CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — A group of protesters is expected to gather for a candlelight vigil Wednesday night to remember two young South Korean girls crushed under a U.S. military vehicle on June 13, 2002.

People have gathered yearly in honor of Shin Hyo-sun and Shim Mi-son, both 13 when they died.

However, the numbers of protesters have dropped each year, according to 2nd Infantry Division briefings.

Only about 400 people gathered last year near the Yangju memorial site, 2nd ID officials said. Some ripped a large American flag and chanted anti-military slogans, while others simply remembered the victims. About 100,000 people attended the first vigil in Seoul in 2003.

Some academics attribute that drop to the lack of any new, truly national conflict in U.S.-South Korean relations.

Yonsei University political science professor Moon Chung-in says he doesn’t see an entrenched, widespread anti-American ideology in South Korea.

Even anti-U.S. demonstrations during U.S.-South Korea free trade talks earlier this year weren’t based on ideology as much as on economic nationalism, Moon said.

However, situational anti- American sentiment can flare out of reaction to U.S. policy — especially if it takes a hard line, Moon said.

“The children’s deaths became a big issue precisely because of the changing policy of the Bush administration on North Korea,” Moon said.

The deaths came five months after President Bush’s “axis of evil” speech, which branded North Korea a growing danger and potential terror sponsor. Meanwhile, South Korean relations with North Korea had been thawing.

Bush’s foreign policy combined with rising nationalism and political participation in 2002 to create the backdrop for unrest over the schoolgirl deaths, said sociology professor Kim Dong-no of Yonsei University.

“At that time, it was a big turning point in Korean history,” Kim said.

Nationalism crested in 2002 as South Korea hosted the World Cup soccer tournament and played far above world expectations.

A controversy during 2002 Olympic speed skating finals, where a Japanese-American questionably beat a South Korean, further fueled passions.

Those events didn’t cause the uproar over the schoolgirls’ deaths, but they set the stage, Kim said.

Before 2002, radical political groups and other small factions carried the anti-American banner, but most people did not agree.

The girls’ deaths “made anti- foreign, and especially anti-Americanism, quite popular among ordinary Korean people,” Kim said.

The military contributed to those feelings when officials didn’t apologize directly after the incident, Kim said.

Division officials at the time didn’t want to comment on the deaths while the incident was under investigation. Now, 2nd ID officials realize their delayed apology made relations worse, according to division briefings.

Kim says the feelings of 2002 have largely subsided. Although some of the same organizers are leading protests at military bases, they don’t have the same national backing they had in 2002.

Even the protests that have plagued Camp Humphreys’ expansion in Pyeongtaek don’t stir nationwide anger the way policies viewed as hurting ordinary North Koreans would, Kim said.

Most of the south viewed North Koreans negatively during South Korea’s earlier military rule. That changed with democratization in the late 1980s, Kim said.

Now, even if they don’t like Kim Jong-Il or North Korean politics, “most think of North Korean people as brothers or sisters,” Kim said.

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