[EDITORIALS]Our national squabble

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[EDITORIALS]Our national squabble

Even as we mull over the outcome of the summit meeting between presidents Kim Dae-jung and George W. Bush, another part of the nation is embroiled in an increasingly intense ideological confrontation. Antagonism divides the people as sharply as the difference in the voices of demonstrators who denounce or welcome the visit by the U.S. president. And the legislators on both sides of the aisle have been only too happy to jump on the bandwagon and roll out the most extreme version of mudslinging, branding opposition leader Lee Hoi-chang the "root of evil" and Mr. Bush the "avatar of evil." In return, the Kim administration was called the "Red Guard for the Kim Jong-il regime."

The wall is only going up higher in this confrontation; self-righteousness and bias are the only rules of the game in the no-holds-barred attacks. The tactics only drive issues to a "you're with us or against us" confrontation that pits an anti-U.S., pro-North and pro-Kim Dae-jung camp against a pro-U.S., anti-North and anti-Kim Dae-jung camp. The problem can spiral down into a vicious ideological fight that will drain the country's energy. Signs of that have become visible among politicians and in the general public.

The differences in opinion were intensified with the question of what to make of President Bush's attack on terrorism and how to deal with the Kim Jong-il regime, which is obsessed with weapons at the expense of feeding its people and human rights. The differences in the two sides' outlooks have their roots in the ideological clash after liberation, the hostilities stemming from the Korean War and pro- or anti-Kim Dae-jung biases. The differences are also highly volatile, as was seen in the reaction to Mr. Bush's "axis of evil" comment and in the near-fiasco at a festival in Pyeongyang last August.

Differences in opinions in a democratic society should be encouraged. They can breed diversity and widen the scope of our thinking. But we cannot use a sarcastic and extremist confrontation to have constructive discussions on how to deal with the North or decide what we want from the United States. In the new geopolitical climate after the Sept. 11 attacks, healthy criticism and argument have been crowded out by emotional confrontations between pro- and anti-U.S. voices that get us nowhere. The formulation of any kind of a national consensus about the framework and the tools to establish peace, stability and, eventually, unification on the peninsula are nearly impossible in this climate.

Even more disconcerting, this confrontation has been extended to the issues of labor relations, educational reform and even to the specialization of the medical and pharmaceutical professions. That tears society along generational and class lines and exacerbates the drift in national administration.

It is not too late to pool our wisdom to resolve the ideological conflict. We should all look back into our personal past. Rather than drawing battle lines on any issue, we must adopt the democratic ideal of recognizing where others are coming from on the issues. Consensus is not easy on issues such as the U.S.-Korea relationship and dialogue with the North, but multifaceted dialogue and approaches must be used to formulate choices that we can agree on.

Our politicians have the largest role to play in the new phase of discussions we need. They should be the ones to show leadership in resolving ideological conflicts. The administration's sunshine policy of embracing the North must also be modified to stand on a basis that can embrace the differing views in the South.
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