Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Look At The Teeth On Them There Orientals!

I was going to write about something other than Korea today, but then I stumbled on this jaw-dropping cartoon, thanks to a commenter at the Korea Times. The comment referred to an article (the source of the photo below) which depicted Korean doctors and businessmen dining on American beef to show how confident they were of its safety. As another commenter pointed out, it's odd that they waited until now (after two months of candlelight vigils and government panic) to demonstrate their confidence that American beef is safe to eat; surely President Lee would have appreciated such a show of support back in early May at the latest. Meanwhile, another reminder that there is more to fear from US beef than Mad Cow, and that it isn't only science-challenged Koreans who have reason to worry about it.

That guy on the left looks real confident, doesn't he? But back to the cartoon. I realize it's only a cartoon, and you can't expect Americans to know anything about conditions and events in a strange foreign land where people don't even speak English most of the time. But really, girleen, "Tens of thousands riot"? The demonstrations have been overwhelmingly nonviolent -- some critics have even complained of their festive ambience -- and would have been more so if not for the government's misuse of the police. I've pointed out before that in the minds of most Americans, any demonstration, including the 1963 March on Washington, is a violent riot. And any criticism of US policy is "anti-Americanism," which seeks to pour across the undefended Korean-American border, putting all Americans into concentration camps and driving us into the sea. (As IOZ notes, the US is a "nation of whiners.") I've also pointed out that the demonstrations have been about more than beef from their beginnings, but most US media have preferred to focus on the irrationality of those inscrutable Orientals.

Considering the history of American anti-Asian sentiment and violence, white Americans are not really in a position to show how psychically wounded they are by this symbolic violence. We have a long, disgraceful record of this sort of whining: when he was President, for example, Jimmy Carter said that there was no need for the US to pay reparations to Vietnam, because "the destruction was mutual." (Them: two to three million dead, millions more injured and made into refugees, large swaths of the country turned into moonscape by our bombs and chemical weapons. Us: 55,000 dead, thousands more injured -- and not one inch of American territory damaged by Vietnamese armament. But what about our self-esteem?) So it's not really surprising that an American cartoonist would depict mostly nonviolent Korean protestors, whose wrath was more directed at their own president than at the US, as a mass of snarling rioters. (There's not a candle in those clenched fists Danziger drew, did you notice?)

Danziger's second panel is interesting too. True, US industry is in decline, but not because of Korean economic imperialism. It's because US industry chose to bloat its profits by moving manufacturing operations to poorer, weaker countries run by corrupt dictatorships, where unions, environmental and safety regulations, and taxation wouldn't get in the way of treating workers as disposable resources. The rest of his political analysis is equally off-target. And it's not as if the Korean economy is doing that well these days.

Still, Danziger has a tiny point. Ever since I began observing the Korean protests, I've been wondering what it would take to get thousands of ordinary Americans to stage nonviolent candlelight vigils against our President's policies and conduct every night for months. The antiwar movement opposing Bush's invasion of Iraq petered out almost immediately. I can't even imagine what a giant protest by Americans against pro-corporate economic policy would look like. I doubt very much it would look like this:

Or this:

My god, look at the teeth on that eight-year-old in the foreground! He and his mom are surely baying for American blood and trade deficits, unless he swallows his gum.