Soldiers get a glimpse of South Koreans' opinion of them
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — When a group of Hankuk University graduate students recently were asked their opinions of U.S. soldiers in South Korea, answers varied. Soldiers are everything from frightening to friendly, the students replied.
Their videotaped answers — with students expressing themselves in English — were shown to thousands of 8th Army soldiers during Tuesday’s New Horizons Day, when soldiers in South Korea got additional safety and cultural sensitivity training.
The videotape was produced by 8th Army’s civil affairs division, which also studies U.S. and South Korean relationships. It was shown at both Yongsan Garrison and Camp Red Cloud, where 8th Army commander Lt. Gen. Charles Campbell led the presentation to 2nd Infantry Division soldiers.
The videotaped students — all studying North American relations — harbored sharp views of U.S. soldiers.
In a homogenous country where non-Koreans are referred to as “foreigners,” the students’ comments reflected a nation demanding parity and equality with the United States.
“Now we should stand on the same line,” said one male student, referring to the end of fighting in the Korean War 50 years ago. “They try to use us as subordinates.”
Academic books have well documented the Korean term “han,” the collective pathos resulting from Korea’s rough history of being situated between major external powers such as Japan, Russia and China.
But it’s wrong for Koreans to think others look down on them, said Lt. Col. Robert Paquin, chief of Army strategic deployment. They’re not regarded as unequal in the alliance with the United States, he said.
One female student said it’s widely believed U.S. soldiers have low education. Soldiers watching the video groaned. If you interviewed U.S. students from the University of Kansas around Fort Riley, Paquin said, you’d find the same attitude.
“They have the perception that you are a G.I. Joe,” Paquin said. “I don’t think that’s a Korean-specific misperception.”
Another student said U.S. servicemembers seem aggressive and are feared. Other students said they’d seen conflicts between soldiers and shopkeepers, even physical violence. More than one student also believed U.S. soldiers are exempt from South Korean law and can escape prosecution.
But negative images seem to come from secondhand stories and the media, the students said. Those who had interacted one-on-one with American servicemembers gave high marks for easygoing attitudes and eagerness to make friends along with moderate attempts to learn parts of Korean culture.
“I feel that our presence here is for the young Koreans a negative situation,” said Sgt. 1st Class Patricia Dillard, of 8th Army communications. “I think they are a little intimidated by us as a group.”
Dillard said she formed close bonds with South Korean soldiers who are attached to U.S. Army units. This is Dillard’s third tour in South Korea, and South Korean soldiers whom she served with previously kept in touch with her when she returned to the United States.
At the Camp Red Cloud theater, soldiers had similar reactions to the video.
Sgt. 1st Class Lawrence Marcus of Headquarters and Headquarters Command said many of the bad impressions involved cultural differences.
Another student in the video said he had both negative and positive impressions of U.S. soldiers. He was among a group of men arrested after fighting with soldiers in a shop.
“The shop owner complained they were not ordering much alcohol and annoying other people. They were talking too loud and calling girls as if they were trying to flirt with them.
“We had a fistfight and were arrested. The U.S. Army police took those guys away. It was a negative image.”
However, the young man said he often saw soldiers going to historical sites or trying to learn the Korean language.
“When I meet them they have big smiles and friendly gestures which give me good impressions,” he said.