SEOUL — The muzzle of American firepower is needed to ensure the financial and physical security of South Korea, the president of the Korean Veterans Association said recently.

“Without a doubt, security on the peninsula will become unstable, as the Americans deter war with their unmatched power,” said Lee Sang-hoon. “Who would invest in a country where security is not guaranteed? The financial sector would be paralyzed.”

In an interview with Stars and Stripes, Lee said the incident in which two South Korean teenage girls were killed by a U.S. armored vehicle prompted a wave of anti-U.S. military movements. But protesters don’t consider the reality of a divided Korea, Lee said, with soldiers poised on both sides for war.

“Are they going to defend the Demilitarized Zone with banners after the American troops go home?” Lee asked.

The association, with 6.5 million members, is a staunch supporter of the U.S. military. Their passionate, anti-communist rallies often include the torching of a cardboard effigy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Lee cited the Philippines as a negative example of what happens when American troops withdraw. That country experienced a loss of law and order, as well as security, when U.S. forces pulled out in 1992 after the Mount Pinatubo eruption.

The exodus followed a movement to eject the U.S. military, which established bases after World War II that extensively supported the war in Vietnam.

Lee said about 10,000 Koreans employed by U.S. Forces Korea would lose their jobs, while an estimated $3 billion in spending linked to the American presence would disappear.

There are thousands of U.S. soldiers stationed around the world in countries such as Germany, Japan, England and Italy, but people in those nations do not violently protest, Lee said, adding that they instead look more toward their own national interests to solve problems.

During the last seven months, U.S. bases in South Korea have been targeted by increasingly aggressive attacks from protesters. Base fences have been cut, and incidents involving Molotov cocktail attacks and random vandalism also have surfaced.

U.S. soldiers on base have been subjected to physical assaults by South Koreans, although base officials have not publicly linked those attacks with anti-Americanism.

“We have to take note of the fact that no U.S. people want to come to Korea because of the anti-Americanism so frequently seen here,” Lee said.

— Choe Song-won and T.D. Flack contributed to this report.

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