The United States is trying to persuade South Korean educators to tone down anti-Americanism in textbooks, standardized tests and lessons in middle and high schools.
Although anti-American sentiment, which reached a peak last year, is declining, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul is worried about how the United States is being presented in the classroom — and it intends to do something about it.
"We are moving pretty aggressively on this," a senior U.S. diplomat here said in an interview.
"We are doing a survey to figure out how the United States is being portrayed in textbooks — primarily history books — and to see what the references and the omissions are. There aren't a lot of references about the United States liberating Korea from the Japanese, for example," he said.
Once the survey, which is in its initial stage, is concluded, the embassy plans to redirect some of its resources for public diplomacy to programs that would address the problem. It also hopes to get more money from Washington.
"We have grants for people who are book writers and curriculum developers, so we have to target them. We'll send them to the United States to show them how our textbook writers operate and expose them to the American experience," the senior diplomat said.
"So we'll try to find people who are at least willing to talk to us, who are in responsible positions — ideally, it would be someone who 10 years from now will be the minister of education," he said.
The embassy was particularly alarmed by a test that members of the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers' Union, an alternative union not recognized by the state, gave their students soon after the war in Iraq began in the spring.
"It's so anti-American, it's amazing," the senior diplomat said about the multiple-choice quiz, an English translation of which the embassy provided to The Washington Times.
One of the questions, for example, includes the statement: "President Bush has officially cited several reasons for striking Iraq, but they have not been convincing enough for people around the world."
One of the possible answers to another question asks rhetorically: "If the war against Iraq started because the country has [weapons of mass destruction], then doesn't this mean that the United States, which possesses the greatest amount of WMD in the world, should be attacked by U.N. forces?"
The test also asks: "Which is a false statement about the Iraq weapons inspections?"
Although the embassy's copy did not have what the union considered correct answers, it is fairly obvious that the one here is incorrect: "After failing to find WMD in the air, sea and underground, Bush searched the inside pockets of [Saddam] Hussein and found thousands of state-of-the-art micro nuclear weapons hidden there."
According to the test, therefore, this is a correct statement: "Hearing Bush say that WMD exist in Iraq even after the final U.N. weapons inspection report came out, Hussein proposed that 'the U.S. CIA and FBI, known to have the world's best intelligence capabilities, should come and search for themselves.' However, Bush ignored such remarks and continued to insist that WMD do exist in Iraq."
The test received harsh criticism in South Korea when it became public, and the union was forced to tone down some of the questions, but the new version was not immediately available.
Anti-Americanism remains a serious concern among diplomats and common U.S. citizens here, even though a poll this week showed a dramatic decline in such feelings, which reached a peak last summer after two teenage girls were accidentally run over and killed by a U.S. armored vehicle participating in a training exercise.
Resentment at the United States is no novelty in South Korea — over the years, it has had as much to do with the presence of 37,000 American troops as with specific policies of various U.S. administrations.
Mass expressions of that sentiment usually come in waves, but what really troubles Americans during periods of relative calm such as this is a very vocal minority of activists, teachers and other intellectuals who seem to be on a crusade against any ties with the United States.
On Saturday, more than 2,000 South Koreans and foreigners marched through Seoul in the largest rally yet against a U.S. request for peacekeeping troops to help in Iraq.
But last week, the JoongAng Ilbo Co. in Seoul, which publishes the JoongAng Daily, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, released a poll indicating a much more positive attitude of South Koreans toward the United States and the American forces in the country.
More than 93 percent of the 1,710 respondents said relations with the United States are important, and nearly 82 percent said the alliance has contributed to peace on the Korean Peninsula. More than 73 percent said the alliance should be strengthened or at least maintained at the current level.
More than 87 percent said the U.S. forces in South Korea are important to national security, and nearly 83 percent said the troops should remain in the country — an increase from less than 60 percent in a June poll.
Nearly 63 percent favored continued troop presence for a "considerable period" versus 31 percent in June. Those advocating an early pullout dropped from 38 percent in June to just over 22 percent this month.
More than 55 percent cited the threat from North Korea as the top reason for keeping American forces in the country.
Data from the U.S. Agency for International Development show that between 1946 and 2001 the United States provided nearly $15 billion worth of economic and military aid to South Korea.
Also, according to U.S. military officials in South Korea, in 2001, the troop presence cost $2.77 billion, which includes military personnel, operations and maintenance, family housing operations, military construction and procurement.