Swallowing Your Pride

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.



I am a US military veteran that has served all over the world to include in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea. I have been blogging about Korea, Northeast Asia, and the US military for over 10 years.


  1. Even if the GI started the fight which in the subway incident which by all acounts they did not start it Mr. Suh is the one that admitedly approached them, but even if they just did radomly walk up to Mr. Suh on the subway and punched him, that still does not give the mob of “concerned citizens” the right to kidnap them bring PVT Murphy to a stadium of 6,000 people to continue to rough him up and make him make false confessions and then take him to the hospital to continue to make more false confessions on TV.

    Something else people need to realize is that majority of these soldiers are in the 18-20 years old range are still immature, first time away from home, and in America they couldn’t drink.

    They come to Korea and go to the ville they are surrounded by women who are building up their egos even though they only want their money then they got all this alcohol offered to them even though they are underage all the clubs sell to them anyway. So you got these young immature people first time drinking, plus the juicy girl factor thrown in. Having been a veteran of more CPs than I can remember the majority of the fights are these younger soldiers who fight over drinky girls. One drinky girl dumps the soldier for another soldier because the other soldier is feeding her more money. The dumped soldier comes to the club drunk sees the girl with another soldier and a fight occurs. This is the reason USFK raised the drinking age to 21 to help reduce the number of drunk young soldiers in the ville and it has helped. The number of incidents is way down since they changed the drinking age. However, it is all soldier on soldier fighting not Korean on soldier fighting. I have spent three of my past five years in Korea and have done many CPs and read the blotter reports. Keep in mind this is for the 2ID area and I can count on one hand the number of soldiers fighting with Koreans. All involved alcohol but they did not turn out in mob mentality melees. There was a fight it got broke up. It didn’t turn into a xenophobic hate fest mob of “concerned citizens.”

    Now for ESL teachers or other non-military types you should be college educated to teach in a hagwon or whatever job you got, you have learned to handle your alcohol due to your age and college experience, plus you should of gotten all your hellraising days out of your system in college. So of course this group probably isn’t going to start as many fights compared to soldiers. I can conceed this fact. In the 2ID area you don’t see any expat types like you would in Itaewon and you wouldn’t want to come to clubs here anyway. They suck. I would hope however that you are more mature than the younger soldiers.

  2. Do you have reasonable access to information about events like this in Korea for the past 10 years of so?

    Even when I was at a library with good source material on Korea, it was hard for me to do research for them for the anti-USFK newsletter (now at http://www.usinkorea.org).

    From my experience watching the press, about 2 of these "good citizen" Korean episodes happen each year, with most of them being less dramatic or attention grabbing in the press than the stabbing incident and certainly the 2002 subway incident.

    But, I am guessing that more such incidents happen — confrontations between GIs and Korean males – followed by other Korean male good citizens jumping in —— that don't make it into the news.

    But, I'm sure USFK hears about them from the local police. I'd like to get more information about those incidents and/or some statitical idea of how often they happen and how they are usually handled by the judicial system and/or local police.

    Every year, we get the annual crime statistics which sometimes the press will break down by types of cases, but that just gives me the number of reported assaults and such, and that isn't very indepth.

    If you have any information you'd like to share or comments or whatever in relation to this topic or what I try to do with the anti-USFK website, email me at usinkorea@hotmail.com.

    Since I'm not in Korea any more and won't be going back except for short visits from now on, I need to keep some contacts with an ear on the ground so I don't find myself getting way off base on what is going on in Korea these days.

  3. My first comment didn't make it, because I was unfamiliar with the system.

    It was brief.

    I had not heard the story about the immediate events after the dr. was stabbed. Thanks for the info.

    On the Boylan case, I thought he was walking in the tunnel late at night when people wouldn't be around. I thought that was why the attackers chose him and that location – few witnesses?

    On the 2002 case, "If those guys would of just walked away they may have been able to avoid the incident that happened."

