Friday, November 17, 2017

"Why can't Americans be Punished?"

The 1988 Seoul Olympics

Prologue 1: "Why can't Americans be Punished?"

Part 1:  The Seoul Olympics, 25 years later
Part 2:  The 1988 Olympics and Korean fears of AIDS
Part 3:  Americans and bad first impressions
Part 4:  Reptilian Style: The 'live-or-die general war' against Hollywood
Part 5:  An attack in a boxing ring
Part 6:  Media responses to the boxing ring incident
Part 7:  No more lion: US swimmers' 'prank' becomes 'diplomatic incident'
Part 8:  KAIST catches Big Ben
Part 9:  Hankyoreh interviews Korean witness to theft by swimmers
Part 10: Stop me if you've heard this one: Four GIs head to Itaewon in a taxi...
Part 11: Taxi-kicking US runner taken to Itaewon police box
Part 12: NBC uses the power of t-shirts to insult Korea... again
Part 13: Cultivating outrage toward America
Part 14: Politicians engage in damage control
Part 15: Heaven on Earth
Part 16: Hustler magazine tramples the purity of the Korean race 
Part 17: Stolen gold

[Update: I rendered the names of the teens below into English from their renderings in Hangeul, which were 매트니 잘스 and 오맬리 패트릭. The latter is easy enough, but I rendered 매트니 잘스 as 'Charles Mateny,' which may not be correct.

Original Post:]

Prologue 1: "Why can't Americans be Punished?"

Prior to the 1988 Olympics, the claiming of jurisdiction by Korean prosecutors in SOFA cases was an issue that had failed to garner much interest among the general public. In the summer of 1988, the Hankyoreh was mostly alone among newspapers in arguing that SOFA should be revised, especially in regard to reporting on rallies calling for the government to take jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers who had committed crimes in several cases outside Seoul that summer. On August 6, however, a spokesperson from the foreign ministry said the government was reviewing the possibility of revising the SOFA. Because issues related to jurisdiction of U.S. soldiers who committed crimes, the rights of Koreans working on U.S. bases, and cost sharing had come up at previous annual security consultative meetings with the U.S. government, various ministries planned to meet to discuss these and make recommendations to USFK. This issue began to gain traction with the public days before the Olympics, however, when the assault of a pregnant Korean woman by American teens from a US base took place in Seoul. In many ways, the Donga Ilbo, even more so than the Hankyoreh, was at the forefront of pushing left-nationalist causes at this time, and on September 5, 1988, twelve days before the Olympics, the Donga Ilbo published the following piece of agitprop article in a column called "Window":
"Why can’t Americans be punished?"
Pregnant woman battered by children of US Military 

September 3, around 8:30 am in Predelivery Room 1424 in the Joongang University Yongsan Hospital on Hangangro 3-ga, in Seoul’s Yongsan-gu. Jo Gyeong-ok (334 Han River 2 ga, Yongsan-gu) was laying in bed and crying as she thought of the infuriating and absurd thing she had gone through the night before.

Mrs. Jo's husband Im Sam-bin (37, tile worker) was at her bedside comforting her, holding his wife’s tear-streaked face in his hands.

At around 12:40 am Mrs. Jo went out by the street to wait for her husband, who was late coming home.

Mrs. Jo married Mr. Im, who is the only son of an only son, three years ago, and at last she was about 4 months pregnant with her first child.

About ten minutes after leaving the house, Cho was surprised when someone suddenly hit her cheek as they rode a bike past her. Mrs. Jo, who shouted "Why did you hit me?” was mistaken in thinking it was her fault. They heard Mrs. Jo's shout and came back on their bicycles.

Both of them were young-looking foreigners.

They began to beat Mrs. Jo. They jibbered on in English and punched and kicked her wildly but, unable to ask them in English why they were beating her, Mrs. Jo screamed.

Passersby reported it to a nearby police box but during the 10 minutes before the neighbourhood patrol arrived she had to suffer beating and taunting.

The two who were arrested and taken to the police box in front of Yongsan Station were found to be the children of American military personnel, Charles Mateny (18, high school student) and Patrick O'Malley (17, high school student). They never did explain why they slapped Mrs. Jo as they rode by on bicycles.

However, after the police contacted the main Yongsan Police Station and asked some questions, they were all sent home around 4 o'clock in the morning.

Mrs. Jo and her husband, Mr. Im, who had hurried to the station later, protested, but the police explained that they couldn’t help it because of the "Korea-US Status of Forces Agreement" [SOFA].

The explanation Mrs. Jo heard was that if they were to collect material from the police and notify the US military, they (the boys) would get punished there so it would be the same anyway, but she could not accept this.

