Why was the US Ambassador Mark Lippert slashed in the face?

Published: March 7, 2015
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U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert leaves after he was slashed in the face by an unidentified assailant at a public forum in central Seoul March 5, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

It is ironic that the name of the man who slashed the US ambassador in South Korea is Kim. Kim is a common name in South Korea; I discovered that after visiting the country a year ago.

This recent incident, where a furious 55-year-old Kim Ki-Jong attacked the US Ambassador Mark Lippert with a small fruit knife, made me go down memory lane. I was at the demilitarised zone in Paju, Imjingak a year ago, interviewing people on what they had to say about the Korean divide, in the background of barbed wires and many colourful ribbons.

To my surprise, most people were talking about reunification, saying they have the same language, culture and that they are one. I wanted to visit North Korea too, and listen to the sentiments of the people there but I couldn’t; it is not easy to move about freely in a divided world trying to find answers.

According to The Hankyoreh, claiming to be an independent paper in South Korea, Kim wrote on Facebook that due to the Key Resolve/Foal Eagle military exercises, the reconciliation between North and South Korea will be affected. He stated that there isn’t any possibility of dialogue between the two countries before the exercises are officially over. He also stated that his organisation Our Turf and 48 other organisations are part of ‘Anti-War Bring Peace Citizen Action’ and have gathered outside the US Embassy to demand the suspension of the war exercises so that the talks between North and South Korea can resume peacefully.

The original post (in Korean language) can be seen here:

Photo: Screenshot

Now, I am not trying to justify this act of barbarity by quoting the assailant – no one will. Many South Koreans are ashamed of what happened. But we need to consider why Kim attacked the US ambassador the way he did. What was it that pushed him to take such a huge step and risk everything?

While being in South Korea, travelling between Seoul, Busan and Jeju, I noticed that many people living a comfortable life, had been blinded so much by all the glitz and glamour that looking at the under-currents of power politics didn’t matter to them. I wished to have visited more rural parts too but, overall, South Korea can look after itself well. The GDP of South Korea is $1.13 trillion in comparison to North Korea’s measly $40 billion. Similarly, there is disparity in the sizes of their respective defence budgets. So the country can fare well on its own.

However, a segment of the South Korean populous still wants reunification and peace in the region, which doesn’t seem to be the US’s agenda right now.

It is known that the US is fully committed to the ‘defence’ of the Republic of Korea, with more than a dozen US military installations all over South Korea. A major ‘threat’ to the neighbours is the brutal authoritarian regime of North Korea – for which the US is present to help. But North Korea is comparatively weak, lacking advanced military capacity and hence is unfit to fight a war, according to US experts. So from what, exactly, is the US trying to save South Korea by establishing military bases in that region?

The rhetoric that seems to justify the US meddling in a civil war as an ‘act of defence’ isn’t about dissuading North Korea. So what is it about, then? Is it to preserve US military dominance in the Asia- Pacific region?

According to the Congressional Research Service (2013) report, the US – in order to maintain extraordinary economic and military superiority which it got at the end of World War II – has sought to have a world-wide, continuous global military presence. This further creates opportunities for geopolitical controls on part of regional powers, sidelining the hopes of millions to live in peace.

Peace is a utopian word in the current world scenario anyway.

The division of Korea was intended to be temporary at the time, when a map and a ruler were given to two US colonels on 38th parallel, cutting a line across thousand years of Korea’s history as a unified nation.

All these leaders deciding the future of millions in closed rooms should be keeping in mind the interests of the silent majority before them instead of personal financial gain. We don’t want to be the mango people of a banana republic who are handed out carrots by the state dangling in front of us.

We want to be respected, listened to and taken care of and everything else will fall perfectly into place. That is what Kim’s motive was behind the assault, and while I do not support his action, I can’t help but feel sympathetic towards his message.

Anam Gill

Anam Gill

The writer is a social activist and journalist from Lahore. She is the founder of Dialogue Café, a creative space bringing people together to interact and engage in debates. Her writings have appeared in several renowned Pakistani and international news outlets, including Dawn, Express Tribune and Deutsche Welle.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.