Monday, November 20, 2017

Colonial-era collaboration and the controversy surrounding Helen Kim's statue

An article titled "Controversy continues over 'treacherous' 1st Ewha President" appeared in the Korea Times a few days ago. It reports on Ewha University students who put up a sign Monday near a statue of the university's first president, Kim Hwal-ran, or Helen Kim, to draw attention to her "treacherous," "pro-Japanese" statements "under the Japanese occupation."
The students said a continued failure to remove the statue represents the shameful history the country is in the process of eradicating.

“Pro-Japanese activities are a crime that in no way can be justified under any circumstances. Many figures including Kim who committed such acts are still revered on the campuses of many universities,” they said.

Kim’s controversial remarks included, “We are now able to welcome the overwhelming joy of the long-awaited conscription. We, the women, should send our husbands and sons to the battlefield with a graceful smile.” She justified her words as "necessary in order to keep Ewha open under harsh colonial policies.”
Personally, I don't think a sign including some of a public figure's less laudable acts to give a more balanced picture is a bad thing. I doubt "balance" is what these fundamentalist students are aiming for, however. Rather than celebrating a woman who "spent 40 years at Ewha as an educator," who was "the first Korean woman to earn a Ph.D.," and the founder of the Korea Times, the students want the statue removed and one of Yu Gwan-sun put up instead. Personally, I'm surprised there isn't a statue of Yu at Ewha University (there is one at Jangchungdong Park). At the same time, despite her courage, it seems to me it's her martyrdom - her "innocent victim" status, of the sort that motivated the 2002 candlelight protests - that has been memorialized above her accomplishments. She seems more remembered for her death than her life, and replacing Helen Kim's statue with one of her would be like tearing down Horace Underwood's statue (for the third time) at Yonsei and replacing it with one of Lee Han-yeol. (Admittedly this isn't the best comparison; Lee's death, despite his presence at the protest, was more of a tragic accident; Yu organized and took part in protests, and continued to protest in prison, knowing full well the fate that likely lay in store for her.)

To give an idea of what the sign the students erected looks like, it's not the placard or banner I was expecting (from here):

There's nothing wrong with highlighting the less-than-patriotic statements of public figures, but it seems to me what Helen Kim wrote or said was not all that uncommon at the time. It really should say above that her statements were made during the Pacific War. Saying "under the Japanese occupation" creates the impression she did this for years, and not under the extraordinary conditions of total war and "imperialization" of Koreans in the Japanese Empire in the early 1940s. While there are certainly people who deserve the label "pro-Japanese" (Yi Wan-yeong, for example), others fall into a much grayer area, particularly those who made statements during the war.

Though combat never reached the peninsula (other than a few bombings), the Pacific War was still a time of suffering and difficult choices for Koreans, particularly for those drafted / coerced into the Imperial Army, labor battalions, or into becoming comfort women. Korean intellectuals and artists faced challenges throughout the colonial period, what with being educated most often in Japan but finding little chance for employment in Korea (see Chae Man-sik's story 'Ready-Made Life,' for example). During the Pacific War, however, they faced two options: to make statements or art supporting the war effort, or to not work. Some, like author Yi Tae-jun, retired to the countryside for the duration of the war (as detailed in his story 'Before and After Liberation' which is translated in On the Eve of the Uprising and other stories from colonial Korea). For most people, however, foregoing an income was not an option.

To what degree intellectuals actually supported the war effort can be hard to tell. To be sure, some people were rather genuine supporters of Japan. That younger people would have supported Japan wouldn't be too surprising, considering that generation grew up under Japanese rule. Once the war started, some who were more critical of Western imperialism may have been happy to see Japan "liberating" Asia. As described in Mark Caprio's book Japanese Assimilation Policies in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945, for example, Yun Chiho responded to the "electrifying news" of Pearl Harbor by writing in his diary, "A new Day has indeed dawned on the Old World! This is a real war of races—the Yellow against the White." For the first six months of the Pacific War, Japan was winning (and did its best to hide its subsequent losses), so it wouldn't be surprising that some would have seen Japan as the right horse to back.

