One of the New York Times op-eds on Nov 6, contributed by Se-woong Koo, serves as a great example of the mindset of a sophist whose political cognitive dissonance fails him/her.
First of all, before going over the contention, let’s take a look at the author not because I want to launch an ad hominem attack but I know the controversies surrounding him; to be extremely frank, I could not understand why the Gray Lady asked Se-woong Koo for an opinion on the very subtle issue of the Korean Peninsula. Running his own blog www.koreaexpose.com, Koo has sporadically published controversial/controversy-seeking columns. It was one of his feminist articles “Gaejeossi (a pejorative term for a mid-aged Korean male) Must Die” that awarded him a short-term popularity among the radical Koreans. However, after a flurry of criticisms, he has deleted the article.
There are several reasons that hinder him from rising to prominence: first, he often takes the Obamaesque approach that introduces a personal account to bestow persuasive power on his argument. Yet, not an eloquent storyteller like Obama, Koo often loses the empathetic connection that bridges his experience and the readers; second, his arguments exclusively rely on the unfounded assumptions of his own. Some are even historically untrue; lastly, like many other Korean authors, nationalism and chauvinistic idealism are his last resort. However unrealistic they are, nationalistic narratives are still influential to the Koreans, a homogeneous ethnic group.
With the controversy-seeking title Is South Korea’s Alliance with the United States Worth It?, Koo once again bites more than he can chew by opining on South Korea’s national security. Although I am personally skeptical of taking his unrealistic proposal seriously and analyzing it, and I am more curious about the identity of the nutcase who allowed this comical figure to write a co-ed on the issue of enormous gravitas, I will briefly refute it anyway because perhaps some Koreans may wrongfully find such an implausible idea novel and ingenious.
First and foremost, Koo assumes an international alliance should be based on “brotherhood” or magnanimity on the most powerful side. He wrote, “Contrary to how South Korean conservatives and some Americans frame it, the protection, while something to be thankful for, has not been free.” A constructive alliance is based on mutual respect and serves mutual interests. Koo, please tell me who these Korean conservatives and Americans are to suggest you the protection be free. This absurd statement illustrates how ignorant this author is about foreign policy.
In the introduction, Koo told us his story about his mother and other women prepared meal for American soldiers. Perhaps he found it so humiliating. Then he tried to leap from his personal account to something grave, “Housewives haven’t been the only South Korean women to toil for the pleasure of American soldiers in the ensuing decades. As detailed by Katharine Moon in her authoritative study Sex Among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S.-Korea Relations, the South Korean military dictatorship coerced women into sex work for American soldiers.” There are several logical weaknesses behind this statement: first, he assumes his mother’s toil preparing food as exploiting as military prostitution; second, Katherine Moon’s study is NOT authoritative in military prostitution analysis. It is unclear what convinced him to posit one particular scholarly work to be authoritative. Furthermore, Katherine Moon did not even propose the severance of the US-KOR alliance. In short, Koo picked one of America’s bad reputations and expected it to disillusion his readers who believe in the alliance; third, South Korea’s military dictatorship officially ended in 1987 while the US-KOR alliance has continued to this day. Koo’s intention was to label the US Forces Korea as a sponsor of dictators.
Then, Koo made up a story to bolster his tedious anti-American rhetoric. He described the Yangju Highway Incident as “one of the most heinous examples happened in 2002 when an American military vehicle ran over two middle-school students, crushing them to death. The perpetrators were shielded from South Korean authorities and a United States military court dismissed the case.” Did anyone in the New York Times not conduct a fact check at all? The fact is the defendants, two American soldiers, were tried in the US military court. The US Forces did not dismiss the case but the defendants were found not guilty of “negligent homicide.”
Koo’s mythomania continued, “Vietnam, where some 5,000 South Koreans died and many suffered from exposure to the United States-made chemical weapon known as Agent Orange; and to Iraq in the 2000s, despite enormous local protests.” Listen, Koo: Agent Orange was not used in Iraq. He should also provide the source from which he brought up the number 5000; it is dubious because a report estimates the number of Korean victims about 2000.
Perhaps it is not Koo’s logical jumps and lies that the nutcases in the New York Times appreciated but Koo’s anti-Trump conclusion. He wrote, “Consider Mr. Trump’s repeated threats to incite war here, and the majority of the American public’s indifference to Korean lives.” What a brilliant tactic it could be, morally blaming the Trump-voting Americans as “indifferent to human lives” But It is Kim Jong-un who repeatedly threatens to attack the enemy states. And not surprisingly, Koo did not even mention the name of the North Korean warmongering autocrat. A month ago, the New York Times introduced Korean fiction writer Hang Kang’s shudder at President Trump, another questionable op-ed on foreign policy contributed by another layperson who did not say a word about Kim Jong-un.
In the end, Koo tried to appeal to Korean nationalism, “Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany didn’t hesitate to say in May that Europe can no longer “completely depend” on the United States. “We Europeans have to take our destiny into our own hands,” she said. After being a dutiful ally for more than six decades, it may be time for South Koreans, too, to take their destiny into their own hands.” Is it only me that Koo’s proposal sounds like North Korea’s “Juche” (self-reliance) rhetoric? Kim Jong-un is so obsessed with nukes because he believes it is the only way he can take his destiny into his hands. Koo, do you really believe South Korea and Germany are in the same league in terms of national defense? Foreign policy does not care about your pride as a Korean; the United States is South Korea’s irreplaceable ally. Leave the Trump matters to the American voters.
Koo is a typical nationalistic sophist: he is not knowledgeable about how foreign policy works, frequently distorts and fabricates facts, and appealing to nationalism is his last resort. Perhaps, Koo needs to read the Melian Dialogue, an authoritative text in foreign policy. Just remember how the Athenians responded to the Melians who lost themselves in the maze of cognitive dissonance. Every dream has its rude awakening – Koo, you’re warned.