"I don’t know what SOFA is, but they beat a Korean in Korea, so why can’t Korean courts punish them? And how should I get compensation for the mental shock my wife received?"

Her husband, unable to go to work that day, was saddened as he looked after his wife.

Reporter Kim Sang-young
In an article I posted here, it was reported that she would not miscarry. This is the incident - and most likely the very article - that turned issues related to SOFA from an esoteric topic few but activists and those near US bases cared about into an issue people could relate to: the victimization of an innocent Korean - a pregnant woman, at that - at the hands of Americans who seemed to get away without punishment, a trope which would be of great utility to activists in the decades to follow.

The media attention may have led the police to follow up on the assault, as the Donga Ilbo published the following report the next day:
Investigation launched into assault on pregnant woman, USFK kids summoned to police station

The Yongsan Police Department in Seoul has decided to directly investigate the case of the children of US military personnel, Charles Mateny (18, high school student) and Patrick O'Malley (17, high school student), who for no reason assaulted a pregnant Korean woman, and sent a summons to the US 8th Army ordering them to appear before the police within three days.

Police said it was judged that South Korea had jurisdiction over soldiers' family members under Article 22 (3) of the ROK-US SOFA, and decided to summon them for an investigation.

Article 22 paragraph 3 of the ROK-US SOFA states that the US 8th Army holds jurisdiction over active duty US military and US military property, and the ROK has jurisdiction over the families of soldiers, civilian attached to the military, and their families.

Meanwhile, as witnesses testified that they seemed to be high at the time of the assault, police intend to investigate whether they took drugs or not.
The next day, on September 9, 1988, the Donga Ilbo published a follow up which highlighted the impact of the first article:
Stir over US military kids' "assault on pregnant housewife"
US military kids' pregnant housewife assault incident

Our report in "Window" on September 5 is causing an unexpected stir. After the report on this incident our office received flood of telephone inquiries about the SOFA agreement by many readers wanting to recover their wounded national pride and scolding the insincerity and indifference of the police investigation.

The readers who called in above all expressed anger in complaining about the ROK-US SOFA. Experts also pointed out that the ROK-US SOFA is a much more unequal agreement than the "London" convention (concluded in 1951), the law on foreign military status on which it is modelled.

One reader, a 40-year-old housewife, argued that "this agreement, which was signed 22 years ago when we had to put up with inequality, should be correctly revised to fit current realities."

However, rather than the inequality of the agreement itself, what caused resentment among readers was the passive attitude of our nation's government, which from the beginning shrinks from and turns its back on incidents involving Americans, even if one of our citizens is the victim.

According to the ROK-US SOFA, domestic investigative agencies can investigate criminal cases even if they are the families of American military personnel or families of civilians attached to the military, and according to Article 22, which regulates criminal jurisdiction, there are various conditions, but generally jurisdiction over families of American military personnel or civilians, excluding soldiers, should be exercised by Korea. Even in the case of US soldiers, cases of serious crimes such as murder, robbery, and rape must also be brought before Korean courts.

In spite of these regulations, there are many cases when our side gives up jurisdiction while the case is in the hands of the police and the prosecution, and jurisdiction is passed on to the US military.

The fact is, in the past year, of 835 cases involving Americans the Seoul District Prosecutor's office received, 196 cases involved crimes by military family members, but the number of these cases prosecuted by our nation’s prosecutors amounted to no more than twelve.

In fact, in the case of this incident, even though as a matter of course the police should have started an investigation immediately after the incident, one gets the impression that the belated issuing of a subpoena to the young Americans who committed assault is due to the pressure of public opinion.

A 50 year-old reader said, "Although it is an unequal agreement, it is sadaejuui-type thinking for us to abandon even the right to exercise [jurisdiction] as a matter of course." Kim, a 26 year-old graduate student, said, "Acknowledging that there is a positive aspect of the role the US has played in our country since liberation, we should also re-establish our position now by asking the question "What is America to us?"

Reporter Kim Sang-young
One has to chuckle at the Reporter Kim's description of the furor following his first article as an "unexpected stir" when that was pretty clearly the hoped-for response to it. Criticism of the "sadaejuui-type thinking" in regard to Americans appeared the next day when a letter was written to the Donga Ilbo and printed with the title "The humiliation of the US Army kids’ assault on Korean pregnant women; If we can’t punish it, are we not a colony?"