    From what I read about it (I think you posted a link to my review of it at Oranckay's), it is somewhat of a stretch to think the soldiers could have just walked away easily.

    The crowd with Suh was large and they were moving up and down the subway handing out fliers for the anti-US rally, and from most accounts by all sides, the confrontation wasn't a quick one — as quick as you seem to see in descriptions of street confrontations like the Shinchon incident.

    It sounded to me like the GI in the 2002 subway incident tried to ignore the initial approaches of the students and Suh, but they forged ahead. Also, so many of these big incidents happen on the trains because it isn't so easy to just get away.

    This was also during the first eruption of the tank accident fury. I was back in Korea for several months at the time, and I had a couple of incidents on the train and subway I managed to walk away from, but it wasn't easy, and I had grown out my faicial hair and let my hair grow long like I did when I was a hakwon teacher so the Koreans would know I wasn't a soldier. I was also used to Korea after having been there several years, and I was used to spotting potential trouble spots and trouble people, and crossing the street or changing subway cars to avoid them, but in the fall and winter of 2002, I still ran into a few not so pleseant problems in public transportation places in Korea. (I was on the train and subway and buses a lot each day during those months).

    But in genearal, I agree with you 100% about these incidents and the good citizen Koreans jumping in.

    I got the impression not getting involved in the happenings of strangers (the "it's none of my business" mentality) was the norm in Korea like it was in the US perhaps in the 1950s and earlier.

  4. Even though the soldier was provoked by Mr. Suh by the slap to the face he should not have responded by hitting him in the face. They should of tried to walk to a different car and get away from them. But you are correct that in this incident that may not have helped because the number of militant students on the train seem determined to start something. I just think the soldier PVT Murphy was probably to quick to start throwing punches though in his mind he felt justified after being slapped.

    It is a tough situation but never the less those soldiers should have never been allowed to be abducted and forced to make confessions. The people that abducted them should of been arrested instead they are treated as heroes.

    If I abducted the next taxi cab driver that tries to over charge me and forcefully bring him on to my camp, rough him up, and put him on AFKN; showing him signing a confession for what he did what do you think these same people that abducted PVT Murphy would be saying?

    That is why I say it is not a cultural issue it is in fact a legal issue. The abductors feel like they will not get in any legal trouble for abducting soldiers so they go ahead and do it.

  5. Great post!

    As you said, "concerned citizens" only seem to pop up when there is a confrontation between a Korean and a non-Korean. When Korean husbands beat their Korean wives, minding one's own business is the rule of the day… When Koreans attack non-Koreans, it's "nothing to see here, move long." But when there is a fight between a Korean and non-Korean, the atavistic impulses come to the surface, and the non-Korean will find himself facing a mob.

  6. That's kind of nonsense. You tried to EXPRESS like GIs are completely innocent people. Most of the time when I have been hanging out with GIs, the source of the fight has been originated from them in the way of provoking somebody's anger. For one instant, I'm pretty sure that you would hear about the Jack-ass film. During the about 30 minutes' episode, there are assorted with a variety of slapping someone's face, taking a shit over someone's face so on and on. It's quite entertaining. However, it's not ended only with appreciating it. But also appreciators are likely to be induced to copy of what they have seen thinking that it's cool. In the course of that, it could've been generated in the way of harming innocent people. To some extent, it could be seen that proportionately American culture have absorbed of fun of slightly molesting people or sometimes of getting molested. I think that it could illustrate that all the reason of making a trouble could be originated from the clash of two disparate culture like even though same thing happens to both, one could think it of being rude, and the other senses it not. So it could be solved to some degree in the way of sincerely giving a respect to each other's culture rather than a lawful enforcement.

  7. GI,

    Only now you decide to join the bandwagon of dissent?

    The Korean double standard toward outsiders is a Mafia code of ethics generated by unrepentant Asian tribalism. Did your American anti-racism indoctrination have you blinded to this fact all these years?

