|#WithYou, for now / Korea Times photo by Oh Dae-keun|
By Emanuel Pastreich
There you have it. South Chungcheong Province Governor An Hee-jung was accused on TV of using his authority to force himself on his secretary Kim Ji-eun and was forced to step down immediately, without any formal investigation. The media basked in the glory of serving as the leading force for the liberation of Korean women from the long sexual oppression at the hands of Korean men.
Agreement on this interpretation of events has been nearly universal in Korea. But there was something just too perfect about the process and about the timing.
Just consider that JTBC’s darling Son Seok-hee interviewed the secretary Kim Ji-eun on his show at the exact moment the Moon administration took the brave step of sending a special envoy to Pyongyang to open the door for comprehensive dialogue that the Trump and Abe administration had fought so hard behind the scenes to stop.
Before anyone had a chance to even take a deep breath, the words uttered by Kim were assumed to be sacred and Governor An was unemployed. Media reports started saying that this was a case of rape and announced to the country that An’s political future was over.
But former President Lee Myung-bak was accused of many crimes, many of which were carefully documented. Yet he served out his term without event and never considered resignation.
When I suggested to Korean friends that this sudden take down of a major political figure looked suspicious, I was openly attacked for defending a sexual predator on Facebook. But I would like you to consider this event more seriously before you dismiss what I say out of hand.
Let us suppose that we had a powerful national movement to end the sexual abuse of women in Korea. Nothing could be more welcome. But I do not see such a moment around us. All I see is the media harping about “#MeToo.” The “#MeToo” signs I see on TV being waved around by a handful of people are printed so perfectly as to appear as if they were all prepared by the same political consulting firm. I have seen carefully scripted comments about the abuse of certain women that are so perfect as to seem unrealistic.
But the giveaway is that this #MeToo movement does not even touch on the actual plight of women in Korean society.
There are extremely serious cases of sexual abuse of women who work in factories, as janitors in our buildings and in other low-paying jobs at convenience stores and restaurants. I have not seen a word about how they are sexually abused. Nor any discussion about the sex industry, or how the promotion of pornography, or use of near-pornographic images in advertising creates a society in which men are actively encouraged by corporations to see women as objects, not as people.
Nor do we see any analysis of the relationship between the sexual abuse of working women and the larger issue of the abuse of workers throughout our society by exploitive economic systems.
Sexual harassment is assumed to be the unique form of abuse in Korea limited to bad people, not bad systems. It is only worthy of note in cases of famous people.
This “#MeToo” has all the marks of a political operation to subvert the democratic process by which administrators are chosen through elections. We see the first steps toward the creation of a shadow government that can take down anyone, at any time, without any form of due process.
We should take this dangerous trend very seriously, especially at a time Korea is engaging in a historic dialogue with North Korea. It is hard to imagine that the sudden take down of An, a central political figure in this effort at engagement, is unrelated. In any case, I would welcome a scientific investigation into the linkage.
After Governor An’s resignation, his Wikipedia entry was altered almost overnight to read: “Ahn Hee-jung, also known as An Hee-jung, was the former 36th and 37th Governor of Chungcheongnam-do Province, South Korea. He stepped down from his role as governor and announced his retirement from public life after acknowledging accusations that he sexually assaulted his secretary on repeated occasions.”
All of An’s career was erased in a manner that would have made Stalin proud.
Consider the case of the poet Go Eun, who has also been subject to a series of revelations about sexual scandals from the past. Suddenly, Korea’s candidate for the Nobel Prize has become persona non-grata. Suddenly, the media tells us that publishers who “request anonymity” have decided that the poetry of the man once held up by the media as Korea’s greatest achievement will have his works removed from textbooks because they are “not appropriate” for children.
This editorial decision is inappropriate. But that is not the primary issue. It is rather the destruction of due process in the formulation of the decision which should worry us. No committee was formed to discuss this issue in the Ministry of Education. No expert witnesses were called to discuss the editorial decision. It was done within a month without any transparency.
Could it be that behind the scenes a shadow government decided that the most famous writer in Korea would be relegated to the dust pile of history?
Here we see a perfect parallel with the American “#MeToo” movement, which has been employed in a similar manner to attack influential cultural figures and political figures using hearsay in the commercial media.
The closest parallel to Go Eun is James Levine, the most beloved conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, who was suspended without any serious investigation after three men came forward accusing him of sexual abuse back in the 1960s. Those accusations may or may not be accurate. They are from a long time ago. But there can be no doubt that the attack on Levine was a witch-hunt and intended to intimidate others who might want to speak openly about the increasingly repressive environment in the United States.
But there are two political examples that parallel the An Hee-jung case quite closely.
The first was the series of revelations about the actions of the extremely popular and independent-minded Democratic senator Al Franken, who was subject to a series of revelations that he had groped women that grabbed media attention in November 2017. Almost immediately there were demands from other senators that Franken immediately resign without any due process or investigation. He did so, but many questions remain about the scandal and how it was promoted in the media. After all, Franken apologized immediately for any improper behavior after every accusation and his initial apology to Leeann Tweeden, who had claimed he kissed her inappropriately, was accepted by her.
It was not clear that Franken had even broken the law, but he was hounded out of office. Suddenly the American politician best equipped to lead the opposition to the Trump administration in the Democratic Party was gone, and a leading candidate for president in the next election had completely disappeared from the political scene. The fact that it was his corrupt and supine Democratic Party colleagues who led the charge does not justify the process in any sense.
Then last month we witnessed the spectacle of Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce being forced to resign after the tabloid newspapers of the Murdoch media network ran a series of sensational articles accusing him of sexual harassment in cases that to this day had not been carefully investigated. It seemed more like an attempt to undermine Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who relied on Joyce politically in very much the same way Moon Jae-in relied on An Hee-jung, than an effort to help women.
Were these three politicians in the United States, Australia and South Korea egregious sexual predators who deserved to be forced to resign immediately without any careful investigation and given no chance to explain their actions? Maybe that argument can be made.
But it seems rather odd the way they were taken down entirely on the basis of what was related by for-profit corporate media which may have had a yet unexplored stake in the policies to be affected by their resignations.
Yet, Franken, Joyce and An have something else in common. They were effective and charismatic politicians who were well positioned to lead the opposition against the drive for war with North Korea and China being promoted by the far right in their respective countries. All three were strong candidates for the top office and all three were critical to their party’s ability to organize effective efforts to promote peace and engagement.
The take down of two central political figures in South Korea and Australia who had the capacity to lead an opposition to the military build-up against China is perfectly mirrored in the Trump administration's diplomatic posture. In the case of Australia, the former head of the Pacific Command "war with China" Admiral Harry Harris has been appointed US ambassador to Australia in an unprecedented militarization of relations. In essence diplomatic relations have been transformed into an an exclusively military-focused relationship. In the case of South Korea, there is no ambassador at all, in spite of all the North Korea talk. In effect, the head of the combined forces General Vincent Brooks is effective diplomatic representative of the United States. In both of these critical countries, in which opposition to war with China is real, the governments are being told they must work with the military exclusively.
Let us consider this larger picture before we jump on a #MeToo campaign, and let us focus on the real social and structural issues that lead to the abuse of countless working women.