Conflicts with South Koreans on the Rise

In South Korea, where the U.S. military has been a presence since 1950, there are approximately 98 installations spread throughout the country - from small camps close to the North Korean border to posts that are closer to small towns, complete with golf driving ranges and mini-malls, all closed to non-military personnel. The hostility and separation between Koreans and American soldiers is palpable, off-post as well as on. In the barracks the KATUSAs (Korean soldiers assigned to U.S. military units) and the American soldiers are almost completely segregated, living in different rooms, with little interaction. American soldiers call the KATUSAs gophers, insist they're weird, gay, have no respect for their rank and are vaguely annoyed by the fact that they speak a different language and eat strange food.

American soldiers say Korean men are jealous because they get all their women. They call them gooks and mock their language during protests: "Yankee Go America," "Go Hell." The resentment the Americans feel toward Koreans isn't just expressed by the men . A female American soldier at one post, Specialist Danielle Moseley, says, "Korean women [speak English] when they want the GI. 'Buy me drinkee, I give you something,' " she imitates.

Other female soldiers say Korean women try to marry young GIs for "That big PX in the sky," and try to get a military ID "So they can sign their little friends in."

"GIs, they love Korean girls for their pleasure, they don't like KATUSAs I think," says PFC Yung Jin Yang, a soft-spoken 22-year-old who's been a KATUSA for a year. Yang had looked forward to being a KATUSA, thinking that he'd be living and interacting with Americans and would have a chance to improve his English but he's so far been disappointed. He took me around off base, eager to introduce me to Korean food, explain the culture, the language, shocked that an American would ask him what a Korean word meant, would actually want to have a conversation with him. He thinks American soldiers take pleasure in ordering the college educated KATUSAs to mop floors.

Jin Soo Lee, a KATUSA who is Yang's roommate says, "Changing our position, U.S. and Korea, if a United States woman who could be your sister or your mother or your daughter, is dancing in front of Korean soldiers, how would you feel about that?"

Last year there were over 861 reported offenses committed by American service members involving the Korean public. The most recent incident was the September 11th arrest of Pvt. Eric Munnich, a 22-year-old soldier, who confessed to strangling Lee Ki Sun, a 44-year-old Korean woman, allegedly over an argument about payment for sex.

And there have been a steady diet of incidents, seldom reported in the stateside press, that have reinforced the tension. In the last year there has been regular protests and demonstrations by Korean nationals outside of U.S. military bases, including nine days of campus protests involving over 7,000 students, demanding among other things the removal of U.S. troops. There has been a fire bombing of a U.S. housing complex, 8 GIs were accused of beating two South Korean men who were trying to break up the ir fight with a cab driver, an 18-year-old soldier was arrested for the aggravated assault of a 48-year-old Korean woman outside of a club, another soldier was arrested for breaking and entering and attempted rape, yet another was accused of raping and beating a bar hostess, a civilian employee of the Army was arrested for beating a Korean woman who later died of her injuries and a host of other arrests and accusations.

In 1993, the rape and murder of a Korean woman, Kum E. Yoon, by an American soldier, Private Kenneth Markle - - a name now recognized throughout Korea - - led to widespread outrage and protests. A crime scene photograph of Yoon was passed to me by a Korean minister in New York City who runs a domestic abuse shelter there for Korean woman married to or abandoned by American servicemen. The photo shows Yoon's naked body sprawled on the floor of her apartment, legs spread widely apart, her body and face covered with blood and powdered laundry detergent, a bottle inserted in her vagina and an umbrella inserted 11 inches into her rectum. Her murder led to the formation of a Korean organization called The National Campaign to Eliminate Crimes by U.S. Military in Korea which keeps track of crimes committed by military personnel in Korea and is involved in activism against military abuses.

Click to Continue