    When Prez Roh campaigned for his election promising "equality" with America — I bet you thought it was "sweet" — and hailed him as Korean Martin Luther King.

    Now, I detect cynicism from you.

    But, I see you cannot completely shake off the anti-racism blinkers given to you. I suspect they provide a form of protection for your military career. I discern you are an inveterate military "go along, to get along" sycophant.

    "The American soldier must swallow his pride and walk away", in the same manner as you swallow your pride and walk away from Jodi's and Marmot's anti-white socialism rubbed in America's face.

    Be on notice: Anti-racism is a cultural bane to all races in America.

    What shadowy and sinister force in the military has you so afraid to think otherwise?

  8. I did not say anywhere in my post that GIs do not have some blame for some of the incidents. I stated that the soldier on the subway was probably to quick to strike back after being slapped. I also clearly stated that the soldiers involved in the Shinchon stabbing were wrong for what they did and were punished in both the Korean courts and the military judicial system.

    What punishment did the Korean mob get in each incident that included assault and kidnapping? Nothing.

    I do respect Korean culture but I don't respect anyone that assaults and kidnaps people no matter what culture they claim to come from.

  9. GI,

    I'm not in the Silly Sally camp by any means…

    …but on the 2002 subway incident…

    what you think only holds up, it seems to me, if the slap, laying hands on, or whatever level of contact Suh made was the initial trigger.

    From my reading of the various accounts, it was not.

    Suh gives different accounts, but even in one of them, he says the students promoting the anti-US/USFK rally were already in a confrontation, including some level of "scuffling" before Suh made his own physical contact and then some moments/seconds later the GI started letting loose with punches.

    So, my conclusion from following the stories on the incident is that the event was a serious of escalations. I'm not even sure the punches thrown by the GI were in direct result of Suh's hand on the GIs face (punch, slap, or whatever). I can just as easily picture, from the different discriptions given about the incident from people there, that the students took Suh's joining in the physical confrontation as a green light to jump from pushing and minor kicking to slaps and punches, and this more so than Suh's actions led to the GI throwing haymakers.

    Is this the way it happened? I don't know. It is one of the possibilities given what has been said by the different camps involved.

    It is also what the soldier said both in the video apology shot by the activists in the hospital and in the signed confession the activists at the rally forced the GI to write. In both, he says he started throwing punches, because he was being hit and kicked by several different people surrounding him.

    Let me put my general feelings on the idea of walking away to solve the problems this way —-

    I have had a couple of cases where I let a drunk Korean male late at night grab my shirt sleeve or the front of my shirt and push and pull on me and curse me in Korean, and I "endured" it until he let go and I managed to walk away. In one case, trying to walk away only led to grabbing my clothing again. And this process went on one more time, before he saw I wasn't going to play, and he let me move on.

    I also had a friend who was a GI who was the husband of someone (a white girl) I worked with, and she said while site seeing near a palace in Seoul one late afternoon, a 30 something Korean male walked over and kicked her husband in the thigh Taikwondo style, and she wanted her husband (an officer) to kick his ass since he was a state level champion wrestler, but he just pulled her away and walked off.

    Those are fine choices and do save us from having a confrontation blown up in the Korean press and causing all white and black and hispanic expats in Korea a tougher time because such events generate more anti-USFK/US feelings.

    BUT —– and this is a big but —— if a soldier or any expat in my situtaions or the husband of my friend faced —-

    had chosen to defend themselves —-

    and it did generate a spike in anti-American activity —

    I am not going to tell that person they should have walked away.

    I'll ride out the wave of anti-Americanism convinced the physical response was just as valid as walking away.

  10. "event was a serious of escalations" should be series of escalations

  11. I absolutely agree with you.

    I have been attacked by Koreans for being a white guy fifteen times in my 49 months in Korea -in four cases, the attackers, my former employers at Mapo Ewha American Language School in Seoul included, tried to stab me – and the police did sweet f.a. about the psycho Korean attackers. In the case of Mapo Ewha American Language School, the Yongsan-gu police investigator told me all foreigners are not welcome in Korea.

