[FORUM]Blind convictions and reformLove starts in the eyes. Love shadows over faults and highlights virtues. In romance, love-blinded eyes might make the world look beautiful, but when eyes are blinded by faith, it could cause a catastrophe.
The 1957 film “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and the more recent blockbuster “The Rock” are films that dramatized the traps of such convictions. Famous for the “Colonel Bogey March” melody, the story of “The Bridge on the River Kwai” evolves around the struggle and pride of Colonel Nicholson, the commander of a British military engineering unit captured by the Japanese Army during World War II. Japan wanted to build a bridge over the Kwai using the prisoners of war. Colonel Nicholson, the highest ranking officer among the captured Allied soldiers, bargained with a Japanese officer in charge and volunteered to oversee the construction. “The construction might have been for the enemy, but the bridge was built by us and belonged to us,” Colonel Nicholson told his soldiers. He was so proud that he refused to take orders from the Japanese Army. Moreover, he wished to prove his troops’ superiority over the Japanese captors by showing the advanced engineering know-how of the Allied forces. Inevitably, the prisoners were supposed to be mobilized for the construction with or without his cooperation.
But a problem arose as he confronted a British commando unit trying to destroy the bridge. Having forgotten the fact that he was a British officer, Colonel Nicholson made desperate efforts to hinder the operation. Blinded by his sense of accomplishment in the bridge, he failed to realize that his action was against his own country.
“The Rock” depicts a misguided personal conviction and consequent catastrophe. Brigadier General Hummel had appealed to the government to compensate the families of soldiers killed in a covert military operation. When the demand was rejected, General Hummel declared a “retrieval of justice” and took over Alcatraz, an infamous former island prison in San Francisco Bay, with his Marine commandoes. Taking 81 tourists as hostages, he threatened to launch rockets carrying nerve gas into the city. Obsessed by the “justice” he believed in, the general justified a terror attack that might kill millions of innocent civilians.
Dangerous self-conviction colliding with universal truth or common sense has been detected in the social turmoil in Korea today. From the controversial capital relocation plan to the talk of private education, media, and justice reforms to the debate over the National Security Law, many people seem to be convinced that they alone are right. Conviction itself is not wrong; what is problematic is being obsessed by conviction and sacrificing other important values. Especially the destruction of the existing order by the so-called “new mainstream” politicians has missed the point. While they cry out for reform, the society has fallen into a vortex of confrontation, chaos, and disorganization. When the economy is collapsing into a bottomless pit, the government and the ruling party have set the focus of the nation on the inquiries into historical controversies. The only explanation for their absurd behavior is that they are blinded by the reform projects and history inquiries. The story involving the father of the ruling Uri Party chairman, Shin Ki-nam, is an example of how you can stab your own back when you go blindly ahead.
It’s not that we should not pursue reform. But we should avoid the silliness of burning the house down to roast a pig. The focus should be on mending and integrating society. Crooked convictions will only bring disaster. Koreans have agreed that we need to re-evaluate our modern history sooner or later. But the government and the National Assembly have other issues to pay attention to aside from the controversies of the past. As Winston Churchill said, “If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find we have lost the future.”
In the movies, Colonel Nicholson and General Hummel open their eyes from blind conviction before they die. They both utter the same last words, “What have I done?” It is a worthy question that today’s men of conviction should ask themselves.
* The writer is the chief of the editorial page, JoongAng Ilbo.
by Heo Nam-chin