In a small, plain office over a downtown Seoul grocery, eight young men hunch over a bank of computers. They aren't writing software or playing video games. This is a command center for protest against American soldiers in Korea. Everyone wears a black ribbon that reads "US troops withdraw."
The group one of dozens like it sprang up after a US armored vehicle accidentally killed two Korean girls walking along a country road in June. The incident continues to galvanize anti-American feeling across the country. Members canvas neighborhoods, run e-mail campaigns detailing American soldiers' alleged crimes, and help organize a permanent silent vigil outside the presidential palace.
"We are like a military operation" says their leader, known only as Mr. Kim. "US troops here are a mistake of history and we won't be one country until they leave; 9/11 is not our problem."
Most Americans believe they are making a sacrifice stationing 38,000 soldiers here to defend South Koreans against possible Communist attack. Most ordinary Koreans, however, believe the US troops are actually here to promote American interests, opinion polls show. And "since 9/11, a strange but virulent anti-Americanism has gripped South Korea," notes one expatriate American who works at a US company in Seoul.
"The underlying reason that Uncle Sam is about as popular as the plague," he adds, "is because of a paradigm shift in the minds of a new generation of South Koreans" who regard the US troops as a colonial presence.
Along with Japan, South Korea is one of America's chief strategic partners in the Pacific. But you wouldn't think so to watch a recent music video by popular all-girl Korean band S.E.S. It features cowboy-booted Americans being beaten up, fed to dogs, and tossed off buildings.
Nor are American diplomats reassured by recent polls showing that nearly half of Koreans approved the February trashing of the US Chamber of Commerce in Seoul and that 60 percent of Koreans "don't like" America.
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