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[From the Scene] Why US flags at pro-Park rallies?

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Published : 2017-03-01 17:54
Updated : 2017-05-18 10:58

Since the parliament voted to impeach President Park Geun-hye in early December, Park’s staunch supporters have relentlessly taken to the streets with Korean flags in their hands to oppose her removal from office.

While the Korean flag has become a symbol of their movement to defend the president, a seemingly unrelated flag has also been carried by many of the -- mostly elderly -- participants at the rallies: the US flag. 

Conservative civic group members and President Park Geun-hye‘s supporters hold a giant US flag during their anti-impeachment protest held in central Seoul on Saturday. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)

During the pro-Park rally held Saturday, the senior citizens, many of whom are war veterans or retired soldiers, waved small American flags alongside Korean ones, carrying placards with provocative messages such as “Kill North Korean sympathizers” and “Declare martial law.”

A large-scale US flag also appeared at the heart of Seoul Plaza, with vendors selling American flags.

In the eyes of protestors, mostly influenced in the aftermath of the 1950-1953 Korean War, the US is not only a symbol of the liberal democracy they have fiercely fought for, but also the savior that rescued them from North Korea’s brutal communist rule and poverty.

“I was born during the Korean War. We were so poor and had nothing to eat. It was the US and white people that helped this country in a difficult time to establish a democracy and get richer,” Shin Deuk-jin, 68, told The Korea Herald during the rally while holding a US flag.

South Korea received official development aid from foreign countries totaling about $13 billion, which contributed to Korea’s economic rise from the ashes of the war. The US was one of the biggest donors.

But their fear and anger over politicians and citizens who they said were pro-North Korea are often based on inaccurate information.

Ideological strife is a perennial source of electioneering and partisan bickering in South Korea, and liberal politicians have traditionally supported dialogue and cooperation with the North.

Many of the protesters were seen mistakenly billing leading progressive presidential hopefuls as opponents of the plan to station the US’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system here, though many of them are in fact in favor of the plan or leaning toward supporting it. 

From top hangs flags of the United Nations, South Korea and the United States of America at an anti-impeachment protest in central Seoul on Saturday. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)

“The US is worried about Korea. It offered to station the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system, but left-wing politicians are turning it down,” Shin said.

“If Moon Jae-in becomes president, I think the US troops will be withdrawn and he will visit North Korea first,” he said, referring to the front-runner of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, who actually does not oppose THAAD.

Park Min-ho, 72, who fought in the Vietnam War alongside US soldiers, said that holding the US flag was to show his support for the strong alliance between South Korea and the US.

“The US is protecting us. Without the US, North Korea could have unified the two Koreas under communist rule. I am also here to protect this country,” he said, “If the impeachment is upheld, the US will also not stay quiet.”

Since the Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas remain technically at war, with some 28,000 US troops stationed in South Korea to deter North Korea’s aggressions.

Oh Min-geun, 60, said he wanted to pass the country’s legacy as a liberal democracy along to his children.

“The US is a symbol of liberal democracy and capitalism. We need to learn from it. We are bound in blood,” he said, “Anti-protestors are North Korean sympathizers denying the values and seeking to overturn the country.”

By Ock Hyun-ju  (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)