Despite a series of infelicitous statements on Twitter, Sarah Jeong has been hired as the newest member of The New York Times editorial board. Her tweets included such indecorous comments as “oh man, it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men”, “killallmen”, and at least one unflattering comparison between white people and dogs.
These opinions understandably drew the considerable ire of many conservatives (and at least some Times readers), many of whom thought the paper should rescind her appointment. That would be a mistake – after all, this is America and one of the wonderful things about it is that Ms. Jeong is pretty much free to say what she wants, and The New York Times should be able to hire or fire whomever they choose.
However, a cursory look at her family’s roots suggests the inescapable conclusion that either Sarah Jeong was never taught much about the lessons of the Korean War or alternatively, that gratitude is not her long suit.
Born in South Korea, Ms. Jeong was three years old in 1988 when she came to the United States with her parents, who were university students at the time. Her grandparents were also probably from the southern half of the Korean peninsula, or at the very least they found refuge in the South during the Korean War. Most likely, they were living there in the early summer of 1950, when the North Korean Communist Army crossed the 38th Parallel to invade South Korea. In today’s vernacular, the North Korean Army was composed of men of color (although they were abetted by an old white man, Josef Stalin, who supplied them with tanks, materiel, and tactical support).
At that point, a group of old white men in the United States, including President Harry Truman and General George Marshall, made the decision to send American troops to defend South Korea. As the primary component of a UN task force, the American Army comprised mostly young white men along with some men of color, most of the latter the result of President Truman’s decision two years earlier to integrate the Armed Forces.
The Allied Forces fought the North Koreans and then the Communist Chinese (another army of color) in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. In the winter of 1950, in a key battle at the Chosin Reservoir, temperatures routinely dropped to 25 below zero. Eventually, the Allies drove the Communists forces back across the 38th Parallel, although Seoul changed hands several times during the War. Without the help of the United States, led by its old white men, Korea would be one country today – under Communist rule.
One wonders if Ms. Leong ever considered that alternative history - and the implications for her family. North Korea was quite unforgiving of, and brutal to, those suspected of supporting the enemy (in fairness, South Korea behaved in a similar fashion). Had Sarah Jeong’s grandparents lived under the communists, it is quite possible they would have been killed. Sarah’s parents, and Sarah, would have never been born.
Even in the event her grandparents were not killed, it is inconceivable anyone from Sarah’s family would have been allowed to emigrate to the United States, as her parents ultimately did. And Sarah would have never known the earthly delights of an education at Berkley and Harvard, nor the benefits of a plum position on the editorial board of The New York Times. Such are the vagaries and vicissitudes of history. In some fashion, she owes her current privilege to old white men, the kind she tweets that she enjoys being cruel to now.
Ironically, there is one aspect of the Korean War that jibes with Sarah Jeong’s tweets. From 1950-1953, 56,000 Americans, nearly all of them men, died while fighting to keep the southern half of the Korean peninsula free. All told, there were a total of roughly two and a half million casualties during the war. Thousands of women and children died, but of course the majority of the casualties on both sides were men. Sara Jeong, the author of the “killallmen” tweet, might be pleased by that.
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