how the world sees america


December 25, 2007 8:37 AM

A Lonely American Christmas in Korea

Hanging out at Friends Bar.

SEOUL, South Korea - As the holiday season approached, a U.S. army commander here in South Korea warned his men and women not to be stupid -- not to commit suicide. For the young soldiers under his command, mostly in their early twenties, this is their first holiday season abroad in a cold, distant place. It's a tough combination for anyone, military or not.

"The best present I could ask for is just to be in America," a 24-year-old-U.S. army man tells me at Friends Bar. He holds his head in one hand, and a Corona beer in the other. After five months of training in the Midwest, he spent only 30 hours at home before flying to Seoul to join over 30,000 other U.S. military personnel here who, for the past five decades, have helped deter North Korean aggression.

This non-commissioned officer, with four others under his command, hasn't seen his family for eight months. But he did get their Christmas present, and loves his Play Station III.

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December 31, 2007 10:40 AM

Dear (American) Leader

United Nations troops patrol the North-South Korean border.

As a child Kwang Soo strolled through parks in Hongwan, North Korea, read novels about her Great Leader, and stitched yarn dolls in the likeness of U.S. soldiers. Then she and her friends tossed those stuffed Americans into the air and beat them apart with sticks.

Soo’s history teacher taught her that the United States launched the Korean War. In mathematics Soo learned that if you have seven Americans and kill four of them, only three are left. At assemblies, her teachers told her to fortify herself for another great war against the U.S. and South Korea. Within her lifetime, they said, war would reunite the peninsula, which America split apart.

Yet today Soo prays that America will help save her family in North Korea.

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January 3, 2008 7:41 AM

Korea's American Saviors

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SEOUL, Korea -- “He is a sensation,” my taxi driver says when I tell him I'm heading to interview Dr. David Yonggi Cho, founder of the largest megachurch on earth. We drive through Yeouido, a business district in Seoul where the roads are wide and the buildings tall, past Cho's religious TV channel, his two newspapers, his 600-person global missionary outfit, and his stadium-sized church.

Finally, we reach the sleek media center where I am to interview Cho. When he emerges, he is joined by an entourage of three cameramen, five aides, two secretaries, and a woman with a comb who flattens Cho's wisps of black hair. Cho walks steadily to the interview chair and lowers himself down with his back perfectly erect. He stops his right hand from twitching, and then makes eye contact. I tell him we are to talk about America, and he begins:

“America has made this possible…It has been the main influence on my life up until now.”

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January 9, 2008 11:41 AM

Too Sexy for the DMZ

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PANMUNJOM, Korea - Before entering the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) my fretful tour guide Michelle Kwak rattles off some restrictions:

1) "No sexy clothes. No tank tops or miniskirts," she says. The North Koreans could photograph you for propaganda purposes and run it under the headline, "South Korea infected by American moral corruption!"

2) "No ripped jeans" for a similar reason. “The North will say Americans, South Koreans, and other democratic countries are so poor they can't afford new trousers."

3) "No alcohol and no pointing," because tensions run high here. A little booze and a little misunderstanding "could start World War III."

4) "Finally, no slippers," because in case Armageddon begins, you won't be able to run away fast enough.

Now sign your life away,” my tour guide says, handing out a liability form relieving them of responsibility in case of “enemy attack.” With a little laugh she adds, “It's worth it.”

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PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send your comments, questions and suggestions for PostGlobal to Lauren Keane, its editor and producer.