On Oranckay’s blog he brings up a theory due to the recent stand off in the East Sea between the South Korean and Japanese Coast Guards, that detaining people is some what more acceptable in Korean culture compared to the US or Japan. He uses the 2002 USFK soldier abduction incident as an example:
Reminds me of the subway incident with some USFK soldiers in 2002. In my view the incident was a series of cross-cultural misunderstandings. I’ve met Suh Kyung Won personally on a few occasions and his public behavior over the years does make me believe that he probably touched one of the three US soldiers in one way or another, as he is accused of doing. No responsible public figure wants to be seen with him anymore, and he likes to make a scene and make himself a victim at demonstrations. But a man of his age can physically push a young man around in Korea, or at least do it and not then get a violent response, which appears to be what he got from the soldiers.
Americans think that once someone touches you you are authorized to unleash more than is necessary to merely get out of the situation. Angered by that, the students accompanying Suh dragged one of the soldiers on to the campus of nearby Kyunghee University to make him “apologize.” Well knowing that a US soldier had been taken by Korean students somewhere against his will, the riot police outside the school still chose not to raid the campus and rescue the guy. Like I’m saying, Koreans just don’t think “detaining” someone to make a point is full-fledged kidnapping or hostage taking, and the police, being Korean, knew instinctively that the soldier would be coming back soon enough. It was not worth breaching the unwritten rules of engagement that exists between students and riot police.
I’m convinced Mr. Suh intentionally provoked the fight in order to start an incident for his own propaganda purposes which he succeeded in doing. Oranckay is right that in American culture if some one slaps you or hits you, you feel you have the right to self defense. We brief soldiers that if a Korean national is trying to provoke a fight with you to walk away. If someone is comfortable enough to provoke a fight they probably got plenty of “concerned citizens” to help them out. “Concerned citizens” is Korean media code talk for an unrulely mob. The best thing to do in this situation is to swallow your pride and walk away. We use the 2002 subway incident as a perfect example of why you should do this. If those guys would of just walked away they may have been able to avoid the incident that happened.
We also brief the soldiers on the Shinchon Stabbing incident. That soldier was getting beat down by a mob so he pulled a knife out to defend himself and in the process seriously injured one of the Koreans involved in the melee. The soldier involved I have actually spoke with before and he maintains that the group he was with was assaulted by the “concerned citizens” after getting in a drunken arguement with them and that he pulled out the knife in self defense after the mob became to big and violent and had their own weapons. Carrying a knife in America is no big deal, here it is. In Korea if you pull out a knife their cultural norms treat it as if he pulled out a gun on someone in America.
Who knows who started the fight but the soldiers involved were wrong for being in the off limits area past curfew to begin with. That is why we have these policies to begin with to prevent stupid stuff like this from happening. So because of his stupidity he got convicted for attempted murder and got 3.5 years in ROK prison. He probably wishes he kept that knife at home now. However, in this incident the soldiers that did not pull out the knife were also detained by the Koreans on the scene and beaten. No Koreans were ever charged in this incident that I know of.
On the opposite end of the spectrum here is an incident where “concerned citizens” should of helped detain a violent Korean male who had just killed a US Army Major. Two officer friends of the Major held down the attacker while the crowd looked on and tried to take the murder weapon away from the soldier who secured it. No effort was made by the “concerned citizens” to help detain the attacker until two more US Army soldiers walked up to the scene and offered to help hold down the murderer so the other two officers could begin first aid on the Major.
So you have a case where a Korean guy is hit in the nose by GI after the Korean guy provoked the fight and three soldiers are detained and beaten.
Then you have another case where a soldier pulled out a knife and cut a Korean involved in the melee on the neck and he and everyone with him is detained and beaten.
But when a US Army Major is murdered no “concerned citizens” step in and help detain the murderer. The murderer wasn’t detained until two Americans arrive and held down the murderer. Who knows maybe if some of the “concerned citizens” stepped in and helped to immediately detain the murderer the other officers who were trained medical professionals may have been able to help perform first aid on the Major in time to help save his life.
Then in another interesting side note LTC Steven Boylan who was the 8th US Army spokesman was attacked and stabbed in a subway station near Yongsan while traveling to work. No “concerned citizens” bothered to detain his attackers either.
So I think that the detention issue in Korea is not really a cultural norm but a legal problem. If certain Koreans feel that they will not be prosecuted for detaining and harming foreigners than that is encouraging them to do just that. The “concerned citizens” on the subway kidnapped the soldiers off the train because they knew they could use them for propaganda purposes and could get away with it because the police would do nothing to them. It is the same thing with the fishing boat that detained the two Japanese Coast Guard personnel. Those fishermen know they aren’t going to get in any real trouble for what they did.
So with all the complaints that the SOFA is unfair I have decided to join the bandwagon and agree that it is unfair too, but not in the way most people think. I propose that when Koreans commit crimes against US soldiers they should be sent to US military courts. Seems fair to me because that is only way these kooks that commit kidnapping, assaults, destruction of property, and even murder of USFK personnel will receive proper punishment. The saddest thing about this though, is that very few Koreans even know about the kidnappings, assaults, and murder of US soldiers to begin with.
However, with all of this, the best policy if you are an American soldier in Korea is to swallow your pride and walk away. That would avoid many problems here to begin with.