Sunday, February 18, 2007

Thoughts on a news maelstrom

Well, not exactly a maelstrom. But the little translation project that I started two weeks ago has generated lots of press and reactions around the world. Having seen what people wrote on the pages linking to the translation, I would sum up the reactions as follows:
  • Non-Koreans with some connection to the country (typified by the people reading the Marmot's Hole or the Metropolitician's blog) have simply incorporated the book and the reactions to the news into their existing view of Korea. Those who blame nationalism for everything blame nationalism. Those like myself who blame education and intellectual laziness for all bad things Korean blame those two things. In other words, it just became another piece of evidence twistable enough to reinforce any preexisting belief.
  • Koreans seem to have two major reactions to the news reports. The commenters on the internet say "Damn Jews" and then go on to call for a new holocaust. This was extremely unexpected, I am quite sure. Someone says it's the classic Korean nationalist response to criticism from outside, and I'm sure there is some of that to it. The other reaction is "Yeah, but it's all true right? What's wrong with the truth? This reaction is typified by the article in Prometheus that I translated. It is based on the limited description of the book's chapter on Jews. If one reads the whole chapter it is clear that he is not describing the true history of Jewish power, whatever that may be.
  • People who have no connection to Korea, mostly coming from Little Green Footballs and similar sites is "Wow, Korea is incredibly racist." which is unfortunate. But unfortunately I think most people who know Korea would agree that it takes a major blow to Korea's national image to get anything changed around here. It took a few buildings falling down to get building inspectors here to start do their jobs, for god's sake.
  • From the author and publisher the reaction was particularly galling. The author apologized to Korean Americans for causing them trouble and vowed to change the offending passages in the next edition. This is the definition of a hush-up blow-off maneuver (HUBOM, not to e confused with HUBO)
And thus I must carry on fighting, until the book is no longer sold. American Korean-language online book store Hanbooks no longer sells the book, which is certainly a start.


Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You've done an excellent service in making Lee Won-bok's antisemitic passages known.

My own view is that much of the antisemitism in Korea is riding on the back of Leftist anti-Americanism. As for the role of nationalism, the Korean Left -- unlike the American and European Left -- is strongly nationalistic, so nationalism does play a role as well.

Xia-Sonagi has recently drawn my attention to an older blog entry by Antti Leppäsen, "Jo Jung-rae on holocaust and the Japanese occupation," which is worth looking at. In the commentary, Antti notes the existence of a Nazi blog, in Korea, which you might also want to take a look at.

Jeffery Hodges

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Joe Mondello said...

My own opinion on the Korean view of Jews is that most people who do think about Jews can only do so within the existing intellectual framework of victimization, so either the Jews are fellow victims (as in the Holocaust) or they are the oppressors (as many think they are in America,leaving Koreans free to identify with the vast majority of American gentiles as fellow victims).
That Nazi blog is shocking, but to me far more shocking is the atmosphere of casual antisemitism that I've encountered every time I've discussed this issue with a Korean. It is accepted as a fact that Jews either run the world or very nearly do, and whether the person thinks they are the evil oligarchs of the world or a venerable old race of almost proto-Koreans to be imitated, it's always based on the same half-learned information mixed with anecdotes from 'globalized' people like Rhie Won-bok. That's much more dangerous.