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[Op-Ed] 2002 Girls` Deaths Revisited

Posted May. 08, 2009 08:18,   


Russel Honore was a U.S. 2nd Infantry division commander when an American military armored vehicle accidentally ran over two middle school girls in Yangju, Gyeonggi Province, in 2002. In his just published memoir “Survival,” he said that at a time when Korea was at the center of global attention for its co-hosting of the FIFA World Cup and old politicians who survived the Korean War were being replaced by young politicians friendly toward North Korea, the death of the two girls unleashed anti-American sentiment across South Korea. Honore also said the major responsible for issuing public statements on the incident gave explanatory details rather than showing an apologetic attitude, which was a mistake in light of Korean culture. “I was distressed and disappointed to leave (South) Korea as demonstrators called me a murderer and demanded that the U.S. military leave Korea,” Honore said.

When the two girls were killed while heading for a birthday party, the U.S. military sent the two soldiers involved home, saying, “They bear no responsibility as the accident occurred in the process of performing a legitimate operation.” In response, Korean college students blocked 30 armored vehicles under the U.S. 2nd Infantry division in Paju and staged protests Aug. 3. On Nov. 26, protesters cut a barbed-wire fence and broke into Camp Red Cloud, a U.S. military base in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province.

Recollecting his farewell ceremony in July 2002 when a group of demonstrators gathered outside Camp Casey in Dongducheon, north of Seoul, Honore wrote, “Though Korea had thousands of police officers, it only dispatched a small force that day.” Despite his efforts to assuage anger and make peace with the Korean public, he said no one stepped up to help him. As if to express his regret over the Korean government’s passive response, Honore alluded to the 33,000 American soldiers killed and 103,000 wounded in the Korean War, as well as the U.S. military presence in South Korea for more than half a century.

When leftist groups attempted to remove the Gen. Douglas MacArthur statue at Freedom Park in Incheon in September 2005, Chairman Henry Hyde of the House International Relations Committee sent a letter to then President Roh Moo-hyun to express discontent. Hyde said in the letter that Washington will take back the statue to the general’s homeland. Through the unilateral assistance, market opening, and security umbrella of the U.S., South Korea has become the world’s 13th-largest economy. Therefore, South Korea should find a way to maintain its national self-esteem while preserving its bilateral alliance with Washington forged in blood.

Editorial Writer Park Seong-won (swpark@donga.com)