[OUTLOOK]Forgetting history hurts futureThe Korean War memorial ceremony has been reduced to a half-hearted formality since the country’s promotion of the so-called “sunshine policy,” and this year’s ceremony was no exception.
President Roh Moo-hyun, who is the commander in chief of the military, did not attend the ceremony, and neither did the prime minister. The dispirited event was held in a gymnasium, and the highest military commander was nowhere to be found.
The ceremony has turned into a gathering of the veterans of the Korean War, for it was hosted not by the government but by the veterans association. The silver-haired veterans sigh in frustration at the reality that they are called “cold war conservatives” or “pro-war radical rightists.”
And of course, the president did not attend a ceremony honoring the memories of the victims of the 2002 Yellow Sea clash between the North and South navies.
What has happened to this nation? What should we think of President Roh, who skipped the key parts of the ceremony, such as the visit to the national cemetery and memorial events, and attended only the dinner banquet?
At the dinner, the president said that we need unchallenged military strength, not just will power. However, he must have confused the two. Today, Korea has a problem with will power, not arms.
The Roh administration has voluntarily erased the concept of a “main enemy” and promoted the invader to the level of a “partner.” When 1 million troops of the two Koreas are confronting each other on opposite sides of the front-line guard posts, Mr. Roh has blurred the definition of the enemy. What good are the high-tech weapons and mighty firepower when you don’t know whom to fight? When a war breaks out again, how can we tell our young soldiers to fight?
In fact, Mr. Roh began a strange practice of keeping his distance from the military since the early days of his administration by sending the prime minister to an officer inaugural ceremony of the Military Academy.
Meanwhile, he has unconditionally trusted China, which had helped the North during the Korean War, while openly expressing hostility against the United States, which had helped Korea to provide the foundation for economic prosperity.
Moreover, the key figures in the Roh administration are shaken up by the North, which has never acknowledged or apologized for the invasion, rushing and clinging to it. It is pitiful to see them waiting anxiously for the North to call or invite them.
While the inter-Korean contacts are turning into political stunts, the war clouds are thickening over the Korean Peninsula.
Countries in their right minds make sure their war memorial ceremonies are grand and solemn. They would go to the end of the Earth to collect even a tooth of a soldier killed in a war from decades ago. They know that no soldier would risk his life for his country unless the country shows devotion to the soldiers.
What about Korea? Instead of paying respect to the war heroes, many justify the theory of unification by force, saying that Korea has lost a chance to unify because of the intervention of the United States. Such a belief is spreading even to children.
However, how many citizens agree with a unification through a war? And are they willing to go through another war?
The Republic of Korea is not a country free from problems. There have been many mistakes, and Korea has often been unrighteous. How-ever, the country’s greatness can be found from its resolution to rebuild itself from the faults of the past and the devastation of the war. Shedding the vestiges of poverty for five millennia, Korea was reborn as a country with a prosperous economy and advanced information technology sector. The miracle of the Han River wouldn’t have been possible without the peace of last five decades.
The unheard-of chaos of Korean society nowadays ― the crisis of national identity, changes in the Korea-U.S. alliance, the revolt of the market and insubordination of the citizens ― are all derived from the current president’s perception of Korea’s past.
The president needs to decide whether to remain an ideologue of the post-independence dichotomy of the right and the left or to become a leader who can embrace the diversity of a liberal democracy and accomplish a grand change in his vision. The sooner he makes up his mind, the better for the country.
Koreans have a right to demand the president host and attend a grand Korean War memorial ceremony. Every year, the president has to present to the citizens a plan to prevent a war and a strategy to induce a peaceful unification. Proving to the citizens that he is doing all he can to prevent another war is the most important of the president’s duties.
* The writer is a professor of mass communications at Kangwon National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Kwan-youl