I haven't written much about the ongoing Korean protests against American beef on the fear that it contains the prions
that cause mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
(BSE), in cattle and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
(vCJD) in humans.
I didn't want to enter the fray because even though I consider the fears irrational, given the extreme unlikelihood of contracting the disease, I didn't have the energy to collect all the wild, baseless rumors about American beef and look into all of the scientific details that would refute them.
A couple of weeks ago, a student asked me what I thought about the beef protests. I replied that the protests weren't really about American beef but about the left trying to manipulate young people in order to damage Lee Myung-bak and his rightwing policies. I added that since so many middle- and high-school students were protesting, they were likely being urged to do so by their leftwing teachers.
I didn't have any proof of this, but I strongly suspected it, for I know from experience how nationalistic
the leftist high-school teachers are here in Korea. When I was teaching at Hanshin University
, I began teaching an evening class in the fall of 2001 for high-school teachers who were seeking a higher degree in education to enhance their teaching careers, and though I knew nothing of their politics or of the teachers' union
and its rigorously leftist views, I soon discovered that many of the high-school teachers in my class were strongly anti-American. I've seen this elsewhere in the world, so I ignored it the way that one learns to ignore static when the radio reception is poor.
However, in the class following the 9/11 attacks
, the static became much of the broadcast as several of the high-school teachers in my class expressed open satisfaction at the death and destruction. One woman described with a smile how her own husband, also a teacher, had smiled joyously as he watched the Twin Towers
I listened to all of this without betraying any emotion, for I wanted to see how far this would go. There was talk of the 'American Empire' falling, and several in my class seemed ready to support Bin Laden
as the American military geared up for war in Afghanistan
Some of the teachers disagreed, I should add, arguing that the Al Qaeda
attack was unjustified.
Most, however, seemed either to hold viscerally anti-American views -- probably stemming from their experience as protesters during the dictatorship of Park Chung-hee
, when they blamed the United States for its support of Park -- or to care little that innocent Americans and other foreigners had suffered. Whatever their motives, those with anti-American views appeared hostile to other opinions, so I didn't bother to debate them, but I decided that I would offer a talk on 9/11 sometime in a more-official format, and that decision ultimately bore fruit as a presentation at Hanshin University on the religious roots of 9/11, which I reworked as a published paper: "Striving to Understand 9/11
Although my Masters class didn't attend, for a year had passed by the time that I gave my talk, which took place on September 11, 2002, the reaction of many in attendance seemed scripted from anti-American positions carved in stone, especially given that this was after a traffic accident in the summer of 2002 in which a US soldier on duty ran over two teenage girls in his tank during military maneuvers because he couldn't see them around the curve as he raced along. Students in middle schools, high schools, and universities, along with the greater Korean left, had protested and spread vicious rumors about the soldier and the US military, calling the soldier a "murderer" and insisting that the 'accident' had been intentional and had been carried out because the US didn't like the leftist policies of President Roh Moo-hyun
. I know this personally because that's what one student -- with the agreement of others -- insisted when one of my undergraduate classes wanted to discuss the deaths of the two girls.
From experiences like these with Korean anti-Americanism, I had little taste for arguing over the quality of American beef. I did discuss the issue with my wife, however, and seem to have convinced her that since only three people have died in America from vCJD out of some 300 million Americans, then one has, roughly, only one chance in 100 million of contracting vCJD from American beef -- even assuming that the three who died had contracted the disease from American beef, which they probably did not. I argued that attending the protests against American beef was far, far riskier to one's health than eating American beef. I added that Koreans don't even know if their own, locally produced beef is safer than American beef because they don't test for the disease. But the clincher to my arguments was that American beef is only one-fifth the cost of Korean beef and that many Koreans have to go without beef because they cannot afford the price, but that if American beef were allowed in, these same Koreans could afford beef at a low cost and use their extra money for something else, which would be good for the Korean economy.
"Why are Korean farmers so special?" I asked. "Shouldn't someone be thinking of the Korean consumers, too?"
My wife, being a Korean consumer, suddenly, and fully, agreed with me. I was rather surprised, but it sometimes happens this way.
That's about all that I have to say on the topic, but if you want some logic on American beef, go to Andy Jackson's article, "Rumors, Fear and US Beef
," in the Korea Times
(6/16/2008), and if you want some information on Korea's anti-American nationalism, go to Philip Bowring's article, "A potent, troubling nationalism
," in the International Herald Tribune
I just hope that the nationalist emotions don't get out of hand in this country, or we may see more xenophobic attacks of the life-threatening sort that Matt Lamers experienced
Labels: Anti-Americanism, Nationalism, South Korea