US Ambassador’s Moustache Inflames Washington And Seoul Tensions

Sara C Nelson
US Ambassador to Seoul Harry Harris 

Amid a strained dialogue between Washington and Seoul over the prospect of reopening tourism with North Korea, one man’s facial hair has apparently become fair game.

More specifically, the moustache of Harry Harris, the US ambassador to South Korea has been targeted by some local media and anti-US activists, who have compared it with those of officials in the Japanese colonial government that ruled Korea from 1910 to 1945.

Last year the Korea Times ran a piece entitled “the politics of US envoy’s moustache”, quoting Harris as revealing: “I wanted to make a break between my life as a military officer and my new life as a diplomat. I tried to grow taller but I couldn’t grow any taller, and so I tried to get younger but I couldn’t get younger. But I could grow a moustache so I did that.”

Some critics have attacked Harris more directly, with some even commenting on his Japanese-American heritage. Harris, who became a diplomat after 40 years in the military, was born to a Japanese mother and an American father.

In an interview with a local radio station, a ruling party politician compared him with a “governor general” of the Japanese government during the colonial period.

Speaking on Thursday, Harris also mentioned the public comments about his heritage and the mockery of his moustache - despite the fact that many famous Korean historical figures had similar facial hair.

“My moustache, for some reason, has become a point of some fascination here,” Harris said at the briefing on Thursday.

In a protest outside the US Embassy in December, for example, activists plucked the moustache hairs from posters of Harris’ face.

“I understand the historical animosity that exists between both of the nations,” Harris said of the lingering tensions between South Korea and Japan.

“But I am not the Japanese-American ambassador to Korea — I am the American ambassador to Korea.”

Seoul and Washington have been at odds over a number of issues in recent...

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