It's generally a bad idea to try to speak for an entire country, especially when it's not your own. NBC's now-former Olympics commentator, Joshua Cooper Ramo, has learned the hard way that speaking for "every Korean" will quickly get you fired, particularly about an occupation by a foreign power that resulted in Korean women being sexually enslaved.
During NBC's coverage of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics on Friday, Ramo, co-chief executive of consulting firm Kissinger Associates and board member of Starbucks and FedEx, said that "every Korean" is appreciative of the "cultural, technological and economic example" set by Japan.
"Every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural, technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation," said Ramo, after noting the presence of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the opening ceremonies.
Ramo seems to have overlooked that Japan conducted a 35-year bloody occupation of the Korean peninsula. Koreans, however, have certainly not forgotten the "one-time imperial power’s brutalization of the peninsula," notes the New York Post, which included the sexual enslavement of many Korean women (more on that below).
What made the comment even more embarrassing for NBC is that they failed to catch it despite the 14-hour tape delay.
According to reports, NBC initially tried to figure out a way to continue working with Ramo, but mounting pressure forced their hand.
"It was possible for him to do more with us here; now it is no longer possible," an NBC official told the Korea Times, the Post reports.
Over the weekend, NBC asked anchor Carolyn Manno to read an official apology from the network.
"During our coverage of the Parade of Nations on Friday we said it was notable that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the trip to Korea for the Olympics, 'representing Japan, a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945 but every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural, technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation,'" reads the statement. "We understand the Korean people were insulted by these comments and we apologize."
The network also issued a written apology. "We apologized quickly both in writing and on television for a remark made by one of our presenters during Friday night’s opening ceremony," NBC said in a statement Sunday.
Below are some key facts about the Japanese occupation presented by the University of Columbia, which notes that while there were indeed many economic benefits of the Japanese occupation of the peninsula, the conditions for most of the multi-decade reign were horrific for Koreans, including "thousands of young Korean women [being] drafted as 'Comfort Women' — in effect, sexual slaves — for Japanese soldiers":
- Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945) was a deeply ambivalent experience for Koreans. On the one hand, Japanese colonialism was often quite harsh. For the first ten years Japan ruled directly through the military, and any Korean dissent was ruthlessly crushed. After a nationwide protest against Japanese colonialism that began on March 1, 1919, Japanese rule relaxed somewhat, allowing a limited degree of freedom of expression for Koreans.
- Despite the often oppressive and heavy-handed rule of the Japanese authorities, many recognizably modern aspects of Korean society emerged or grew considerably during the 35-year period of colonial rule. These included rapid urban growth, the expansion of commerce, and forms of mass culture such as radio and cinema, which became widespread for the first time. Industrial development also took place, partly encouraged by the Japanese colonial state, although primarily for the purposes of enriching Japan and fighting the wars in China and the Pacific rather than to benefit the Koreans themselves. Such uneven and distorted development left a mixed legacy for the peninsula after the colonial period ended.
- By the time of the Japanese surrender in August 1945, Korea was the second-most industrialized nation in Asia after Japan itself.
- But the wartime mobilization of 1937-45 had reintroduced harsh measures to Japanese colonial rule, as Koreans were forced to work in Japanese factories and were sent as soldiers to the front. Tens of thousands of young Korean women were drafted as “Comfort Women” - in effect, sexual slaves - for Japanese soldiers.
- In 1939, Koreans were even pressured by the colonial authorities to change their names to Japanese names, and more than 80 percent of the Koreans complied with the name-change ordinance.