Harry Harris, the United States ambassador to Seoul, South Korea has been accused of being disrespectful due to the style of his facial hair.
Harris began his role as ambassador in July 2018 after serving 40 years in the U.S. Navy. Although he had previously been clean-shaven, he explained that he decided to grow the distinct mustache to mark a career change.
The ambassador, who is the son of an American Navy officer and a Japanese mother was born in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo, according to the Telegraph. This fact has led to accusations that he had a natural bias towards Japan which becomes complicated with the historical tensions between the two East Asian countries.
When Japan colonized South Korea during World War II, in what many scholars now call an “Asian Holocaust,” the Japanese Imperial Army reportedly forced millions of Koreans into forced labor to work for Japanese occupiers and an estimated 200,000 women, some of whom were underage children, into forced sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers.
The rise of the Japanese nationalist sentiment under conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has previously been criticized for spreading propaganda to reshape Japan’s wartime history, has contributed to reigniting tensions between Korea and Japan.
Harris’ style of facial hair has been accused of resembling the mustache style famously sported by all eight Japanese governors-general of Korea, such as Hideki Tojo, who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
In response to some of the Koreans who suspect this could have been a calculated move, Harris replied, “You would have to convince me that somehow the mustache is viewed in a way that hurts our relationship”.