Wednesday, November 24, 2010

B.R. Myers on the Yeonpyeongdo attack


Photos of the village in the aftermath of the shelling are here. (Hat tip to DynamicallySparkling)

The Donga Ilbo's article here has a good article about the attack:
Some 120 students attending a public school on the island escaped from their classrooms as soon as they heard the sound of shells and headed for shelters on the mountain in the back of the school.

The school`s vice principal Ha Jun said, “I heard that most classrooms had their windows broken because of the sound of the shells and vibration. Fortunately, no students or teachers were injured.”

It seems villagers were very lucky the shells fell where they did. The article mentions that Daecheong and Socheong islands (the two south of Baengnyeongdo) were evacuated, and that "The Incheon Metropolitan Office of Education indefinitely closed all public schools on five islands off the west coast, including Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong."

[Original post]

NPR interviewed B.R. Myers regarding the attack on Yeonpyeongdo yesterday. At one point he noted the apparent lack of concern over the attack, and wondered if South Koreans are "habituated to a certain amount of tension, and perhaps they see this only as an incremental increase." This is something he brought up at a talk a month or so ago about the lack of state patriotism in South Korea, when he said he worried that continued provocations by North Korea might desensitize people in the South to them (and also noted that the north could not have failed to notice that one of the results of the attack on the Cheonan was that it led to a sizable segment of the South Korean population turning on its own president).

In other news related to the attack, an early article in the Wall Street Journal is here, an earlier report by YTN is here, CCTV footage of the shells hitting the village on Yeonpyeongdo is here, and a report about the two marines who were killed is here. A map of the attack can be found here, which shows the village on the south side of the island (facing away from North Korea), which is located 13 kilometers from North Korea, and where "an estimated 1,700 people live in some 930 houses," according to this Korea Times article.

This MBC report has a satellite photo of the smoke moving away from the island:

The Joongang Ilbo has several reports in English here, here, and here.


Unknown said...

First of all, my sincere wishes for your and the entire peninsula's safety.

Second, there's something a bit off in Myers' thinking here, and it's not the first time his broad generalizing gets a bit sloppy, even as it sounds authoritive (see his take on US/DPRK relations where, "all efforts at sunshine resulted in no concrete gains" when in fact, sitting president Clinton almost made it to Pyongyang, virtually a point of no-return for hostile relations).

South Korea has been provoked for decades. Why would the recent episodes have a new effect on the populous? Why wouldn't they _already_ be sensitized? It's not like South Korea used to strike back but now has gone soft. What did they do after the commando raid on the Blue House in 1968 (dozens dead, including civilians)? Or the ax murder attack in 1976? What was the stern response after Rangoon bombing in 1983? Or the sub invasions? There were never any serious repurcussions (well, yes, they did cut that tree down once and for all... but...).

As for the population "turning on" 2MB, a bunch of them hated him anyways, previous to any attack. And perhaps a whole bunch of them feel that the most recent provocation, while heinous, must be seen as part of a context of enmity that serves as the root for all of these skirmishes - and that basic enmity is not furthered by bluster, whether from 2MB, (or Bush in the past or Obama now). A radical solution is needed and at least Sunshine made some attempt to go towards the roots. For all its detractors, the Sunshine was indeed getting quantifiable results (Albright to PY was huge) before the Bush cloud darkened the skies for good.

Perhaps the most ironic thing about this is that while the critics of 2MB are often targeted as being soft on the North and perhaps sapping the nation of the proper unity and strenght to show a firm response, in reality, it is the hardliners themselves who have yet to, and will in all likelihood never resort to, substantial counter-attacks. When the hardliners get into power, they are the ones pushing the "don't escalate" line, not just the blase (lack of love for the-) countrymen and women.

I know you are just putting up links right now, but I do wish I could see a few voices in the Korean (english) blogosphere push back against Myers now and then. It's ironic that the replacement for Cumings (who was slagged on endlessly for inspiring knee-jerk supporters in academia and the left) is now blessed with universal adulation amongst most Korea-related online commenters (again, not to put you in this boat - more a wider observation).

Anonymous said...

I do wish I could see a few voices in the Korean (english) blogosphere push back against Myers now and then.

Please post those links then.

Generally theories are tested against how well they are able to explain and predict behavior. I haven't seen any do a better job than Myers'. After the bombing of the Cheonan he said he thought there'd soon be another incident, more severe and likely on the border. His theory of race-based nationalism and a military-first government that can only survive by escalating tensions (and may unintentionally overshoot its mark) seems to explain things pretty well.

At the other end of the spectrum, the competing S. Korean claim was a conspiracy by 2MB with possible US involvement. I suppose with that in mind one might say the NK's claim that SK shot off the first rounds in NK territory before they "responded" with the Yeonpyeongdo attack would be the new competing view. I'm sure there are many S. Koreans who may be inclined to accept that.

As for Albright's visit to PY being "huge" - can you expand on that? Do you mean huge in the sense of a propaganda victory for the north? And recall that better than "almost" making it to PY, Clinton was there last year. That was pretty "huge" too. But for who?

Finally, you make it seem as it the conclusion finding "all efforts at sunshine resulted in no concrete gains" is exclusive to Myers. That certainly isn't the case. As for the benefits of the sunshine policy I think you'll have to do better than "Albright to PY was huge".

Unknown said...

