grounding in reality, but is instead held together by the perverse gravity of their own desperate need to feel secure in their whiteness. I want to make them understand just how small and ugly their souls really are.

I don’t do any of those things, of course. Instead, I jut my chin down, stare straight ahead, and walk faster to nowhere.

You could accuse me of being an extremist, or write me off as a reactionary. But tell me: What is the proper reaction to the slaughter of two million of one’s people?


In truth, I had one big gripe with Black Panther. For a movie/character named after one of the most revolutionary organizations in the United States — an organization that was ruthlessly targeted by the FBI and CIA through surveillance and “neutralization” programs like COINTELPRO and Operation ChaosBlack Panther spends way too much time tolerating the presence of, if not cosying up to, a CIA agent. While I understood that Martin Freeman’s hapless character functions as a foil to the infinitely more capable and attractive Wakandans, I was nonetheless disappointed that the movie leaves us with [SPOILER ALERT] the image of Agent Ross smiling in approval while King T’Challa makes his big revelation to the United Nations during the end-credits scene.

One might say, however, that the role of Agent Ross in Black Panther roughly mirrors that which the United States has played in the recent talks between North and South Korea. Let me see if I’ve got it right: the bumbling American stumbles upon a country he knows nothing about, fucks everything up to the point of imminent doom, and then takes all the credit once the natives are able to steer their nation back from the brink of destruction.

Sound familiar?

I shouldn’t have to explain to anyone that Korean people have hoped and worked for reunification since the establishment of the Demilitarized Zone in 1953. Furthermore, anti-war activists in South Korea have pushed fiercely against American military intervention for decades, often to be met with violent repression from their own government. It goes without saying, then, that (1) these talks, though unexpected, did not simply materialize from the ether and (2) Kim and Moon’s stated desire for total denuclearization of the peninsula is meant both for North Korea and the United States’ nuclear umbrella over East Asia. Despite what CNN or Fox News might have you believe, Koreans are entirely capable to thinking for themselves, and the US military poses the most dangerous threat to the lives of ordinary Korean citizens on both sides of the 38th parallel. Americans must accept the fact that their government has been and continues to be, as Martin Luther King Jr. once noted, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” Once they have accepted this fact, they must do the responsible thing and get the fuck out of Korea (or if you want to put it another way, support Koreans’ right to true self-determination).

Cornell Republicans and Democrats — this is a bipartisan issue — of the world, take heed.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: any future movements towards reunification and peace in Korea must be led by the Korean people. To the extent that North Koreans have to grapple with the overt state repression and paranoia that haunts their society, South Koreans must also recognize that they have internalized Western ideals of individualism, militarism, and consumerism in their breakneck pursuit of profit and technological modernization. The path forward to reconciliation will not be an easy one: it will require a complete reorientation of values and an honest reckoning with history. It will require leaders who possess the moral and ideological clarity to help bring the Korean people toward a more just, more unified, more peaceful future. As Korea’s own history has shown, such leaders can come from anywhere.

But whatever happens, Martin Freeman is absolutely not invited.