    Let's face it: Korea is still backwards and messed up in most respects. Double standards are the rule in almost all situations involving whites or blacks and Koreans. Locals I have worked with and the ones married to my Westerner buddies have bluntly told me that they do not care that the staus quo is this way but that they would demand equal rights in Canada and the U.S. Hypocrisy is the AVERAGE Korean's middle name, and that is a demonstrably true claim.

  12. As a third party observer, I've seen far more trouble started by the GI's than anything. It's kinda ridiculous to think that they come off as totally innocent when there's some sort of confrontation. Something must've happened to trigger that.

  13. I love the way Kyopos like Eric talk about all the "crimes" of GIs. Funny thing though. I never see kyopos go to Itawon.

    When will americans realize that korean and Kyopos fucking hate the USA. Even those fucking katusa hate the yankees.

    Silly sally you are never going to get message to korean shit eaters like GI korea or Marmet hole. They are too busy kissing korean ass.

  14. I didn't spend much time around soldiers while in Korea and didn't go to Itaewan hardly at all, so I have personal background to go by. I have, however, been in a few discussions with people who say they have seen soldiers be the ones to start most of the trouble, but when I asked for further clarification, it rang hollow.

    I'm not saying it isn't true at all. Having been around US college town bars and Korean college bars, I did notice that young adult Americans tend to have fights inside and outside such clubs on a regular basis, but I don't remember seeing any in Korea.

    That doesn't mean America is more violent, because I don't remember seeing any middle aged women slapping each other and pulling hair in a super-walmart on a regular basis, but when I lived near an E-Mart, it seemed like it happened every weekend when I went to buy produce.

    And of course street riots are a national pass time in South Korea.

    I just reserve judgement when I read a comment like the one above — that a person has regularly seen GIs start the fights — that is quickly followed with "they must have done something to start them."

    A big part of the doubt comes from my own experience.

    I worked with a Canadian teacher in his mid or early 50s who was a nice guy, but a product of the 60s.

    A Korean female friend I had met in France had come to visit me in Wonju up from Masan. (I should mention the girl was just a friend and that she was absolutely beautiful — she was stared at constantly in France – and in Korea).

    We were going site seeing, and while we stood at a bus stop in the city, a 20 something Korean male walked over to me with fists clenched and got right on top of me with his nose about an inch from my face and stood there glaring at me. He was not drunk. This was around 10 AM.

    I was shocked and stood there like an idiot for what seemed like forever, before I gingerly disengaged myself (I could even just backup without effort since he was right on top of me), and I told my friend we should move to another bus stop.

    Later that same day, virtually the same thing happened. This time the person didn't stand so close, but another 20 something Korean, sober male squared off defiantly in front of me begging me to say something/anything.

    This time my friend suggested we just go home, which we did, and for the next two days, she decided we'd only take taxis directly to places and not do much walking around, and she told me I needed to quit my job and move to a hakwon in Pusan where there were more foreigners.

    I guess you can say there WAS a reason these guys wanted to pick a fight, but that isn't how the comment I'm responding to put it.

    My point in the story, however, was this. When I told the Candian teacher about it when school started back — he did all he could to dismiss it.

    "You must have misunderstood." I fought that line of argument for awhile, and I finally moved him off of it by suggesting he call my friend and asking if she had misunderstood what was going on in this encounter since she is Korean too.

    "You must have done something" was the next argument, and I eventually got frustrated enough by it to close the topic altother.

    For the rest of his year in Korea, from time to time when we were walking in the street, he might see a mixed couple, and he'd say, "See. Nobody's trying to pick a fight with them."