To highlight their defeat at the hands of the Japanese Army, 1,000 British and Australian Prisoners of War captured in Singapore were shipped to Korea, marched through the streets of Busan, Incheon, and Seoul in late September 1942, and interned in POW camps in the latter two cities. Some POWs were ordered to labour in front of Koreans to emphasize how defeated they were. From accounts by these POWs, however, it's clear that many Koreans were sympathetic to them and did things like give them food. Even Korean POW guards shared information with them, wanted to learn English from them, or even, in one case at the end of the war, offered to give them their guns to break out of the prison camp.

British and Australian POWs marching through Pusan

Upon the arrival of the POWs in Korea, the Maeil Sinbo, the Korean-language mouthpiece of the Government General, published numerous articles about the POWs over two days. On the second day, September 26, 1942, there appeared numerous testimonials by intellectuals (some Korean, others perhaps Japanese, though since by that point most Koreans had Japanese names, it can be hard to tell). Here is one I translated:
Thinking again about the crimes of the British and Americans
Shirehara Rakujun

After the Great East Asian War our grateful citizens will always be moved by seeing in photos and newspaper articles the military exploits of the invincible imperial army, but today as we saw the POWs directly with our own eyes this deep feeling grew further and we were thankful for the efforts of the imperial army.

Now as we strive to make greater efforts to impress upon those people the spirit and power of the empire, we deeply feel that we are in the glorious position of victorious imperial subjects and will ever more firmly resolve to win.

Looking from the position of a religious person, I think again about the British and Americans when they came in the past with an overly proud attitude of arrogance, of only pretending to believe in Christianity, and also masking this.

Now they have surrendered before the righteous imperial army and the day when they must keenly feel the sins of the past has come.

Now when we face the POWs we will fulfill our duty with a solemn bearing as imperial subjects and meanwhile we will not become careless and carried away by the feeling of victory but will further strive to achieve our goal in the Great East Asian War
The Korean name of Shirehara Rakujun was Baek Nak-jun, better known as George Paik, friend of missionaries and, up to 1939, a teacher at, and then dean of, Chosen Christian College. According to this book, Paik spent much of the war under house arrest, so one assumes he wrote the above column under duress. He went on to organize Seoul National University after liberation, became president of Yonhui College and oversaw its merger with Severence Medical College in 1957 into Yonsei University, and served as Minister of Education from 1950 to 1952.

What Baek wrote (or what is attributed to him) is typical of that kind of writing that was in the Maeil Sinbo when the POWs arrived. It seemed as if the Japanese believed that by repeating mantras like "we felt ever more moved to have become imperial subjects and felt more keenly the deep desire to support the war to its end," Koreans would actually believe it. I thought Jun Uchida put it quite eloquently in her book Brokers of Empire when she spoke of "the veneer of submission that the majority of Koreans were forced to maintain under total war."

Where should Baek be placed on the scale of collaborators and nation builders? And what of Helen Kim, whose statue has so raised the ire of certain Ewha students? It's not an easy question, and is one needing careful examination of evidence, consideration of the pressure put on intellectuals and prominent Koreans in the 1940s, and the weighing of their actions before and after their statements. As Koen De Ceuster's "The Nation Exorcised: The Historiography of Collaboration in South Korea" and Don Baker's "Memory Wars and Prospects for Reconciliation in South Korea" make clear, however, the question of whether someone is guilty of collaboration is beholden to serving current political needs more than anything else.

The truth that many do not want to admit is that most intellectuals at that time made statements or created works supporting the war; it was what they had to do to continue working. Likewise, most people were forced to recite oaths of loyalty to the Japanese Empire, bow at Shinto Shrines, or to compromise in other ways. The Shinto Shrine issue proved incredibly divisive for Korean Christians, particularly when some foreign missionaries thought they should simply obey and tell themselves they were simply "looking at their shoes" when they bowed. Some did not compromise, of course, and actively stood up to Japan, facing prison or death for their efforts, but by the 1940s most of those actively resisting Japan did so outside of the country. The problem with admitting this is that it seems to allow for only exiles, or those serving prison terms at the time, to have any kind of legitimacy. That certainly seems to have been the way Kim Ku felt, as related by Mark Gayn in his book Japan Diary, about his visit to Korea in 1946:
I recalled the story of a press conference at which Kim Koo, the irreconcilable enemy of Japan and of Korean collaborators. was asked what he would do with the latter. With characteristic bluntness, Kim Koo said:

"Practically everyone in Korea is a collaborator. They all ought to be in jail."

