[VIEWPOINT]Either help or get out of the way

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[VIEWPOINT]Either help or get out of the way

Even in the 21st century, Korea's debates over political ideology still do not go beyond the decades-old battle between the "Japanophiles" versus the "reds." The term "Japanophiles" is the worst name that the leftists can call members of right-wing groups. By contrast, "the reds" is the most provocative term that the right wing can use to describe leftists.

As soon as Roh Moo-hyun was nominated as the Millennium Democratic Party's presidential candidate, controversy erupted over his past as a dissident. Although his attackers used a host of terms, they simply meant to ask, "You are a red, aren't you?"

When Lee Hoi-chang won the opposition Grand National Party's presidential candidacy, his opponents took issue with his father's job as an assistant to Japanese prosecutors during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of Korea. In short, they wanted to ask Mr. Lee, "You are a son of a Japanophile, aren't you?"

The dichotomy underlies every political issue in Korea, including the engagement policy with North Korea, the MDP's internal document about why Mr. Lee should not be the president and the friction between conservative newspapers and the progressive groups. All roads lead to the "Japanophile vs. reds" labeling.

In fact, the dichotomy accurately reflects Korea's modern history. After Japan forcibly colonized Korea, Koreans were divided into two groups: Realistic "Japanophiles" argued for conforming to the Japanese rule in order to build up the power of the Korean people, while the "reds" believed in national independence through an alliance with the Comintern, or the Communist International, an anti-imperialistic coalition led by the Soviet Union.

The division became permanent when the peninsula was divided into two Koreas after independence from the Japanese rule. In the South, a government was set up by the Japanophiles and newly-emerging pro-U.S. groups and pursued economic development modeled after the Japanese economy. In the North, the reds took the Soviet model and built a Communist country.

The problem is that the Japanophile-red division continued in the South. Some intellectuals, student groups and labor activists, under the slogans of anti-imperialism and anti-feudalism, were attracted to the socialist ideology that advocated the rights of workers and the people. They constantly criticized the South's system, which was led by pro-U.S. groups and military rulers. By contrast, leaders of the South's regime purged the reds in their efforts to defend freedom and capitalism from Communism and totalitarianism.

Despite that internal split in the South, it succeeded economically by adopting the Japanese economic model. Politically, dissident movements led by the reds were the driving force behind the South's democratization. The Japanophiles attempted to maintain their vested interests, while the reds dreamed of a class revolution. But thanks to their rivalry, the South has both economic development and if not a class revolution, a democratic one.

Now, the dialectic of South Korea's history is going beyond the dichotomy between Japano-philes versus reds. Draped in their national flags and shouting "Dae Han Min Guk" at the top of their lungs during the World Cup games, the South's young people have shown us their rejection of both the authoritarianism advocated by the Japanophiles and the class struggle desired by the reds. Raised in economic affluence, they refused to bow to authority, exclusivism and solemnity. They perceived their people and their country through the soccer festival and accepted the world through open-minded, not exclusive, nationalism. To them, it is no longer important who is a Japanophile and who is a red. Korea's new hope and energy stems from breaking out of old mind-sets.

Our politicians and intellectuals cannot seem to do so. Politicians cannot ditch the legacies of authoritarianism and class-orientation. Where can we find a politician who can represent the brilliant young minds of South Korea, which is beginning to be truly globalized and democraticized? When can we break free from our old-fashioned politicians and intellectuals, still mired in a Japanophile-red debate?


The writer is a professor of political science at Yonsei University.

by Hahm Chae-bong

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