Christmas Cheer (?) with the GIs in Itaewon

In his blog at the WaPo, Amar Bakshi shares some holiday cheer — or misery — with US GIs in Itaewon:

I turn to my American companions and say half-jokingly, “You’ve got everything from America here.”

“No, man,” comes the response, drunkenly serious. “You’ve got what we all want: freedom.” A young soldier grasps my shoulder for emphasis, and support, chugging beer from a cowboy-hat-shaped mug and spluttering, “You can go home anytime you want. You can be in American anytime you want…We’re stuck here.”

Throughout the night, I hear this refrain again and again. I am free. They are not. Part of it is a fact of military life. They have to trim their hair and report for duty. I don’t. But part of their complaint is larger. It’s about their responsibility to act as U.S. representatives here in South Korea — a country with a complex relationship with America. They’re never as free as I am.

Over here, they tell me, they are never anonymous. A terrible driving accident inflamed anti-U.S. sentiment here in 2002, leading to large rallies and scattered fire-bombings against U.S. bases. But less dramatic, everyday encounters help fuel or subdue anti-American flames. Army Courtesy Patrols make sure Americans and Koreans don’t fight in Itaewon. And U.S. commanders tell their soldiers not to get agitated if shoved on the streets, “because Korea is crowded.”

I think they’re just upset that the English teachers keep hoarding the party goods.

(HT to reader)

  • mcnut

    i would have said “look you dumbasses you are only in one of the largest robust cities in the world with lots of things to do and see…plenty of single women and other places to go relieve stress……nice pubs, restaraunts, shopping and a great mix of people from all over the world fused into one location so stop bitching or head for the sand”

    the military is one of the easiest jobs in the world….be where you are supposed to be and do what your told!
    most days you get off at 1630 you have 4 day weekends for every federal holiday on the calendar

    i dont see the problem????

  • SomeguyinKorea

    Yeah, South Korea is a hardship post? LOL.

    South Korea is not exactly Siberia. There are lots of things to do, and it’s relatively cheap, too. Also, I’ve been inside USFK bases. Even if Korea was still a developing country (it isn’t), the USFK did a great job ensuring that its soldiers get all the amenities they could hope for. Heck, I certainly wouldn’t mind living on most of the USFK bases I’ve been to.

    I think those who complain the most came here expecting they would be treated like kings (I blame Hollywood) only to realize that Koreans see them for what they really are: 18-21 year-old kids.

    Besides, did anybody but a gun to their heads and told them to sign up?

    PS. I volunteered and served in the armed forces, just to make things clear.

  • Robert Koehler

    Not that I disagree with your assessment of the host nation, but I’m not sure if the soldiers themselves see their job as the “easiest in the world.” Especially these days.

  • Breaktrack

    If I was in the US military, I wouldn’t want to come here to possibly die for an ungrateful nation which can now defend itself.

    Military life is far from easy when you are a long way from home at Xmas and don’t get to be with loved ones.

    For a lot of people, the military is a way to escape poverty and get an education. I’ve taught Korean adults for over seven years now and I hear all the time how they hate Americans. Why would anyone want to be around people who hate them at Xmas?!

    Cut the GI’s some slack this Xmas.

  • GI Korea

    I can’t believe the Washington Post flew this guy all the way to Korea to write that. The guy goes to a Itaewon bar late at night and talks to nothing but young soldiers, of course he is going to find people who are going to complain about Korea.

    The author should have added some balance to the article by interviewing the hundreds of soldiers on Yongsan that volunteered to go help the Koreans clean the oil spill off the coast of Taean. But that would mean he would actually have to do some real journalistic work by going out there instead of doing the easy thing and taking the subway to a bar in Itaewon.

    There are plenty of other soldiers he could have talked to like the hundreds of soldiers who have volunteered at Korean orphanages, or helped build homes for Habitat for Humanity, or the American fire fighters that have helped Korean firefighters with local blazes, the US helicopter pilots who have aided in the Korean search and rescue operations, soldiers who have rescued numerous Korean accident victims or even captured criminals. The list goes on and on:

    The relationship with Korea and the US military is a very complex one and is not as simple or as bad as the author of the Washington Post posting makes it out to be.

  • Brendon Carr (Korea Law Blog)

    Take a look at the map on the side of the page — the Washington Post is flying this guy all around the world to write stuff like that.

  • Nomad

    What, exactly, did the writer expect to find in a bar in Itaewon, of all places, besides a bunch of drunks, crying in their beers? I agree with GI Korea; with just a little effort, he could have painted a better and more realistic picture of what life is like for most U.S. military personnel stationed here (and I say most because some of them north of Seoul still don’t have it all that great).

  • SomeguyinKorea

    “If I was in the US military, I wouldn’t want to come here to possibly die for an ungrateful nation which can now defend itself.”

    They are here for the US. You need to remind that to yourself. Besides, the odds of them being killed by a North Korean soldier are pretty slim. They should worry about crossing the road and being run over by a bus instead.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    Correction: They are also here for the US.

  • SomeguyinKorea


    Yeah, some of the nicest people I’ve met here were current and former members of the USFK.

  • Breaktrack

    Most GI’s are not here for the US or for Korea. As you know, you get little choice about postings. They are really here because it’s their job.

    The fact is, they know if there is a war, they will have to fight and die for these ungrateful people. No matter how remote a chance, war is still possible because there is still a war going on.

    Remember, Koreans see the US military as a tripwire. There’s no denial of that.

  • cm

    Your right Breaktrack. Korea is a horrible place for these fine young men. They really deserve better places to be in. I say Iraq and Afghanistan is where they should be. Over there, they welcome Americans with open arms and invite them to their houses for drinks at 3 am in the morning, like the Pakistanis do (Pakistan being a very pro-American country and all).

  • iheartblueballs

    Notice the link he uses when referring to “a few Korean women scattered about in the corners.” Follow it through and it tells the tale of a Filipina prostitute abandoned by her American GI husband after getting knocked up, and the nasty aftermath for her bastard daughter.

    Hamhanded point of the link placement being that any Korean women scattered about in the corners of a military bar in Korea must absolutely be A) prostitutes, and B) destined for the same fate.

    This kind of reporting makes one wish that Mr. Bakshi hadn’t made it out of that Zimbabwean prison.

  • captbbq

    I served all of my military time here, having been released from active duty nearly 2 years ago now.

    Breaktrack sums up the feelings I had when I served pretty well, and to this day I am a strong advocate of all troops being pulled out of here.

    On the other hand, I really wish they would pull themselves out of the bars in Itaewon and go to places everyone else goes, and try not to make asses of themselves. It’s not that hard, but the military actually encourages them to stay there so that they can control them.

  • dokdoforever

    It seems inevitable that any group of recently arrived foreigners is going to gripe about their new surroundings. I remember the institute where I first taught in the early 90s in Seoul – just got tired of listening to the English teachers bitch non-stop about Korea, and tried to avoid it since. It’s a better idea to try to make local friends as well, instead of retreating to the safety of the foreign enclave.

  • Wedge

    That Bakshi guy has an excellent gig: get sent around the world on WaPo’s dime and write crap stories.

    I commented on his blog about the absurdity of linking the PI prostitute story to “save for a few Korean women scattered about in the corners.” If anyone knows Friend (not “Friends,” as the clown puts it), they’ll know it’s not a juicy bar or otherwise engaged in the trade.