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[Opinion] Cafe USA

Posted November. 16, 2004 23:07,   


U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill was in the limelight even before he started his official duties in August. This was because he went out of his way to meet various personnel of various social strata after his inauguration than his predecessors did. It was almost enough to make U.S. embassy employees gripe: “Maybe it’s because he’s a young (52) ambassador, but setting up the tight schedule that he demands is overwhelming.” He was also the first in the history of U.S. ambassadors to pay his respects at the National Cemetery for the May 18th Revolution. It was probably because he realized that at a time when relations between Korea and the U.S. are more sensitive than ever, national diplomacy was important, and even dire.

Perhaps that was the reason why the U.S. Embassy opened a “Cafe USA” on an internet portal site early this month. Ambassador Hill wrote in his greetings that “Cafe USA is the beginning of our two-way dialogue with the Korean people to listen and understand your feelings on key issues.” Seeing as late last month, Secretary of State Colin Powell squeezed some time out of his tight schedule to talk to youngsters in a visit to Korea, the United States’ attitude towards South Korea has changed substantially. It can also be seen as a cautious measure, taking in the immense influence of the internet on Korean society.

There is news of this “Cafe USA” being polluted with profane language and criticism not 10 days into its grand opening. The cafe has been plastered with writings exposing overwrought emotions about Korea and the U.S. There is the instance of a anti-American song some years ago called “F*cking USA,” but that is a far cry from posting embarrassing messages on an official site of the American Embassy. To quote one netizen’s reprimand, it is most assuredly like the axiom: “lying down and spitting,” and is a national disgrace.

It is time to step in their shoes. Let us pretend that the Korean embassy in Washington, concerned about the Americans’ aversion, created a “Cafe Korea.” What if American netizens crashed the site and hurled foul invectives at Korea? Chances are, good intentions will settle into bad feelings. It is too much to expect the general public to display polite courtesy and control as ambassadors do. The public, however, must have the decency to have basic reason and judgment. Especially since internet manners are a gauge to measure a nation’s cultural level.

Song Moon-hong, Editorialist, songmh@donga.com