I can't trust anything BR Myers says about Korea. IMO, he's a right wing hack. I'm being honest; I hate the guy. Quite frankly, I'm sick of his bullshit about Korean apathy.

These attacks are a result of US policy. If anyone is apathetic, it's Americans who seemingly know dick about Korea, DPRK and the war we're still engaged in. The US is apathetic; Koreans cope.

The North is positioning itself to receive concessions in future talks. And that the US is satisfied permitting Koreans to be killed or be threatened with violence so that DPRK can communicate to the West that it needs to be fed is not only shitty politics, it's immoral.

The ruling elite up north may be psychos, but we're participating in the starvation and torture of millions of people. That fact should not be ignored.

Myers has always sounded like a colonialist white dude to me. A real hater.

Unknown said...

1. How can I post links that don't exist? That was the point. Myers is never criticized.

2. Normalization and the ending of the war have repeatedly been stated as a pre-eminent concern of NK. Meeting with Sec. of State was one of the final steps towards this. Meeting w/ a sitting president would have nudged this even closer. Had Gore won w/o the Florida election controversy, it probably would have happened and we'd be living in a very different world vis-a-vis NK foreign relations.

3. Contrary to your binary thinking, there was more than simply "NK did it" vs. "No, 2MB + USA did it." There are those who take a long term, contextual view - noting that even w/o knowing for sure who did it, we know that the non-normalized environment is what allows it to happen. Such ideas did not rely on either a denial of NK attack (Cumings himself says he's 95% certain NK did it) or assertion of ROK skullduggery, although one would have to be a serious ideologue to outright deny either.

4.You say, " you make it seem as it the conclusion finding "all efforts at sunshine resulted in no concrete gains" is exclusive to Myers" after I said, "For all its detractors, the Sunshine. . ." He's one of many, obviously. The point you missed in my specific criticism of Myers was that, though praised as an original and perceptive thinker, he painted with too broad a brush, saying that engagement w/ NK has resulted in no gains - which is factually untrue, unless you hack w/ an ideological axe and claim that high-level meetings, inspections, increased relations are not gains, because there have also been setbacks.

5. There will be more escalation, near the border? Is that his theory? Wow, that is some prescient stuff, there. As are the "military first" and "race-based nationalism" 'theories'. Hardly original to anyone w/ any experience in studying Korea - including his hated rival, Cumings (yes, both "military first" and "race nationalism' are in his work, before Myers ever tread there).

6. Why bother with all this? Given that, in fact, Myers doesn't say anything all that new or profound, why the adulation and lack of criticism going his way? I can only guess, but I would gather that he serves another function besides merely "illuminating truths" or any such thing. The ideological function he serves seems quite clear, he's the good liberal (Myers is a self-professed Green) who makes it perfectly okay for intellectuals to again address NK with nothing but unmitigated scorn (up to and including nuclear genocide - see Instapundit for that kind of shite), thus relieving us of any burden to address US, SK, or Japanese contributions to the continued war footing.

Unknown said...

osangjin, i'm in total agreement with your conclusion. esp your concern about the binary and #6.

i think myers "plays" the good liberal. i think he's on the ideological right when we look at what his conclusions about korea, bukhan, koreans, korean culture and policy. these days, much liberal ideology and rhetoric is on the right.

(not that it matters whether it's left or right, speaking of crappy binaries^^.)

matt said...


Fair enough point about lack of responses by the South to Northern aggression over the years, but some of them need a closer looking at.

It was difficult to respond to the 1968 Blue House attack because within hours North Korea had the crew of the Pueblo hostage. And Park did plan to retaliate by training commandos on Silmido, but the attack was called off years later as relations improved.

There was enough bluster in the wake of the axe attack that Kim Il-sung sent a message expressing regret - not something you see very often.

In the wake of the terror attacks in 1983 and 1987, (and the infiltration attacks of the late 1960s) you had the fear of setting off world war 3 (and fear of disrupting the Olympics in 87). The 1996 submarine incident ended with a North Korean apology. Since the cold war ended have there really been provocations as severe as the ones we've seen this year?

As for the population "turning on" 2MB, perhaps a bad choice of words on my part. I was paraphrasing Myers. Here's a quotation of what he said:

He notes that because the DPRK will not be able to raise their standard of living by 2012 (as they have been promising), they will do as they have often done since the start of the military first policy and "divert domestic attention away from problems on the economic front and ratchet up tensions with the outside world so that people can feel pride in the military aspect of their state..."

"I expect to see a provocation along the lines of the Cheonan... The good thing about the NLL from the North Korean standpoint is that a lot of South Koreans sympathize with their grievance about how that line was drawn, they know that the North Koreans do not recognize it - it was drawn rather arbitrarily - and I really wouldn't be surprised if the North Koreans do something with that."

He also mentioned that he did not expect an all out war because it was not in Kim Jong-il's advantage, and saw him instead "trying gradually to habituate the South Korean public to attacks like this. He must have taken note of the fact that the South Korean instinctive public reaction to the sinking of the Cheonan was anger at President Lee Myung-bak."

So the point is, North Korea can't have failed to have noticed the fact that 20-30% of the South Korean public essentially sided with the north.

I think trying the sunshine policy was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, the results - beyond a nuclear armed DPRK (now with the possibility of uranium bombs added) - have not lived up to the hopes. Gaesong and Geumgangsan, instead of helping 'open' the north, have become South Korean appendages which the North can manipulate at will.