"And Where Were You?"

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"And Where Were You?"

The famous German writer Heinrich Boell, the Nobel Literature Prize winner in 1972, wrote "And Where were you, Adam?" in 1951. It is an icon of anti-war literature, describing horrible scenes of war. Although Boell was also a victim of the Second World War, he does not attempt to pin responsibility on others. He was stoic, comparing war to a disease.

Boell''s philosophy reflected disillusionment toward anti-Nazi activists who suddenly emerged after the collapse of Hitler''s Germany. Boell sarcastically questioned in his work where "Adam" was when the fever of Nazism swept over Germany.

Despite differences in location and time, some always call themselves fighters for the revolution when a society experiences rapid changes. Especially after a dictatorship collapses, there are always groups calling themselves champions of democracy.

After the end of Milosevic''s ruthless 13-year regime, the Yugoslav press, formerly a pro-government propaganda tool, turned on a dime. Even if readers share the media''s new pro-democracy sentiments, the sudden change has unsettled them.

The International Herald Tribune recently published an article on the moral dilemma of the Serbian press, and criticized the changes in approach of the Yugoslav press, especially the reporters. The IHT pointed out that institutions which had served Milosevic like slaves were suddenly proclaiming their commitment to fair reporting and a free press. They excused their earlier role by saying they were just following orders of those above them, the same justification used by uncountable numbers of German soldiers after the war.

However, is this story applicable only to Yugoslavia? We also have some uncomfortable history. After our liberation from Japanese colonization, even gangsters called themselves independence fighters. Compared to their hypocrisy, the penitence of Yi Kwang-soo, who admitted to being a pro-Japanese writer and intellectual leader of our pre-liberation society, was refreshingly sincere.

Recent history has embarrassed us even more. After the end of the fifth republic (Chun Doo-hwan''s administration), the press--the mouthpiece of the Chun administration--stepped forward to claim that the new democracy was the result of its efforts. Even a chameleon cannot change so quickly.

Those embarrassing moments were very recent, and perhaps the story is still going on. The entire press corps must examine itself. We should be sure that we can answer confidently and without hesitation when someone, at some point, asks, "Then where were you?"

by Yoo Jae-sik

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