[TODAY]Scent of McCarthyism is in the airIf I may borrow from the rhetoric of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’ work, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” which begins, “A spectre is haunting Europe ― the spectre of communism,” I would like to ask, “Is a spectre of McCarthyism haunting South Korea right now?”
At the beginning of the Cold War in the early 1950s, liberal bureaucrats, journalists and celebrities in the United States were branded as sympathizers of communism at secret hearings led by the extreme right-wing politician, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. The damage inflicted on the reputations of innocent people came to be known as McCarthyism
There is a definite scent of Korean McCarthyism in the air. Koreans who are, according to President Roh Moo-hyun, “more pro-American than Americans themselves,” and those who speak fluent English, as Senior Presidential Secretary for Public Information Cho Ki-suk explained, try to read other people’s minds and refrain from expressing their opinion freely.
The scent of McCarthyism is divided into two major streams. One is the government-led (mainly from the Blue House so far) effort to tame the intellects who are pro-American or suspected of being pro-American. The other is Internet users’ collective punishment of those who show the least bit of supportive air to the Japanese position on issues under dispute between Korea and Japan.
Korea is going through a change comparable to China’s Cultural Revolution. Inversions of values are taking place here and there in our society. One of those changes is that the pro-Americans have become the new target of liquidation, instead of pro-Communists and pro-North Koreans. For the past half century, those who were stigmatized as pro-Communists or pro-North Koreans suffered greatly.
Yet, we have arrived at a place where those who speak English and have friends in the United States have to lay low, where a singer who has been singing for a television show for the past 10 years has to stop his appearances because he said Japan manages problems related to past history and the Dokdo islands conflict better than Korea does, and where a professor who has a different opinion on the result of Japanese colonial rule must suffer.
South Korea under the control of a younger generation of politicians is in general tolerant of North Korea and critical of the United States. The government policies toward North Korea and the United States are also in line with the trend. Just as there are pros and cons on the policy of reconciliation with North Korea, the same applies to our relations with the United States. Therefore, we must decide the direction and the degree of adjustment in our relations with the United States through debate.
We should also be able to express different opinions on how the government should react to the Dokdo problem and the Japanese history textbook issue. There is no way that President Roh and his public relations secretary, Cho Ki-suk, did not know the fact that thorough and consistent support of a government policy is only possible in an autocratic country.
Ms. Cho’s remark that the press is trying to sell more newspapers by creating instability in the South Korea-U.S. alliance is tantamount to a transfer of responsibility and intentional provocation. She seems to have confused today’s press with the authoritarian regime of the past that used security as a means for sustaining its rule.
The intellectual level of Korean newspaper readers is too high to sell them more copies of newspapers by exaggerating the crack in the South Korea-U.S. alliance. The statement, that Koreans who speak fluent English are responsible for the lack of understanding of Korea among people in the U.S. government and research centers, is a distortion. Honestly, she must know better than anyone that Americans who study Korea and participate in matters related to the U.S. policy on Korea do not rely their opinions solely on pro-American Koreans who speak fluent English.
The core of a free democratic system lies in diversity. A society that cannot freely express a variety of ideas loses its dynamism and descends into disarray. Thorough and consistent uniformity is the enemy of democracy.
I wonder if Mr. Roh and Ms. Cho have read two newspaper columns written by Yoshibumi Wakamia, chief editorial writer of a leading Japanese newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun. He wrote a column proposing that Japan concede the Dokdo islands to Korea. Then he wrote another article pointing out that the visits by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to the Yasukuni shrine is poor behavior compared to the self-reflection of Germans over the past.
What a big contrast it is that Korean scholars and the press are being criticized by the president and his public relations secretary as pro-Americans who do not consider the national interest, and a popular singer who is abused collectively by numerous Internet users is banned from appearing in a television show.
The “participatory government” does not seem to be living up to its name. It is not an inclusive government that involves people from all over, but rather an exclusive government that tries to get rid of people who have different ideas. If there are problems in Korea-U.S. relations, the main reason is not with the pro-American intellects, but in the hard-line North Korea policy of the United States and the way President Roh handles diplomatic issues while the role of the Foreign Ministry is shrinking. If there are no problems in Korea-U.S. relations, there is no reason to launch a McCarthy-like attack on intellectuals.
* The writer is an adviser and senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie