I’ve stayed my hand in writing anything about the US beef protests in Seoul for a couple of reasons. One is that many other people with more talent at writing and more knowledge of the issues have written excellent pieces on different aspects of the protests, there causes, and the aftermath. The other reason is that the whole issue is so complex, much more than just beef, and addressing all of them would be a nightmare for me, especially since I am not very good at being analytical. Daniel has however written a very good piece on the ordeal. You can check it out here at surviving ourselves. This is his blog on things a little more political-economical and much more about the world at large. I read his post before he posted it and found it, though it was very opinionated, to be very good at talking about the issues driving all of the protests. He also links to newspaper articles. 

So, what I will say about all of this, my two cents if you will, is that I am shocked at the whole thing. Owing to naivety and not being old enough to remember large movements of people under a single cause in my own country, I was surprised at the veracity of so many thousands of people here in Seoul. No matter how meaningful or how stupid their causes were….it was still shocking. It passed from peaceful candlelight rallies to outright violence and then back to peaceful candles again all within a very short period of time. And not all of the action was contained just on the streets of central Seoul. With such a tech savvy society as Seoul, internet lynching of individuals who went against the grain were common. Butcher shops who are currently selling American beef receive phone threats that their store will be vandalized. Classrooms also became grounds for political statements.  Daniel links to an article in the Chosun Ilbo titled The Teachers’ Union is Using our Children. The latest article I read which I want to link to today is again from the Chosun Ilbo titled The Ordeals of a Truth-telling Teacher. Here was a commerce teacher who taught that the US beef and a free-trade agreement are good things and he gets in trouble for punishing a student who was being very disruptive in class because the student believed the lies about the safety of US beef. I am glad to hear that a student was willing enough to stand up to a teacher, but you don’t hear them standing up to the teacher’s spreading propaganda in the classroom. This teacher was laid off from his job because word spread that he was punishing the student for participating in the protests. Anyway, take a look at the article. 

The other thing I was shocked at is the participation of religious groups in all of this. The Catholics, Protestants and Buddhists were all out there protesting as well. The Catholics said they were upset at the harsher crack-down of the illegal anti-American protests and they believe firmly that the issue is about national health and Korea’s right to that health. It is true that the involvement of these religious groups have made the protests peaceful again…. I don’t know. Here’s an article from The Korea Times, which is mainly talking about the tents the religious groups set up, but was far more disturbing than that. 

“Seoul City has not authorized the tent pitching. It sent letters to the religious groups asking for the tents to be dismantled for the second time Wednesday, but they have been ignored. The government said it would not remove the installments by force. 

“We are positioned to demolish unauthorized tents on Seoul Plaza. But these are built by religious groups, so we will continue trying to talk them into dismantling them voluntarily,” a city government official said.

Since there are 4.7 million Catholics and more than 8.5 million Protestants among a population of 50 million in the nation, drastic measures against the installments could trigger strong reactions, they said. “

And I can believe the fear they had. It really might have sparked a strong reaction. 

Well, I was glad that the protests of late have been peaceful and it seems as though they are fizzing out. I am just sad at the consequences of all of this. Less tourism, less foreign investment, a government who is immobilized, an image of Korea as a mass of mindless followers… all of this is really taking its toll on Korea.