Making Sense of the Shocking Stabbing of a U.S. Ambassador

The extremist activist who assaulted Mark Lippert last week had longstanding grievances against the U.S. that many South Koreans share.

U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert heads for the hospital in Seoul after the attack. Kim Ju-sung/Yonhap/AP Photo

For many Americans, news of a knife attack on U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert in Seoul last Thursday came as a shock. Given the strong, longstanding relationship between our two nations, it may seem like there’s no rational explanation for such a violent attack. Stories covering Lippert’s recovery from the deep gash to his face and five wounds in his left arm (none of which did any serious damage), yet going into very little detail on his assailant, a 55-year-old South Korean man named Kim Ki-Jong, have only increased that sense of mystery. The result has been the impression that Ki-Jong was a shocking aberration, an unstable agent with a violent history being manipulated by the sinister North Korea—South Korean police have been quick to point out that the assailant visited North Korea seven times between 1999 and 2007, and North Korea’s giddy and self-righteous coverage of the attack is suspect.

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