&#91NOTEBOOK&#93Photos showed the stark choices

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&#91NOTEBOOK&#93Photos showed the stark choices

The front page is the face of a newspaper. Making up this daily face is the most serious concern of every newspaper. And photographs are no less important than articles. Photographs on the front page help decide the impression of that day's editions.

The JoongAng Ilbo chose two photographs for the front page of Jan. 13. One showed about 50,000 people gathered in the square in front of Seoul City Hall to protest North Korea's decision to pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and to support U.S. military presence in South Korea. The other showed an anti-American mass rally held in Pyeongyang on the same day. The Seoul rally, held in the same place where hundreds of thousands had massed as the "Red Devils" to cheer Korea's soccer team, seemed like another festival as thousands of green balloons were released.

On the other hand, the Pyeongyang crowd, which gathered to support North Korea's decision to withdraw from the NPT and to pledge resistance against the United States, were "in perfect order."

That day, the square in front of Seoul City Hall, which had been the place of candlelight vigils for the revision of the treaty governing American troops in Korea, was transformed into a place to demonstrate support for the stationing of the U.S. military here. In Pyeongyang, 1 million people shouted for defense of the nation. The photographs caused us to realize that we sometimes forget basic truths.

The society we want is not a uniform society where there is only one view, but a society where various views co-exist. We do not want a society where we must devote ourselves to a hereditary leader; we want a society where we choose a leader on the principle that sovereignty rests with the people. We do not want a closed society where we should lower our voice, but an open society where freedom of expression is protected. But, with the North Korean nuclear issue lingering, the absolute thesis is that liberal democracy has priority over nationalism.

Stressing the pride of Koreans, North Korea, with its nuclear program, is playing a dangerous game with the United States, the only super power of the world. South Koreans are condemning the game as North Korea's unique "diplomacy on the edge of a cliff," but some of them are wondering at Pyeongyang's spirit and cleverness. The joke that we should put diplomacy in the hands of officials from North Korea if the two Koreas are unified are not simple jokes. In addition, I have heard the naive view that North Korea's nuclear weapons will become ours under unification. Time, a U.S. news weekly, said the view that North Korea is a poor but proud brother is spreading among young South Koreans who did not experience the devastation of the Korean War.

Our neighbors will never accept nuclear weapons in a unified Korea. If we really want unification, we should solve the North Korean nuclear issue first. And the more important thing is that we should recognize the fact that there is no future for a fascist country that suppresses variety and pursues uniformity. Nazi Germany, militarist Japan and the Soviet Union under the dictatorship of the communist party all collapsed.

Freedom and democracy are more precious than the unification of Korea. But we should prevent any tragedy that would make our brother bleed in order to protect freedom and democracy. Accordingly, what we have to do first is solve the North Korean nuclear problem peacefully.

The North Korean nuclear issue comes from the anachronistic cold-war structure on the Korean Peninsula. We should solve this problem through dismantling the cold-war structure. The two Koreas, the United States and China should hurry to find a way to ease strains in North Korean society and revive its economy. They need to revive the four-party talks. In addition, considering the potential domino effect of the North Korean nuclear issue in Northeast Asia, we and our neighbors need to examine whether to establish a security organization that includes the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.

by Bae Myung-bok

* The writer is international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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