A young adviser doubling in brass as an interpreter did not even blink. "Mr. Kim Koo says," he translated, "that it's problem to be studied carefully." [Page 433-34]
And studied carefully it has been, with a Biographical Dictionary of Collaborators (친일인명사전) listing over 4,300 people having been published in 2009 by the Institute for Research in Collaborationist Activities (민족문제연구소). In 2004, the Institute for Research in Collaborationist Activities published Colonial Korea and War Art (식민지 조선과 전쟁미술), which spent 30 pages listing Korean artists who made art "glorifying the war." It charged that these artists
beautified and supported the Japanese Empire’s foreign war of aggression, and it was a time of extreme, treasonous acts like urging [Koreans] to go as far giving their lives for the emperor and the construction of Greater East Asia. Therefore the pro-Japanese activities of a good many Korean artists which got into full swing after the [start of the] Sino-Japanese War were not just anti-national / traitorous acts, but, in regard to driving a good number of Koreans to become cannon fodder in the war of aggression, compelling their deaths, they were also war crimes. The pro-Japanese art of that time deserves to be ruled as anti-national and anti-human criminal activity. [Page 179]
Needless to say, declaring the activities of artists to be "war crimes" pulls off the neat trick of making Kim Ku's "Practically everyone in Korea is a collaborator. They all ought to be in jail" seem moderate in comparison. Kim was right to some degree, in that everyone living in Korea had to make some kind of accommodation with the Japanese, regardless of how they felt. But admitting to such complexity does not seem to make for a useful national memory of the colonial period, so it's easier to draw a line and single out a small number of "traitors" who committed the sin of not resisting Japanese rule like the rest of the nation. As Don Baker pointed out, the argument between left and right in South Korea has not been over whether to allow for more or less nuance, but where to draw the line, with the left wanting Park Chung-hee and other elites connected to authoritarian rule and jaebeols included, and the right resisting this.

With the kind of Manichean discourse quoted above, rife with terms like "anti-national," "anti-human" and "war crime," being seen as not out of the ordinary in South Korea, it's not surprising that Ewha students would want to tear down the statue of a woman who devoted 40 years of her life to their university for her "traitorous" act of making comments supporting the Pacific War, whether it was a common-enough act among intellectuals at the time or not. Returning to the Ewha protest, here is a photo of the banner the students displayed (from here):

The text in red reads "I say goodbye Hwal-ran, okay" in English, but written in Hangeul. Ignoring the rudeness of using her first name, I couldn't help take note of the English in use on the sign. This actually dovetails into a thought experiment that came to mind some time ago in regard to the question of collaboration. Namely, what would happen if North Korea took over the South and and had to deal with a population that included many, many people who had links to the Korean race's eternal enemy, the United States? Would being able to speak English be cause for suspicion? (One assumes many English loan words would be excised from the language, as South Korea's Yusin government announced it would do in 1976.) Defectors have already spoken of the North Korean military's plan to set up camps to exterminate "half breeds," but what of people who had, say, studied in the US? They might say they were just trying to improve their lot in life, that it didn't mean they had any great love for the US, but if the North Koreans used the fundamentalist logic of the Institute for Research in Collaborationist Activities, they'd be sent off to camps - or worse - with little debate. While the excuses they might make for their "collaboration" with the US - a nation that some even now declare is "occupying" Korea - might suffice to justify themselves in their own eyes, it seems such latitude is not to be extended to people faced with difficult choices more than 70 years ago. 

All things considered, the issue of collaboration is a complex one, and is part of a debate which is still very much unfinished in Korea - as I believe much related to the colonial era will continue to be, as long as the country is divided. So it might be worthy of a bit more gravity than party hats and the equivalent of shouting "Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye."

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.