I am perhaps left with more questions than answers when it comes to the attack on the U.S. Ambassador on Thursday, March 5, 2015. News outlets are reporting that the attacker, Kim Ki-jong, had attacked a former Japanese Ambassador and has been known to the Korean police as a “political extremist,” especially with his anti-Japanese protests. He founded a Dokdo organization that claims Dokdo is Koreas, but Korean police are unsure when he started changing gears towards anti-American rhetoric. He claims he never intended to kill Ambassador Mark Lippert, but the police are charging him with attempted murder nonetheless.
We know why he did what he did, or why he claims he did what he did. He is reported to have shouted some pro-unification, anti-war words before attacking the Ambassador, and later said that he attacked Lippert as a form of protest against the joint US-ROK military exercises that started this week and against war in general, calling for the immediate unification of the North and South. When the military exercises began, in addition to firing a series of missiles into the sea, North Korea also called for the South to expel all American military forces and immediately unify with the North. An interesting coincidence? Kim has also been known to have visited North Korea a number of times. And only a day previously (Wednesday), there were protestors in front of the US Embassy demanding an apology from the US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s remarks at a conference in Washington last week when she said that political leaders often exploit nationalism to “earn cheap applause by vilifying a former enemy,” adding, “such provocations produce paralysis, not progress.” Though she never mentioned Korea or China, some activists in Korea took her implied meaning to be aimed at Korea and China over their continued demand for apologies from Japan over wartime atrocities and the subsequent recording of history.
So why am I left with more questions than answers? Because I don’t know how to interpret or even read such a violent attack on a US diplomat. Some Koreans that I’ve talked to are not even surprised, these individuals left-leaning and in tune with many different progressive movements. Others were surprised, as were the news outlets pointing out that never has a US diplomat been attacked like this in Korea. And when US news outlets reported the incident, many also pointed out the unprecedented nature of a US diplomat being attacked in the country of such a close, regional ally. The pictures featured here are shots of the US embassy mere hours following the attack, with significantly more police and police buses surrounding the compound-like structure. Directly across from the embassy (out of view from the pictures) stood a line of video cameras and reporters, a number of policemen also standing around the camera area.
The US Empire has made enemies, no doubt, even among its allies. For many progressives in Korea, many of these issues interconnect–with the US Empire seemingly square in the center of critique (and with good reason, no doubt). And yet the extent of action (or inaction) has yet to been agreed upon among progressives: the very idea of ‘progressive’ is not yet solid here in Korea as it encompasses so many movements, ideas, and affiliations.
And so, the question I am left with among all others is this: is this form of violence justified? Is it ever justified?