Friday, February 16, 2018

What Do Iranians Think About the United States?

With Washington seeming to back Iran into a corner and start yet another Middle East war, a recent public opinion poll by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) looks at the United States - Iran relationship from the Iranian viewpoint, a viewpoint that Westerners rarely hear.  Some of the responses may make Western politicians realize that Iranians are humans, just like to rest of us.

The 103 question survey was completed after the short-lived protests that took place in various cities throughout Iran beginning on December 28, 2017 and lasting until January 7, 2018.  The questionnaire was completed by 1002 people and has a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.  Let's look at some of the key questions, showing the responses for January 2018 followed by the responses for earlier surveys in brackets for comparison.  We will start with a few questions about how Iranians feel about the quality of their life followed by questions about the recent protests and closing with a more detailed examination of how Iranians feel about the P5+1 nuclear agreement that was implemented in January 2016.

1.) In your opinion, how good or bad is our country's general economic situation? (January 2016)

Very good - 2.5% (8.4%)
Somewhat good - 27.6% (40.9%)
Somewhat bad - 28.2% (24.2%)
Very bad - 40.7% (24.4)

2.) Which of the following do you think has the greatest negative impact on the Iranian economy? (May 2015) 

Foreign sanctions and pressures - 32.1% (26.3%)
Domestic economic mismanagement and corruption - 63.35 (64.3%)

3.) When children today in Iran grow up, do you think they will be better off or worse off financially than their parents? 

Better off - 48.5%
Worse off - 43.4%

4.) Here is a table showing how respondents answered the following question:

As you may know, many different protests recently occurred across Iran for various reasons.  I will now read you different complaints that were voiced during the protests.  Please tell me the degree to which you agree or disagree with each of these complaints:

It is quite clear that many Iranians are concerned about the rising cost of consumer essentials and that just over 16 percent of Iranians feel that their political system needs to undergo a fundamental change.

5.) With the recent protests still in mind, here is a question about the United States support for the protestors:

As you may know, a number of US officials, including President Donald Trump, expressed their support for the protestors.  Do you think such statements of support for protestors mostly help, mostly hurt or have no effect on advancing the demands of the protestors?

Mostly help - 9.2%
Mostly hurt - 39.2%
Have no effect - 48.0%

6.) Now, let's look at one of the biggest sticking points between Washington and Iran, Iran's nuclear program and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA.

In you opinion, how important is it for our country to develop its nuclear program? (January 2016)

Very important - 75.3% (82.2%)
Somewhat important - 10.5% (10.6%)
Not very important - 5.1% (3.0%)
Not important at all - 4.5% (2.4%)

Those who stated that it was important for Iran to develop its nuclear program stated that it was important for the following reasons:

To be able to advance in scientific areas - 17.4%
To increase Iran's power - 13.1%
To become more technologically advanced - 11.6%
In order not to fall behind other countries - 8.7%
To use instead of fossil fuels - 7.7%

Only 6.7 percent of respondents said that it was important to use Iran's nuclear program to defend against its enemies.

7.) As you may know, in July 2015, Iran and the P5+1 countries reached a comprehensive agreement in regard to Iran’s nuclear program, which is also known as the JCPOA. In general and based on what you know about the JCPOA, to what degree do you approve or disapprove of this agreement? (January 2016)

Strongly approve - 26% (30.4%)
Somewhat approve - 29.1% (41.4%)
Somewhat disapprove - 21.7% (13.2%)
Strongly disapprove - 12.1% (8.3%)

As you can see, Iranian support for the JCPOA has fallen from 71.8 percent in January 2016 to 55.1 percent in January 2018, a rather steep decline.

8.) Which view is closest to yours in regard to the sanctions on Iran that the United States agreed to lift as part of the JCPOA?

Once again, it is apparent that Iranians believe that the United States has not lived up to the spirit of the JCPOA.  Despite the lifting of sanctions, only 6.3 percent of Iranians believe that their life is better than it was before the JCPOA was signed.

