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Cablegate: Korean Nationalism Across the Generations

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DE RUEHUL #1104/01 1510615
ZNR UUUUU ZZH (CCY AD9AA3EF MSI8025-695)
P 300615Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0223
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 4357
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 8680
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 4493
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC//OSD/ISA/EAP// PRIORITY
RUEHIN/AIT TAIPEI PRIORITY 2712
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA CC SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J3 SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RUACAAA/COMUSKOREA INTEL SEOUL KOR PRIORITY

UNCLAS SEOUL 001104

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

C O R R E C T E D COPY CAPTION

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KS PGOV PREL PINR
SUBJECT: KOREAN NATIONALISM ACROSS THE GENERATIONS

1. (SBU) Summary. Prominent Korean researchers focused on
Korean nationalism studies believe recent beef protests are
motivated by what young Koreans see as a deviation from a
basic expectation of equity among nations. A distinct divide
separates the youth and adult protesters. The student-youth,
born around 1990, are motivated by an inward-looking concern
for their own health and frustration over the apparent lack
of fairness of President Lee Myung-bak,s agreement on beef,
seen as full of concessions to the U.S. Older Koreans lack
the student's expectation of fairness, and primarily object
to President Lee's deal for U.S. beef as yet another symbol
of Korean exploitation and victimization. As the students
mature, this cognitive divergence may shape the efficacy of
public diplomacy and eventually challenge basic Korean
motivations for sustaining the US-Korean alliance. End
summary.

2. (SBU) Interviews with two prominent ROK professors
specializing in research on nationalism within developing
nations, Dr. Kang Won-taek of Soongsil University and Dr. Lim
Jie-hyun of Hamyang University of Seoul, suggest South Korean
nationalism is more complex than conventional wisdom
reflects. According to Dr. Kang's research, modern Korean
youth, lacking specific memories of victimization, do not
share a sense of oppression. South Korean adult nationalism
tends to reflect the victimization ideology common to many
lesser-developed nations with a colonial heritage.

-----------------------------
Origins of Korean Nationalism
-----------------------------

2. (SBU) The roots of modern nationalist thought emerged
during the Japanese occupation (1910-1945). Unlike many
colonial relationships, Japan built considerable industrial
capability in Korea while attempting to eliminate traditional
Korean culture. By 1945 Korea accounted for approximately a
quarter of the Japanese industrial base. This history of a
foreign power simultaneously delivering oppression and
opportunity resulted in mixed feelings toward foreign powers
that still colors the South Korean perceptions of the US.

3. (SBU) Dr. Kang observed that anti-U.S. protests over the
accidental deaths of two girls in 2002, hit by a U.S.
military vehicle, reflected this oppression-opportunity
conflict. The political manipulation of the event was
steeped in colonial terms. This seemed to resonate well with
adults and in the traditional media. Editorials of the day
noted, however, that students would rail against the apparent
U.S. disregard for Korean life and then meet at McDonald's
and share American pop music.

---------------------
Hope is for the Young
---------------------

4. (SBU) Both professors agreed that South Korean students
today have almost no personal relationship to Japanese
oppression, the Korean War, or even the Cold War. Dr. Lim
said students today often participate in US-related protests
due to deliberate societal attempts to link nationalism and
victimization. However, Dr. Kang said the notion that
textbooks and curriculum, although designed to do so, fail to
instill a sense of oppression into Korean youth. The
students are now less likely than previous generations to
incorporate victimization into their self-identity. He feels
that nationalism defined by the old dual
oppression-opportunity dynamic simply lost the sting of
oppression. Today's ROK youth see the West as
opportunity--albeit one to be met on their terms. Their
presence in street protests against U.S. beef signals anger
with the process of reaching the beef importation agreement
-- seen as a gift to President Bush on the eve of the March
Summit -- rather than a systemic rejection of the U.S.-ROK
relationship.

5. (SBU) The idea that America would intentionally dump
harmful or infected products in South Korea appears in the
conventional media such as TV and print but, Dr. Kang notes,
does little to motivate the youth. Instead, rapidly
replicated text messages spur students' participation. These
messages lack the idea of victimization central to previous

generations' sense of oppression, and instead offer the hope
of empowerment. Unlike their parents, they are motivated by
what they perceive as a deviation from a basic expectation of
equity among nations. Drs. Kang and Lim both note that
students now are more likely to protest South Korean
President Lee Myung-bak's apparent exchange of Korean food
safety for political expediency. Their parents, however,
protest President Lee allowing Americans to once again take
advantage of South Korean weakness.

-------
Comment
-------
6. (SBU) The gradual loss of victimization identity within
South Korea bodes well for US-Korean relations, but these
professors' comments suggest that the U.S. should foster the
sense of equity in its dealings with South Korea. The next
generation entering positions of authority will likely be
less conflicted by a dual desire for protection and
liberation, but they appear attuned to South Korea being
treated like the advanced industrial country that it has
become. An emphasis on the U.S.-Korea Alliance as a global
partnership is in accord with those concerns.
VERSHBOW

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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