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'Axis of Evil' speech draws fire from Koreans

By Deirdre Griswold
New York

President George W. Bush seems intent on learning history the hard way.

When he compared Iran, Iraq and North Korea to Germany, Japan and Italy in his now-infamous "Axis of Evil" speech, he evidently overlooked the fact that the Korean people had suffered Japanese colonial occupation for 35 years.

There are still Koreans alive who remember that terrible period. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the same North Korea abused by Bush, was founded by the leaders of the guerrilla army that fought and helped defeat the Japanese invaders. The regime set up in the south by U.S. troops after World War II, on the other hand, was led by Koreans who had collaborated with imperial Japan.

Therefore, Bush's speech was not only the height of insult and insolence, it also showed abysmal ignorance by this world superpower, which will invent any crude pretext to rattle its sabers and extend its own military occupation of Korea.

Bush followed up his speech with a visit to South Korea that touched off outrage among Koreans everywhere--in the north, the south and the diaspora.

A group of 30 students from Hanchongryon, the Federation of Korean University Students, on Feb. 18 occupied offices of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Seoul, South Korea, to protest the visit. Before being dragged out by police, they broke windows on the 45th floor of the towering office building and hung out a large banner reading "No war, no Bush!"

Even members of the ruling party in South Korea were incensed at Bush's belligerent tone toward the north. President Kim Dae-jung, the first president of South Korea to visit the north, has pursued a "sunshine" policy of expanding contacts with the DPRK after 50 years of total separation. The Korean people passionately want the reunification of their country. Those in the south increasingly blame the presence of 38,000 U.S. troops for the division, and demonstrations against U.S. bases have grown in frequency and magnitude.

Now the turmoil in the streets has reached the legislature. The Korea Times of Feb. 19 reported that "A ruling party lawmaker [Song Seok-chan] yesterday called U.S. President George W. Bush the 'incarnation of evil' in the National Assembly interpellation session yesterday, one day ahead of Bush's visit to Seoul, sending a shockwave through the country."

Koreans in U.S. speak out

U.S. citizens of Korean origin have also registered deep disgust with Bush's speech. In the days before his visit to Seoul, Workers World spoke with Koreans in New York about the reaction of the community here.

Yoomi Jeong of the Congress for Korean Reunification explained that her group had initiated a campaign, joined by four other organizations, to send messages to the White House calling on the U.S. government to honor the communique issued jointly with South Korea in October 2000. That document had stated support for Kim Dae-jung's direct contact with North Korea and promised the U.S. would take the necessary steps to lift sanctions on the north and normalize relations.

Jeong cited a poll taken by the ruling New Millennium Party in early February that showed 70 percent of South Koreans believe the U.S. should resolve its problems with the DPRK through dialogue, not military action. "Considering the population of South Korea has been pro-Western for 50 years, this is significant," she said.

Jeong says it's wrong for the U.S. government to accuse the DPRK of supporting terrorism. "We feel we became a scapegoat for the domestic problems of the U.S.--like Enron and unemployment."

She also pointed out that this effort to build hostility toward the north comes as the U.S. "has been trying to sell outdated fighter jets to the South Korean government at a price of $4 billion. Even the South Korean military doesn't want to buy these old F-15s, and has received several cheaper bids from other countries. The latest plane is now the F-22. Last year the U.S. sent a delegation of congresspeople to Seoul to pressure them to buy."

Jeong said over 700 civic organizations in South Korea had formed an ad hoc committee to block the Bush visit. "They held a major rally in front of the U.S. Embassy," she said, "and are planning multiple city protests. Even members of the National Assembly have said that anyone who undermines peace is not our ally--a very strong statement for South Korea."

Did Bush make a mistake with his belligerent talk? "Some people say Bush is helping us build our anti-imperialist mobilization," said Jeong with a laugh.

'My mom called to say
it was abominable'

Hye-Jung Park is a member of Nodutdol for Korean Community Development and the Korean-American National Coordinating Council. She says Koreans see danger in Bush's speech. "My mom called me from South Korea to say it was abominable. It has moved things back to zero in the north-south dialogue."

The U.S. had agreed to help the DPRK get a light-water reactor if it abandoned construction of a different kind of nuclear power plant that Washington objected to. Park said, "The U.S. promised it would help North Korea get an LWR by 2003, but nothing has been done." Energy is a big problem in the north, which has severe winters.

Another member of Nodutdol, John Choe, said the Korean community is reaching out to others who have suffered from U.S. policy.

"We had a community forum recently with two goals. One was to showcase the fact that many members of the Korean community in New York have been opposed to the use of military forces in Afghan. The second was to build solidarity with people in the Middle East, including Palestine, making comparisons with the way the U.S. has acted with its allies in Korea and Palestine, dividing and occupying these two countries.

"We also spoke of the significance of the diaspora in both our struggles. The Korean community is here today because of what the U.S. and its allies did in Korea 50 years ago. We shouldn't feel we're just victims. This is an opportunity to critique U.S. policy around the world.

"Bush saying 'Axis of Evil' is not just something recent. It's been U.S. strategy to demonize and delegitimize popular struggles around the world. On the face of it, it's absurd. Who is Bush to be the moral arbiter of human behavior?

"If you look at how he has defined North Korea specifically as evil, exporting weapons of mass destruction--the U.S. is the largest exporter of weapons in the world! It makes billions of dollars in hard currency through sales of weapons to poor countries. It forces its allies, like South Korea, to buy fighter jets it no longer needs. To use that as a pretext is ridiculous.

"I'm glad that Koreans in the south have been organizing and protesting Bush's visit," Choe concluded. "It's important to make clear that that kind of language is dangerous to their personal safety and also to the long-term prospect on the Korean peninsula."

Reprinted from the Feb. 28, 2002, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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