It's the phrase about readers wanting "to recover their wounded national pride" that stood out for me the first time I read this article, however. How wonderful and evocative is that phrase? During the previous year or so the liberalization of the economy, particularly of beef and cigarettes (see the articles here) had angered farmers, and students and farmers' groups held protests, criticizing the government's "renunciation of sovereign rights" and distributed leaflets reading, "Those who smoke foreign-brand cigarettes are sellers of national self-respect." And when United International Pictures (UIP) began doing an end run around Korean film companies by directly distributing its films in Korea during the Olympics, one director said that UIP's dealings demonstrated "a high-handed attitude to the disregard of the Korean people," while another said "UIP's 'sneaking' infiltration is a fatal blow to our pride." The need to recover national pride vis-a-vis the US would become a theme in media coverage throughout the Olmypics, helping spread anger at the US from students and farmers to the population at large.

As reported in a September 19, 1988 Joongang Ilbo article, the United Korea Women's Association gave a statement the day after the Olympics began denouncing the attack by US military teens against the pregnant Korean woman and criticized the "special privileges" of the US military, citing a government statistic that out of 15,000 crimes committed by US soldiers in the past decade, the Korean government had exercised jurisdiction in less than one percent of the cases. As well, they called for the perpetrators' parents and the US Ambassador to publicly apologize to Korea citizens, a speedy and fair investigation and punishment by government authorities, and "revision of the unequal SOFA." They also declared that it "wasn't simply an assault, but a reflection of Americans' tendency to look down on Koreans." This tendency would be highlighted by the media throughout the Olympics, influencing a growth in anti-Americanism that would influence government policy after the Olympics, particularly in regard to the SOFA.

[For an archive of SOFA-related documents, see here.]

Monday, November 13, 2017

A one-sided depiction of the ROK-US alliance and SOFA

Last week an op-ed titled "Is South Korea’s Alliance with the United States Worth It?" by Se-woong Koo, best known for running Korea Expose, appeared in the New York Times. As a piece meant to educate American readers about negative effects the alliance has had on Koreans, it succeeds, but at the cost of being rather one-sided. On the one hand, well, yes, it's an op-ed, and op-eds tend to lean in one direction over another. As well, there's often not a lot of space, so it's not difficult for nuance to get lost. And more material could have been excised by an editor. Still, it seems to play the victimization note a little too consistently to suggest that wasn't the intent.

The introduction based around a personal anecdote is an effective and interesting beginning. It is noted that "South Korea’s relationship with the United States started as one of dependency," which is a good point - though more important might be the fact that a large number of educated people then, and still, feel ashamed by this. For millennia, societies the world over have adopted aspects of the culture or social organization of more powerful states they hoped to influence, but Koreans - North and South - have turned the Korean term describing this - Sadaejuui - into an epithet, which reflects both shame at dependency as well as a desire to overcome that shame. In fact, the thesis of the article - "when that partner turns ungrateful, and even unreliable, it is time to question the idea that the alliance is sacrosanct" - is not a new one. One only need look at the rhetoric critical of the US in the Korean news media during the 1988 Olympics, couched as it was in the need to "recover wounded national pride," to see anger lashed out at an "ungrateful" or "disrespectful" guest. Such criticism of the "erosion of South Korea’s sovereign spirit" had been alive and well for decades, at least in some circles. Reading news reports from the 1950s and 1960s makes clear that more than a few Koreans have long chafed at the US military presence here, and frustration has boiled over periodically throughout the entire length of the alliance (as well as due to the presence of Americans here generally, for example during the Haysmer apple incident in 1926).

Mention is also made of Korea being compelled to contribute soldiers to America’s wars, but all we read of are 5,000 Korean dead and Agent Orange exposure, making it sound like an unmitigated loss for Koreans rather than the huge shot in the arm it was to Korea's economy (right down to the village level due to soldiers sending money home). Much as the Korean War had provided Japan with an opportunity for economic recovery after the destruction of the Pacific War, the Vietnam War (and the normalization of relations with Japan) provided Korea with a means to develop its economy.

As for the withdrawal of US troops leading to less "psychological dependen[ce] on a foreign army," this may well be true, though at their heart, both Koreas' feelings of 'national inadequacy' stem from the condition of Korea's division. And while Germany's leader may be able to say "We Europeans have to take our destiny into our own hands," Germany is in a rather different situation than Korea, with a rather different set of neighbours. One reason to be wary of the withdrawal of US troops is precisely because that is what North Korea has always wanted, and still continues to want as a precursor to the unification of peninsula under North Korean control, as Brian Myers and others have argued. This goes back decades, and the message is most intelligible for non-Korean readers in the pro-North Korea propaganda of the American-Korean Friendship Information Center based in New York in the early 1970s. Links to their material can be found here, though this blurb from their magazine Korea Focus makes things clear enough (from Vol. 1, No. 1, page 58):


Withdrawal of US troops might sound like a good idea in theory. In practice, I'm not so sure.