    There is a strange phenomenon at work here, and I noticed it with more than just him. Some people go out of their way to keep the good feeling they want about Korea by dismissing the negatives…

    Also, I could relate some of the other examples I had of being confronted in public by Korean males, and in absolutely none of them is there a clear action on my part that would suggest a "reason"/justification for the confrontation.

    In fact, I'll put up this example. I went to a small, traditional site in near Paju. This place was of interest to me in my research. It was advertised on the internet by Paju city. It was also in a couple of tourist book guides I'd bought. And it was in guide brochures Paju city puts out.

    I went to it, and being small, I was the only tourist (Korean or non-Korean) there at the time. I started taking pictures of the outside of the compound and the tourist info sign boards (with the history of the place in Korean and English), when the caretaker (a Korean in his early 30s) came out, glared at me, then went inside. I came in through the gate, and I started taking pictures of the place and looking around, when the guy came back out and started screaming at me demanding to know why I was there and for me to tell my story (which is a rough translation of what he was saying in Korean). He really wasn't asking these questions for any reason other than to have something to scream, because he figured I didn't know enough Korean to understand him, but when I answered him in Korean that the tourist official at Paju city hall had told me this was a tourist attraction (which was the truth. The head of the office sat with me and one of his people and mapped out a course for me to follow to see the different historical buildings I wanted to see that day — which was much nicer than what I would have gotten in the US) — anyway, when I said this in broken Korean, the man stopped screaming and just glared at me, until his wife called to him from inside their building, and told him to shut and come inside.

    Did I mention this was in 2002? Late fall. In Paju. The town near which the two middle school girls were crushed to death?

    When I got back to university in the US, and I was telling a friend about this, a visiting prof on Korean studies (a white male) was listening, and then he proceeded along the same lines as the Canadian. I must have misunderstood.

    How the fuck do you misunderstand someone ten yards from you screaming at you at the top of his lungs?

    He went on to say I should have found the guy first, and asked permission to come to the site, because in Korean society — blah blah blah blah blah…..

    First, I would have had to go into the site to locate the guy to begin with, unless he was suggesting I should have stood 'a respectful distance away' and shouted out in the politest level of Korean for permission to approach.

    But, what I told this prof was that I didn't think it normal even in Korea to have to apologize for visiting a tourist attraction open to the public and advertised on the internet and elsewhere.

    His response, "Gosh, that's an American way of thinking."

    I did well to keep from letting my temper go at this point. I didn't really get mad at the guy at the Korean tourist site until later that night when I started thinking about it more. But I wanted to punch this professor in the face.

    He isn't alone, however. This is an odd phenomenon I've run across some among expats in Korea.

    Perhaps it can be argued others and even I might tend to jump to the conclusion the Koreans are at fault when I hear of events like these we've been discussing, but I try to guard against it, and I try to find as much information as I can on individual instances before I solidify conclusions.

    But, having been through confrontations that had nothing to do with bad acts of my own, I get a little touchy when I hear "they must have done something, or else it wouldn't have happened."

  15. Hey sniffy, I said "as a third party observer". I'm neither a 'kyopo' or an American, nor do I hate Americans. All I said was my personal observations, if you don't like it, then too bad fella.

  16. I don't think the good citizen stories are limited to the unviersity student crowd.

    The articles from events that come to mind were not specific on who the members of the good citizen group were, but I did't get the impression that they were mostly university students — in these examples that come to mind.

    I don't remember the 1995 subway incident mob being mostly university students.

    I can also remember a couple of cases involving taxi drivers and US soldiers where the mob came from regular people in the street, and I don't believe either case was in a university entertainment area.

    I can think of a shop lifting example in one of the shopping areas where the mob chased but did not catch the soldier who snatched some goods and ran.

    And I can think of a bar district case, not in Itaewan I believe, where two soldiers running from the mob went into a bar and barracaded the door and refused to open it until the police came and backed the crowd up. And I didn't get the impression this was a university student group or a university entertainment area.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *