US ambassador defends moustache as South Koreans bristle at ‘disrespectful’ facial hair

The US ambassador to Seoul has defended his decision to grow a moustache, with some South Koreans bristling that the facial hair is disrespectful and a calculated slight.  Harry Harris took over as US ambassador to South Korea in July 2018 after a distinguished 40-year career in the US Navy.  Clean-shaven whilst an admiral in the navy, Mr Harris told The Korea Times that he decided to grow a moustache to mark his career change. “I wanted to make a break between my life as a military officer and my new life as a diplomat”, he said. “I tried to get 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”.  Mr Harris was responding to the suggestion that his new moustache was an insult to Korea.  The US government has been roundly criticised in South Korea after Donald Trump announced the US would demand $5 billion a year to keep troops in South Korea.  As the face of the US administration in South Korea, Mr Harris has borne the brunt of much of the criticism.  The second strike against Mr Harris is his ethnicity. The son of a US Navy officer and a Japanese mother, Mr Harris was born in Yokosuka, south-west of Tokyo, leading to allegations that he has a natural affinity for Japan – which has a complicated history with the Korean Peninsula.  The peninsula became a Japanese protectorate in 1905 and part of the Japanese empire from 1910 until the end of the Second World War in 1945.  Some South Koreans have accused Mr Harris of sporting a moustache that harks back to the years of colonial rule on the grounds that all eight Japanese governor-generals of Korea also had moustaches.  Shrugging off the controversy, he said: “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”. Asked if he intended to shave his moustache off to quell the criticism, Mr Harris replied, “You would have to convince me that somehow the moustache is viewed in a way that hurts our relationship”.