9.) Let's look at the bottom line; how has the signing of the JCPOA affected the relationship between Iran and the United States? (June 2016)

Improved a lot - 0.5% (2.2%)
Improved somewhat - 2.7% (17.2%)
Improved a little - 2.3% (9.3%)
Have not improved - 82.7% (55.7%)
Have worsened - 7.5% (10.2%)

10.) Lastly, let's look at the trust that Iranians place in the United States and its obligations under the JCPOA:

How confident are you that the United States will live up to its obligations toward the nuclear agreement? (January 2016)

Very confident - 1.1% (4.1%)
Somewhat confident - 10.5% (29.8%)
Not very confident - 22.5% (28.1%)
Not confident at all - 63.9% (33.9%)

When asked about the the hostility level of President Obama and President Trump policies toward Iran, 69.2 percent said that Donald Trump was completely hostile compared to 49.6 percent for Barack Obama and 41.8 percent believe that the United States has taken measures against Iran that violate the letter of the JCPOA.

As you can see from this brief extract from a very thorough survey of Iranian sentiment toward the United States, the Trump Administration has done very little to improve relations between the two nations.  Sadly, because of the recent moves by Washington, more than half of Iranians believe that Iran should restart its nuclear program (58.7 percent) and withdraw from the JCPOA (52.8 percent).   At least the American defense industry will benefit from any moves toward all-out hostilities between the two nations!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

South Korea, the United States Military and Camptown Women

A recent news item from South Korea received almost no traction in the global news media and no mention whatsoever (that I can find) in the United States mainstream media.

According to an article on the English version of Hankyoreh (translation - The Korean Nation), an independent, shareholder-owned South Korea daily newspaper, we find the following:

According to the news item, on February 8, 2018, Seoul's High Court ruled on February 8, 2018 acknowledged that South Korea had actively encouraged prostitution in military camp towns adjacent to U.S. military operations as follows:

"According to official Ministry of Health and Welfare documents, [the state] actively encouraged the women in the military camptowns engage in prostitution to allow foreign troops to ‘relax’ and ‘enjoy sexual services’ with them.

“In the process, [the state] operated and managed the military camp towns with the intention or purpose of contributing to maintenance of a military alliance essential for national security by ‘promoting and boosting morale’ among foreign troops while mobilizing prostitutes for economic goals such as acquisition of foreign currency.

The state actively encouraged and justified acts of prostitution within the military camp towns through patriotic education praising prostitutes as ‘patriots who bring in foreign currency."

The first time that a South Korean judge acknowledged that South Korea was responsible for prostitution at United States military camp towns, commercial zones that were set up around U.S. bases in Korea, was back in January 2017 when Judge Jeon Ji-won of the Central District Court in Seoul admitted that "a serious human rights violation" had taken place and that "it should never have happened and should never be repeated". 

Let's look at some background information on South Korea's state-sanctioned prostitution with United States military personnel.  A fascinating paper by Na-Young Lee and Jae Kyung Lee entitled "History of U.S. Camptown Prostitution in South Korea and Challenges of Women's Oral History" takes a closer look at this aspect of Korean history which has been forced out of Korea's consciousness.  According to the paper, Korean people have 

"...long treated them as pariah, dirty trash, and/or fallen women, calling them highly derogatory names such as yanggalbo (Western whore) and yanggongju (Western princess)..."

