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     Dec 13, '13

South Korea's Chomskyite flunkeys
By Sung-Yoon Lee

North Korea's confirmation of the dismissal of Jang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-eun's uncle and number two man, unwittingly makes South Korea's main spy agency, National Intelligence Service (NIS) - anathema to Pyongyang and the South's left alike - look good.

The day after NIS broke news of Jang's dismissal last week, the nation’s left-leaning main opposition party turned the tables on the NIS. Its spokesman questioned if the NIS were "playing high politics of timing", ie, engaging in political conspiracy. The logic? The NIS is under investigation for alleged systematic interference in last year's election that led to President Park Geun-hye's victory. It’s also under attack from the country's radical left for allegedly cooking up false charges of sedition against Lee Seok-ki, an opposition lawmaker of a fringe leftist party.

The South's conspiracy-mongering left and their foreign supporters basically share North Korea’s worldview forged by a narrative of US imperium vs North Korea the underdog, in which the pro-US South Korean government is a "flunkey". For example, the democratically elected Park Geun Hye administration in Seoul is

a "puppet" regime that "play[s] the coquette with" its master, the US imperialists.

Its "illegitimate" birth was enabled by the NIS's "interference in the election". And the "Park group," while seeking the "tender mercy of its master" as "political prostitutes" preserves itself through the "fabrication of attempted rebellion" by Lee Seok-ki.

Hence, the NIS, with its history of political meddling in South Korea's authoritarian past and present predicaments, must be trying to "parade its presence", opined a major left-leaning newspaper.

Such sympathies for Pyongyang would not matter were it not for the danger of such sentiments translating into pro-North Korea policy at a cost to Seoul and Washington. It's well established that Seoul pumped into Pyongyang's palace economy billions of dollars in unconditional aid under two liberal governments in recent years. That misguided policy, largely spurred by ambivalence toward the US and sympathy for the North, drove a wedge between Seoul and Washington and, almost certainly, accelerated Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

What the South's left and the North Korean regime do not share, however, is the southern progressives' lingering dependence mentality in pining for affirmation of their views from famous Americans. For example, when 57 progressive foreign activists issued in October a statement under the heading "Stop Repression in South Korea!", all the left-leaning newspapers in South Korea highlighted the statement, and, in particular, its endorsement by Noam Chomsky, the controversial American anti-hegemonism pundit.

For the South’s radical progressives, who favor conspiracy over common sense, the "self-reliant" over "flunkey," the cultish North over the incomparably more prosperous and more pleasant South, there is no greater imprimatur of their convictions than an occasional remark by the outspoken MIT professor emeritus that is critical of the democratic South and empathetic toward the totalitarian North.

What they may come to find curious one day is that the erudite Chomsky, despite his many pronouncements on South Korean politics and inter-Korean relations, apparently knows very little, if anything of substance, about Korea. His public statements on "US -Korean relations" go little beyond condemnation of US indiscriminate bombing of North Korea in the Korean War, alleged US complicity in South Korean forces massacring civilians on Jeju Island in 1948, and counterfactuals. For example, he asserts that the "Reagan-Bush administrations continued to give strong support to the brutal dictatorship and tried to prevent the democratization of South Korea," irrespective of the fact that by late-1987, South Koreans had elected a new president by a fair, direct popular vote.

Elsewhere, Chomsky empathizes with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program, but with a mendacious twist. Despite, as Chomsky argues, the North's observance of denuclearization agreement it signed with the US in 1994, "Bush’s aggressive militarism quickly led to a revival of NK’s missile and nuclear programs." What Chomsky failed to acknowledge is that top officials from the US, South Korea, as well as the former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency had for some years claimed that North Korea had pursued a uranium-based nuclear weapons program as of the mid-1990s.

Needless to say, Chomsky's soul-searching appraisals of past US acts offer not a single token mention of North Korea's totalitarian rule, culpability in starting the Korea War, or its decades-old pursuit of nuclear weapons. But, to South Korea's radical left, which remains committed to vilifying President Park as "dictator's daughter" while defending the Kim dynasty at every turn, Chomsky's criticism of the US and stealthy defense of the North, no matter how skewed or factually erroneous, are wisdom from on high.

Admittedly, Chomsky's known remarks on Korea are not nearly as inflammatory or mendacious as his diatribes against George W Bush or defense of Osama bin Laden. In an interview with a South Korean reporter in 2006, Chomsky said, "The Bush administration is the most dangerous administration that has ever existed in the US ... The Iraq war...was undertaken with the expectation that it would increase the threat of terror and nuclear proliferation." On bin Laden's killing by the US forces in May 2011, Chomsky offers the following: "We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic."

But, then again, it just may precisely be Chomsky's propensity to excoriate the US, slur causality, and attribute aggression by the North Korean dictatorship as a mere reaction to the US - all enhanced by the virtual absence of basic knowledge of Korea - that Park Geun Hye-bashing, conspiracy theory-mongering radical progressives find so tantalizing.

If anything, Kim Jong-Eun's ouster of his uncle just two years into his rule is yet another affirmation of Kim's impetuous policy of intensified internal repression and external military extortion. Just as Kim's late father resorted to terrorist attacks against South Korea in the 1980s when he was being groomed to succeed his own father, so has the third generational North Korean leader turned in recent years to attacks against the South and bloody purges. And just as the South's radical left denied North Korea's culpability in the blowing up of a South Korean civilian airliner in 1987, they are at it again, denying North Korea's torpedoing of a South Korean navy ship in 2010 and the latest purge of Jang Song-thaek.

South Korea's left may frequently echo North Korea’s party line. However, when it comes to flunkeyism, toadying up to famous Americans is something that the purportedly self-reliant, purge-prone, perennially aid-dependent Pyongyang has yet to descend to. And that puts the South's America-bashing-but-America-dependent left in a category of one, on a par with America’s America-bashing Chomskyites protected by their basic freedoms, and substantially below North Korea’s America-bashing communists protected by their undefiable orthodoxy.

Sung-Yoon Lee is Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies and Assistant Professor at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.

(Copyright 213 Sung-yoon Lee)

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