To the Editor:
Re “South Koreans Assail U.S. Pact, Shaking Leader” (front page, June 11), about the large demonstrations in Seoul:
In October 1989, six Korean college students broke into the American ambassador’s residence in Seoul and did $35,000 worth of damage before being arrested by the Korean police. I was the ambassador, and the issue was beef.
Modern Korean society still has deep roots in its agricultural traditions, and Koreans can get very defensive about any issue that seems to threaten the livelihood of “grandpa and grandma” back on the farm, even if this causes them to pay twice as much for inefficiently produced Korean beef as they would for foreign imports.
This is a delicate issue that needs to be handled with sensitivity by leaders in Seoul and Washington, so that the question of beef does not derail the important free-trade agreement with South Korea being considered by Congress.
This issue also needs to be placed in a broader context. South Korea is a tremendous ally of the United States. It sent more than 300,000 troops to help us in Vietnam, was a quick and generous supporter of Desert Storm in 1991, and for several years had the third-largest deployment of troops in Iraq, following our invasion of that country five years ago.
Without our strong alliance with South Korea, our influence in Asia would be vastly diminished. Let us keep that fact clearly in mind, as we deal with the fractious beef issue.
Chairman, Korea Society
Armonk, N.Y., June 12, 2008
Note from KBJ: If South Koreans were truly concerned with their health, they wouldn't be eating beef in the first place.