Recently on this page, Rep. Stephen Solarz noted the rise of anti-American sentiment among some of South Korea's younger generation, a phenomenon he attributed to a misunderstanding of his and other Americans' support for democratization in Korea.

Having found myself this past September in the middle of an anti-American demonstration on the campus of Yonsei University in Seoul, I can attest to the existence of such feelings among Korea's young adults. But I am drawn to somewhat different conclusions about their origin and significance.

South Korea is experiencing the second of two generation gaps, both of which have involved its relationship with the United States.

The first, in the 1950s and '60s, was a byproduct of U.S. participation in the Korean War and its aftermath. That war produced absolute devastation on the Korean peninsula. Seoul, now home to one Korean in five, was leveled; agriculture was disrupted; and the industrial base of the Korean economy was destroyed. The end of overt hostilities left the peninsula divided between two adversarial regimes.

The reconstruction, modernization and, some would hasten to add, Westernization of South Korea received three major boosts from the United States: First was the U.S. military presence guaranteeing the country's security. Second was economic aid starting Korea toward its industrial miracle. Third was an infusion of American values, including notions of Western-style democracy.

Thrust upon a people on the brink of starvation and a culture that had survived for centuries accommodating to the manners of a succession of dominant protecting powers, these forces produced two noteworthy effects:

Rising expectations on the part of Koreans toward political and economic life, and

A relationship of economic and political dependency with the United States.

Older Koreans resented what many saw as an American intrusion into their national ife, while younger Koreans adopted Westernized values and mannerisms. The result was a generation gap that spanned two cultures. Those most influenced by American economic and political thinking have been in the ascendancy ever since.

Today's generation gap, too, centers in part on the propriety of Korea's patron-client relationship with the United States. But this time the tide may be running against American influence. Three of the contributing factors:

The U.S. military presence. American military personnel are more evident browsing in the shops of Itaewon, one of Seoul's tourist areas, than in any official capacity. But the Korean military presence is pervasive, justified by the government as necessary to prevent the rival regime to the north from dominating the south. Most younger Koreans, born long after the war, do not accept this rationale. Moreover, they hold Americans responsible for having permitted the violent repression by the Korean army of political disturbances in the city of Kwangju in 1980. In effect, the United States is closely associated in this segment of the public mind with the highly visible and generally distrusted Korean military.

The U.S. media presence. Unlike most armed forces broadcasting services, which use cable or satellite facilities to distribute news and entertainment to U.S. military personnel abroad, the Armed Forces in Korea Network (AFKN) broadcasts on domestic Korean radio and television channels. It is, in effect, one of Korea's three networks, the other two being owned or controlled by the government. This is equivalent to the government of France owning NBC and all of its affiliates and broadcasting a mix of French domestic programs and military news in French all across the United States. More than merely a violation of their national sovereignty, many Koreans see AFKN as a threat to their culture.

The U.S. political and diplomatic presence. Younger Koreans resent the very pointed responsiveness of their government to U.S. interests, and even political elites react to American political heavy-handedness. One member of the National Assembly observed that "everything {in Korea} is based on U.S. interests," and another commented wryly that the "Democracy in Korea Bill of 1987" introduced into the U.S. Congress in June might more appropriately be introduced into the Korean National Assembly.

Rather than inherently negative feelings about the United States, recent expressions of concern about U.S. influence reflect a new assertiveness by Koreans, both inside and outside the government, of their independence and national pride, an international extension of the rising expectations that have swept Korean politics over the past year. In a sense, then, they represent a positive sign of political maturation. Nevertheless, these sentiments can develop rapidly into significant strategic liabilities should the United States overplay its position, or misunderstand the game.

In his comments, Solarz asserted that anti-Americanism in Korea traces to an inadequate appreciation by the Korean opposition of the norms of democracy. I believe such sentiments derive from more fundamental structural elements of the U.S.-Korean relationship. Each alternative has its own implications for the direction of U.S. policy toward Korean political development. . . and for its success.

The writer is director of the Political Communications Program at The George Washington University.