Young South Koreans see a menacing US

Like her friends in Seoul, Min Chi opposed the Iraqi war long before it started. Still, when the young civil servant came back to her office from lunch, clicked on the Internet, and saw the alert, she was stunned. "The war started," she shouted. With four others, she turned on TV.

"Now, after three days, I am constantly changing my mind, and I just want it to end quickly; I hate Bush," says Ms. Chi, a graduate of Methodist Theological Seminary here and Trinity College in Dublin. After buzzing around the office, "I couldn't work," she says. "We were all pretty upset."

Office talk ranged from wondering how many innocents were killed, to the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein, to why British and Americans are "liars," to how "Bush can be so cruel."

Older South Koreans view things differently. Seoul officially supports the war and plans to send 700 support personnel. But if Chi and her peers can organize it, the 700 will never go. Hers are the views of an emerging Korea - a generation in leftist lockstep. All the younger staff in her 170-person office oppose the war; colleagues log onto intranet bulletin boards with names like "nowar" and "Bush, it is our world, not yours."

These under-40 Koreans feel their country is undergoing a permanent change - toward Korean solidarity, a new "people's order." They held candles to protest the presence of US troops, and take credit for electing new President Roh Moo-hyun. "I am very proud of being South Korean and being Asian," says Chi, who has a quick smile. "We are part of a Korea that is very alive, very passionate; I come from the peaceful candle movement, and the push for a civil society."

Part and parcel of the change are demands for equality with Americans, and an active antiwar stance. Her generation is not anti-US, she says, but opposed to bad US policies. Many problems in Korea today stem from a legacy of US support for past dictatorships here, she feels, and to her, most world problems seem American in origin.

Chi is especially worried about how the Iraq war may influence the standoff with North Korea. Bush, she feels, "may not be sensitive to our problems. He looks at the world as black and white." She worries about a US doctrine of preemptive strikes against Kim Jong Il's Yongbyon nuclear facility - which she thinks could start a war.

Unlike her elders, Chi insists the North has no nuclear weapons. She says a meeting between US envoy James Kelly and the North in October - where Mr. Kim admitted to an enriched-uranium program - was a misunderstanding by the US. Chi says she will be "very disappointed" if Kim does have such weapons. "I have to trust the North. They are our people. If we are going to develop, we need to believe and understand them. They may not trust us, but we need to find a way to make peace."

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