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S. Korean uprising subject of movie
Perceived U.S. support for Mr. Chun — and a widespread belief that Washington agreed to or facilitated the deployment of South Korean troops to Kwangju — sparked the first wave of anti-Americanism in modern South Korea.
Seven months after the riots, the U.S. Information Service library in Kwangju was burned down by protesters.
“The apparent support for the Chun Doo-hwan regime was the starting point of anti-Americanism,” said Peter Bartholomew, a U.S. businessman resident in South Korea since the 1960s. “It was unpleasant for any Caucasian to be on the streets, especially if there were drunk students around.”
Mr. Kim, the movie’s director, contacted retired U.S. Army Gen. John Wickham, who commanded U.S. troops in Korea in 1980, to confirm facts, but the movie sidesteps sensitive issues of American involvement.
It barely mentions the U.S. role — or that of the Chun government — focusing instead on personal melodramas surrounding the characters.
“It’s still unresolved how involved the Americans were,” Mr. Kim said. “I did not emphasize the American role, as this film is for Koreans, not Americans.”
Gen. Wickham and then U.S. Ambassador William Gleysteen declined to be interviewed in official Korean inquiries into the affair in 1988.
A 1989 U.S. report — posted on the U.S. Embassy Web site — states that the South Korean troops involved were not under U.S. command and that Washington had protested Mr. Chun’s imposition of martial law.
However, the report also notes that the U.S. government “reluctantly” agreed to the 20th Division’s dispatch, thinking it would be more restrained than the special forces units that had first confronted demonstrators.
Many South Koreans, particularly pro-democracy activists of the 1980s who drove Mr. Chun from office and went on to become prominent public figures, continue to doubt American protestations of innocence.
“What the U.S. government said is a big lie,” said Im Jong-in, an independent member of the National Assembly, on Wednesday. “At that time, the U.S. had power over troop movements.”
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun won the 2002 election amid large anti-American protests triggered by the deaths of two schoolgirls in a road accident with U.S. troops. Both Washington and Seoul have worked since then to ease the sources of anti-American discontent.
Over the years since Kwangju, anti-Americanism has waxed and waned. It appears to be on the decline at the moment.
A poll conducted this month by Chosun Ilbo, the country’s top-selling newspaper, and Korea Gallup found that 50.6 percent felt positive toward the United States compared to 42.6 percent with a negative view.
Just before the 2002 election, the same survey found 32.7 percent of South Koreans were pro-American while 53.7 percent held negative views.
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