The United States ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was attacked by a pro-unification activist wielding a razor blade this morning. The activist, a 55-year-old man dressed in a traditional Korean robe called a hanbock, yelled ”South and North Korea should be reunified” before lunging at Lippert with a 10 inch blade. Lippert, who was about to deliver a lecture in Seoul about peace on the divided peninsula, was rushed to his car with cuts to his face and wrists; the injuries were not life-threatening.
Some Koreans see the United States as an obstacle to eventual reunification of the two Koreas. Today they are separated by the world’s most heavily armed border, including a large US military presence. The attacker previously threw concrete at the Japanese ambassador to South Korea.
The timing of the attack may reflect ongoing US-South Korea military exercises, which have raised tensions on the peninsula. Pyongyang sees the joint drills as rehearsal for an invasion of the north, and it launched two short-range ballistic missiles this week.
Political activists in Korean have been known to take extreme, violent measures. In 2013, a man stabbed himself in the stomach to protest the visit of a Japanese envoy. And a group sliced off the tips of their pinky fingers in 2001 to demand an apology from Japan for its treatment of Koreans during World War II. According to South Korea’s CBS News, Lippert’s attacker set himself on fire in 2007 to demand an investigation into the rape of a member of his activist group Urimadangm or “Our Square.”
Lippert has been the US ambassador in Seoul since October, 2014. He and his wife recently had a son in South Korea, and gave him a Korean middle name.