[GLOBAL EYE]What is South Korea’s future?A symposium with the theme of “Where Should the Republic of Korea Go?” was held in the Toji Foundation of Culture in Wonju, Gangwon province, last weekend. It was co-hosted by the Korean Society for Future Studies and the World Peace Forum. The discussion was conducted within the frame of the Republic of Korea thus far, but under the circumstances of crisis in which the basic frame of the country is tearing away, prospects for its future were entirely pessimistic and despairing. Saying that “dead intellectuals in this land who are opportunistic and flatter changing trends were to blame,” participants in the symposium expressed a lot of self-reflection and grievances.
More concerns were expressed about the “clouds of war” in the overcast sky of Korea than the approaching typhoon Dianmu. Slogans such as “Let’s change the world” and “Follow the living” of the ruling camp were met with “Now let us also take up arms.”
The three major daily newspapers ― the Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo, and Dong-a Ilbo ― Samsung Group, the Gangnam area, the judiciary and Seoul National University were pointed out as “new five enemies” that should be overthrown.
Their perception of reality was that revolution was advocated as reform under the cover of faceless grassroots and public opinion, and the logic of putting the nation first and putting priority on unification was shaking the identity and foundation of the Republic of Korea. Participants diagnosed that the situation was a national crisis in all three dimensions ― at home, on the Korean Peninsula, and in international relations.
The people do not know well where the captain, who is commissioned for the navigation of Korea, is sailing his ship. South and North Korea agreed in one voice that they would make 2005 the first year of national unification after 60 years of division, but there is no visible basic framework for what kind of system they will have after unification. The world view of liberals is too conservative and their closed attitude forecasts countless submerged rocks and stormy voyages of the ship called the Republic of Korea.
First of all, we are indifferent to the threat to our national security. The “transformation” strategy of the United States ― that it will deploy its military forces flexibly as is required in cases of emergency ―seems to have a risky subplot. The strategy means that the United States will operate its military as if the forces are present when they are absent, or vice versa. Therefore, our defense system will be like a “credit card system,” in which there can be no U. S. forces present in Korea at a certain point, but when necessary, mostly in an emergency, we can ask them to help, as if we are withdrawing cash with our credit card.
We cannot live only on cash, that is, self-reliant national defense. We should also buy insurances and turn to credit. The less clear the identity of U.S. forces in Korea, the more important the credit relations of the Korea-United States alliance will become. If U.S. forces cut off credit relations with us, either because Korea becomes insolvent or because the two countries have different judgments in an emergency, our national defense will go bankrupt.
It is said that the threat from North Korea will be lessened, but peace cannot be kept without preparing for a war in the worst case. Even China, a so-called alternative to the United States, has the strategy that it will maintain its lulling attitude until 2020, when its economic power will have reached its goal, even if the United States seems arrogant. Why can’t we have the strategic thinking that we can prevent the barbarian called China only when we embrace the barbarian called the United States?
In addition to economic difficulties, we have other concerns such as the increase in the number of people in absolute poverty and the disintegration of the middle class. In particular, the phenomenon of attributing the cause of one’s poverty to external conditions, that is, blaming others for one’s own poverty, intensifies the conflict between the rich and the poor and drives our society into a crisis. There are also concerns over the possibility of a “democratic dictatorship” in which the president’s personal determination for reform is justified as if it were the people’s intention.Although the ruling forces are entrusted to formulate and implement big national plans, including national security, unification and the move of the capital, this does not mean that they received carte blanche from the people. It is the intellectuals’ duty to offer fair criticism courageously and prevent mob rule through intellectual control. The “dead intellectuals” of today should bear in mind the saying of Admiral Lee Sun-shin: Those who desire to live will die and those who desire to die will live.
* The writer is the editor-in-chief of the monthly magazine “Next.”
by Byun Sang-keun