Guidance from the Public Affairs Chief

I meet my Pentagon appointed public affairs contact, Jim Coles, Chief of Public Information for U.S. Forces in Korea (to be referred to hereafter as Public Affairs) at Yongsan Army Garrison in central Seoul, Command Headquarters for the Republic of Korea /US Combined Forces.

A civilian employee of the Army, Public Affairs is the official source of information on relations between U.S. soldiers and Koreans and is regularly quoted in stateside newspapers and appears on CNN and NPR as a spokesman for the military. He's a heavy set, ex-military man in late middle age who doesn't seem too keen on helping me report. In fact, he seems to despise me. His attitude is basically: Reporter, shut your mouth and listen to me, there are absolutely no problems here. Anything short of that enrages him.

Public Affairs' attitude is consistent with the army chain of command's reluctance to acknowledge any type of deviant behavior in the ranks. Every incident is dismissed as an aberration, a few bad apples. When I asked a Pentagon public affairs officer f or the numbers on crimes committed or on UCMJ actions, he tells me that's the old army, those problems are such a small part of today's military he's not even sure if they keep track of things like that. When I persist I find out that of course they do.

Public Affairs keeps me waiting in his office as he talks openly to his buddy on the phone about where to get a good Korean prostitute nowadays. He complains that some of these girls won't even touch an American guy now, preferring the rich Koreans and Japanese with their BMWs and asks rhetorically if his buddy can imagine how it feels to be snubbed by a whore.

Access to post means seems to mean listening unquestioningly to Public Affairs lecture me on Korean culture, offering "uh-huh" when he says Korean is "a completely fucked up language;" "uh-huh" to "Korean women aren't used to foreigners because most Asian men have small penises."

Public Affairs insists that all the problems between GIs and Koreans are caused by the irresponsible reporting of the Korean press. In May of 1995 a large brawl broke out among American soldiers and Korean passengers on a subway train, the latest incident in a series of crimes involving GIs and Koreans. Eight months later, when the issue was still resonating in the press, Public Affairs' stateside newspaper quote was: "The American guys were giving better than they were getting."

He tells me I can only interview soldiers with an escort present and dumps me off to a 25 year old 2nd Lieutenant, Maya Danforth, who's been in Korea for 15 months. She's getting out of the Army in 23 days and is supposed to be my P.R. guide.

A short while into a conversation it turns out Lieutenant Danforth doesn't think much of the Army. They try to break you and if they can't break you they get rid of you. That's what's happening to me," she says. Danforth tells me she didn't get along with her company commander (who's since been discharged from the Army) and who retaliated by sending her for a psychiatric evaluation. She says the commander had half the company in alcohol rehab, the other half seeing psychiatrists.

On being stationed in Korea, Danforth complains that there is absolutely nothing for soldiers to do but drink and there is nobody here who really cares about the welfare of the soldier. "The army doesn't have morality principles," Danforth says, "They have principles based on is somebody going to get killed and am I going to get in trouble because they got killed."

"You would not believe the stuff that goes on here," she says.

Click to Continue