What I found especially one-sided was this:
Then there is the Status of Forces Agreement, signed between the two nations in 1966 and renewed twice. It has been understood to grant the United States military nearly exclusive jurisdiction over its personnel, such that even high-profile offenses committed by American soldiers against South Korean citizens go unpunished.

One of the most heinous examples happened in 2002 when an American military vehicle ran over two middle-school students, crushing them to death. The perpetrators were shielded from South Korean authorities and a United States military court dismissed the case.
The "It has been understood" part is rather weaselly, in that this perception by the Korean people, encouraged by citizens groups and the media, is mostly incorrect (especially since 1988 and even more so since the 2000s). In not saying so, however, it conveys to American readers that this one-sided "understanding" is factual. The idea that the "United States military [has] nearly exclusive jurisdiction over its personnel, such that even high-profile offenses committed by American soldiers against South Korean citizens go unpunished" better applies the pre-SOFA days (or perhaps to its first 20 years) rather than the present.

SOFA first came into effect on February 9, 1967. Below are some Korea Times articles from that year about SOFA cases (some are hard to make out, unfortunately). The first is from February 11, two days after SOFA came into effect:


Just because the case could be subject to Korean jurisdiction didn't mean Korean prosecutors pursued the case, however, especially since they would have been rather busy, what with 122 crimes committed by US soldiers in the first month, as this March 10 article relates:


As it says above,
The 122 "offenses" reported to the ministry include 36 assault cases, 40 accidental homicide and injury cases involving traffic accidents, and 28 traffic law violation cases. The ministry statistics said that 35 of the 122 cases were turned over to U.S. military investigation authorities. Korean authorities earlier decided to turn all minor offenses over to U.S. authorities and to handle only "important" cases. 
The first soldier to be indicted by Korean prosecutors was Billy Cox, who was charged on March 29, 1967, as this June 20 article relates.


A second soldier was subject to Korean jurisdiction two months later, as this May 23 article relates:


Korean authorities tended to prosecute only serious crimes, particularly murder, arson, and rape, while leaving assaults to USFK authorities. A comment by a Seoul prosecutor in a November 2, 1988 Stars and Stripes article, after the Olympics, indicates again that there was an element of choice in not prosecuting every case:
While the U.S. ROK Status of Forces Agreement gives South Korea primary jurisdiction in incidents involving American troops outside U.S. bases, [Seoul Prosecutor] Yoo [Sang-su] said authorities "have waived that jurisdiction in the past." "The national consciousness toward American troops in Korea has changed, however, and it is time we begin exercising a wider scale of jurisdiction," he said.
Needless to say, the idea that off duty American soldiers were out of reach of Korean authorities is an exaggeration, to say the least, and the post-1988 "exercising [of] a wider scale of jurisdiction" was directly tied to attempts to recover national pride and a change in "national consciousness" after the Olympics.

As for the use of the word "heinous" to describe the 2002 traffic accident - a word with synonyms like "odious, wicked, evil, atrocious, monstrous, abominable, detestable, contemptible, reprehensible, despicable" - this makes rather clear the bias of the author, since it gives the impression that there was malice aforethought in the running over of the two girls, when accounts by those who were there make clear it was an accident. A narrative of Korean victimization at the hands of unpunishable Americans - the standard SOFA narrative since 1988 - drove thousands into the streets for the first, avowedly "non-political," candlelight protests, which have been a means for expression of the national will ever since.

What can be troubling for the US military is the way in which incidents involving alcohol can turn into mob scenes - such as during the 1988 Olympics [here and here], the 1995 subway incident, or the 2004 Sinchon stabbing incident - and the way in which these incidents have been politicized, with the prosecution altering charges for political reasons, particularly to appease public anger. According to ROK Drop, after the 2004 Sinchon stabbing incident, "The soldier was at first charged with simple battery since he was trying to protect himself, but due to all the misinformation in the media the charges were upgraded to attempted murder." A firsthand account by that soldier makes clear just how terrifying the mob scene he got caught up in was, but also how fairly the judge treated him:
[T]he judge told me he would give me a self defense sentence which was typically 2+ years… even though I was convicted of attempted murder. Basically the conviction was to appease the people of S. Korea, and the sentence was relative to a "self defense with a deadly weapon" conviction in that country. The judge was truly fair to both parties in that aspect.
His sentence gives hope that judges have the ability to fairly deal with biased prosecutions. Needless to say, there's a lot complexity involved in the SOFA issue, far from the black and white way in which it is often portrayed. Such simplistic formulations involving victimized Koreans obscure more than they illuminate, and do a disservice to one's readers.


Above I made mention of how a narrative of Korean victimization at the hands of unpunishable Americans has been the standard SOFA narrative since 1988. I've translated a key article from that time and posted it here.