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Uproar in South Korea Over US Envoy's Mustache

Some say it's a symbol of colonial rule; Harry Harris says no
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 17, 2020 10:04 AM CST
US Ambassador to Seoul Harry Harris poses at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, on Nov. 6, 2019.   (Heo Ran/Pool Photo via AP, File)
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(Newser) – Harry Harris has some hair on his upper lip, a fact now at the center of what "might just be the most bizarre criticism of a US ambassador in recent memory," per CNN. The US envoy to South Korea, who grew a mustache as he transitioned from naval officer to diplomat in July 2018, is battling accusations that his 'stache pays homage to Japan's brutal colonial rule from 1910 to 1945. South Koreans have pointed out that all eight Japanese governors-general had mustaches in that era. But "to take that history and put it on me simply because of an accident of birth I think is a mistake," Harris told the Korea Times, referring to his Japanese ancestry. He was born to a Japanese mother and an American father. He also pointed out that Korean independence figures sported mustaches, too.

The newspaper notes that in the eyes of his critics, the mustache is "associated with the latest US image of being disrespectful and even coercive toward Korea." But Harris, 63, says he's being criticized because of his ethnic background. "All I can say is that every decision I make is based on the fact that I'm American ambassador to Korea, not the Japanese-American ambassador to Korea." At CNN, Joshua Berlinger writes that such attacks would likely be considered racist in the US. However, "mixed-race families are rare and xenophobia remains surprisingly common" in South Korea. The criticism comes amid the Trump administration's push to have South Korea pay $5 billion to support US troops, more than five times what it paid last year, per the Guardian. In October, 19 students were arrested for allegedly trying to breach Harris' residence over that issue. (Read more South Korea stories.)

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