First, let's put the legacy of the 1950 to 1953 Korean War into perspective.  After the war which ended in a cease-fire rather than a peace treaty, there was extreme privation and degradation in South Korea.  South Korea's economy was in tatters, facing approximately $3 billion in property damage and destruction of much of the nation's infrastructure.  The only stable legacy of the Korean War was the establishment of camptowns which formed adjacent to U.S. military bases.  After the United States and the Republic of Korea signed the Mutual Defense Treaty in November 1954, military prostitution began to be organized into a "R and R" (rest and relaxation) system as part of system of 18 camptowns that developed a symbiotic relationship with nearby American military bases.  As a result of the crushing poverty in South Korea, many women who had lost their entire families and who suffered from both poverty and hunger, made the difficult decision to turn to prostitution with U.S. military personnel in order to survive.  Despite the fact that prostitution was illegal, the South Korean government did little to actually enforce its own laws out of fear of losing their American protectors.  The women who were referred to as "comfort women" were taught to "live with pride" and were labelled as "personal ambassadors" by government officials despite the fact that they were treated as pariahs by South Korean society.    Former comfort women state that the South Korean government sponsored classes teaching them rudimentary English and etiquette so that they would be more attractive to American soldiers.  Camptown prostitution flourished into the 1960s as the Korean government, a military junta under Park Chung Hee, shifted from a tacit permission to permissive promotion policy regarding camptown prostitution; this led to the further development of business opportunities associated with adjacency to a U.S. military base.  The rapid development of camptowns turned farm villages into commercial districts with clubs, bars and other enterprises catering to American soldiers.  In the 1960s, research shows that there was one South Korean prostitute for every two or three U.S. soldiers and, in some cases, women in camptowns reported that the number of women was almost the same as the number of soldiers.

The camptown economy was very important to the South Korean government in the post-war period; it enabled South Korea to earn foreign currency with U.S. troops contributing roughly 25 percent of South Korea's Gross National Product in the 1960s.  In 1969 alone, roughly 46,000 Korean camptown workers earned $70 million.

In July 1969, the Nixon doctrine signalled that the United States would withdraw one-third of its troops by the end of 1971.  Koreans were extremely concerned that the United States would abandon it entirely and that Communism North Korea would invade once again.  In the period between 1970 and 1980, the Park government changed its philosophy and actively supported the camptown system.  In 1970, one study from Kyonggi Province estimated that the comfort women earned enough money to support an average of four family members; this meant that the withdrawal of even a single U.S. soldier would have wide-ranging negative impacts on the Korean economy.  This sense of crisis caused the Park government to classify camptown prostitution as an integral part of South Korea's economic growth and national defense.  In 1971, Park established the Base Community Clean-up Committee (BCCUC), a committee with a policy of "purification" for U.S. military camp areas in a move to prevent venereal diseases from spreading among U.S. soldiers.   Women that tested positive for STDs were interred in segregated facilities and were administered penicillin without their consent as part of South Korea's attempts to woo American military protection.  Here is a quote from the paper:

"Called for patriotic service through selling sex, women became subject to intensive government control and indoctrinated in intensive education regarding “good conduct” and proper “etiquette” to induce more G.I.s. In the so-called “education class” held in either at local government office or at health center, the importance to improve women’s behavior and to prevent VD was emphasized."

Women were forced to take a STD test up to twice a week and to carry a STD identification card which could be spot-checked by Korean authorities.  Women who were selected for random STD checks and who did not have a health card were fined and if they could not afford to pay the fine, they were imprisoned for five to seven days.  Women who tested positive for STDs were imprisoned until they had recovered completely and were administered penicillin without their consent as part of South Korea's attempts to retain American military protection..
The camptown prostitution system is still in existence but the majority of prostitutes today are from nations other than South Korea, with the majority now coming from the Philippines. 

In June 2014, 122 former comfort women filed a lawsuit demanding a government apology and compensation for their detention, seeking damages of 10 million won or $8900 for each woman.   Here is how the lawsuit was reported on the Library of Congress website:

Here is a news video about the lawsuit:

In the 2017 ruling, 57 of the plaintiffs were awarded 5 million won which worked out to a rather paltry sum of $4,240 each, far less than they had sought.

In the 2018 ruling, Hon. Judge Lee Beom-gyun of Seoul's High Court ruled that 74 of the 117 former comfort women should receive 7 million won or $6370 and the remaining 43 women would receive 3 million won or $2730, still a very small settlement for what can only be regarded as a breach of basic human rights.

Just in case you thought the connection between the U.S. military and prostitution in South Korea, here is a video trailer from a 1996 movie, "The Women Outside" showing that comfort women are still in place for American servicemen:

One thing is certain, women have played a painful and costly role in Korean geopolitics since the early 1950s, an unintended consequence of the Cold War mentality.