[Correspondent’s column] Silly American college students

Posted on : 2024-05-24 16:59 KST Modified on : 2024-05-24 16:59 KST
Watching American students protest for Palestine, and how politicians and the media have belittled them, has made me rethink my cynicism
A graduate at the University of Michigan raises the Palestinian flag at the university’s graduation ceremony on May 4, 2024. (AP/Yonhap)
A graduate at the University of Michigan raises the Palestinian flag at the university’s graduation ceremony on May 4, 2024. (AP/Yonhap)

By Lee Bon-young, Washington correspondent 

There are three incidents that the CIA wishes everyone would just forget. The 1953 coup in Iran, the 1954 coup in Guatemala, and the 1973 coup in Chile. All three coups successfully overthrew democratically elected governments in the respective countries and were orchestrated by the CIA. These incidents are textbook examples that show missteps in US foreign policy. 

During speeches given by diplomats, national security officials, or experts in those fields, students of prestigious universities often throw questions about these coups. The question they’re asking is simple: What motivated the US, the world’s protector of freedom and democracy, to behave in such a way? I can't help but feel a little cynical whenever I encounter such scenes, as I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, “You may feel righteousness now, but one day, you will be that person on the podium, using today’s incident as fodder to use to smooth-talk your way out of an answer.” 

But watching the protests against the massacre in Gaza made me change my thought process completely. I realized that as miniscule as their influence may be, student protests manage to reveal and correct injustice. Nationwide protests are putting the US government on edge. 

Another realization hit me while looking at the older generation — US President Joe Biden to be exact — reprimand those student protesters. While it is impossible to say for certain that those full of a sense of justice in their youth will continue to follow such principles in old age, it is true that once an opportunist, always an opportunist. 

While attending law school at Syracuse, Biden once spotted anti-war student protesters taking over the chancellor’s office during the height of protests against the Vietnam War. According to what he wrote in his memoir, he said, “Look at those assholes,” and moved on. Biden is showing consistency by treating the student protesters currently camping out on campuses with the same disdain. 

Biden and Trump, who will duke it out for the presidency once more this November, were both talented athletes in their youth but health issues gave them a pass from conscription during the Vietnam War. 

It may be too much to ask the two, who turned a blind eye while their peers collapsed in Vietnamese jungles, to empathize with the many Palestinians who are dying every single day. Even though US-supplied 1-ton heavy bombs were being used to kill civilians, Biden only stopped the delivery of such bombs seven months after the war broke out. These bombs, which the US uses to destroy bridges and military facilities, have reduced neighborhoods in Gaza to nothing but concrete dust. 

When Biden, in a political bind, announced that he would be halting the delivery of the bombs, Trump aggravated the situation by accusing Biden of forsaking Israel by wanting to “immediately stop all aid to Israel.” Hillary Clinton, who competed against Trump as the Democratic Party presidential candidate in 2016, has also slammed student protesters for being ignorant of the history of the Middle East, joining the long line of the older generation condemning the young. 

What would’ve happened if, instead of Biden, Clinton and Trump, the US had John Kerry, who once ran for president and is currently the special presidential envoy for climate, in a position of power to manage this current crisis? Kerry was a Democratic Party presidential candidate in 2004 and also succeeded Hilary Clinton as US Secretary of State during the Barack Obama administration. As a lieutenant in the US Navy during the Vietnam War, he was showered with many prizes. However, after he left the army, he led the anti-war movement for veterans. 

Kerry is famous for his 1971 Senate committee speech in which he condemned the greed and irresponsibility of political leaders for turning US soldiers into civilian-slaughtering monsters. We can’t tell whether he’s changed or if he feels that the Palestine issue isn’t in his ballpark, but he’s been silent on this issue so far. 

The conclusion we arrive at is this: In an ideal world, people would go through their lives without losing the sense of righteousness and justice they feel in their youth. But if that’s not realistic, we should at least pay thanks to the young people pushing back against injustice, because their righteous struggles benefit society and humanity as a whole. 

Even though they face many obstacles while being belittled and called stupid, idiotic and a litany of other names, the students raising their voices for peace are far better humans than the scheming individuals who browbeat them. 

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr

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