To South Koreans, the United States is the beautiful rice country. After the Korean War, South Korea was a devastated land, requiring massive foreign aid to jump-start the fledgling economy and keep its population from starving. America initiated a plan similar to the Marshall Plan for Europe after World War II in which huge shipments of rice and other supplies were sent to Korea. Hence, "Miguk."
But when Americans think about our help to South Korea, we do not think about rice; we probably think about Gen. George MacArthur, the Incheon Invasion, military liberation and the 38th Parallel. One would assume that the Koreans would place a similar emphasis on military liberation before aid shipments, but this is not so. We are not known here as the beautiful liberation country; we are the beautiful rice country.
Why is this? I recently visited the War Memorial in Seoul. Painted on a wall outside the memorial is the phrase "Freedom Is Not Free." Etched in the stone walls are the names of the more than 100,000 Korean soldiers who died in World War II.
Nearby is a museum about Korean military history where I learned of Admiral Yi's destruction of the Japanese Armada 400 years ago, though I saw little about the Japanese occupation from 1907 to 1945. I found many historic examples of Korea's advanced military technology but little about Korea's tendency to adopt China's scientific innovations.
In the Korean War exhibit of the museum, there was little information on MacArthur's Incheon Invasion and much more about the daily struggles of a Korean foot soldier.
I believe the war memorial is an attempt by South Korea to create a myth of self-liberation. This is not at all unusual for countries liberated from outside forces and allies.
The French created a similar myth about the role of the Resistance in ousting the Nazis in 1944, neglecting the fact that the British and Americans were the true liberators.
We should also note that Americans have conveniently forgotten it was only with the aid of the French military that we won independence from Britain at the Battle of Yorktown.
America will hopefully liberate the Iraqi people from their oppressive regime.
Soon, the end of the war will mean as little to the Iraqis as it currently does to the rest of the Arab world. President Bush has done nothing to give the Iraqis a sense of self-liberation; in fact, their political freedom seems a mere by-product of Bush's obsession with American hegemony and security.
Ultimately, this war is nothing compared to the long-term political consequences it will incur. As one British politician put it, "the last Six Days War brought about a 35-year war [between the Israelis and Palestinians]."
Are we prepared to be the Miguk to the Iraqis that we were to the Koreans? Will that be enough to recover from the hatred and resentment incurred by our arrogance and aggression? On both counts I hope so, but I doubt it.