[FOUNTAIN]An electric current changes directionAmong the famous personages whose likenesses can be found at the Grevin Wax Museum in Paris is Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s most revered historical figures. His wax likeness is accompanied by a short text explaining that he discovered electricity. The text also includes the highly dubious information that Mr. Franklin died in the Sandwich Islands, and that his remains were eaten by cannibals. (In fact, Mr. Franklin is buried in Philadelphia.)
Whether he was a victim of cannibals or not, Mr. Franklin was certainly not the discoverer of electricity. The ancient Greek philosopher Thales was aware of its existence in 600 B.C. He had discovered that if amber were rubbed with a piece of fur, light objects would cling to it. The word “electricity,” in fact, derives from the Greek word for amber, elektron, in respect for Thales.
Though Mr. Franklin did not discover electricity, he did make a decisive contribution to putting it to practical use by coming up with the concept of electric current. The scene in the movie “Frankenstein” in which the monster is brought to life by a bolt of lightning was inspired by Mr. Franklin’s famed experiment. Although Mr. Franklin himself never enjoyed the benefits of his work, electricity is so essential to human life two centuries later that we now take it for granted.
In fact, one only really appreciates electricity’s importance after a power outage. That’s why Pyongyang has adopted “Kanggye spirit” as a slogan for economic self-reliance. Kanggye is a city in the North’s Jagang province that the state points to as a model, in that its production of electricity has been increased by way of a floating power plant and other facilities.
Mr. Franklin’s understanding of how electricity flowed is contrary to what we have been experiencing in Korea. As we all know, soon after the liberation from Japan, electricity flowed from the North to the South. At the time, the North was self-sufficient when it came to generating electricity; its emblem even included a symbol of hydroelectric power.
When Pyongyang severed the cables because the South was late in paying its bill, the South was dependent on the North for 70 percent of the electricity it needed. But very soon, it seems, electricity might flow from the South to the North.
It doesn’t really matter which way the electricity flows. But just as Benjamin Franklin would be more wisely remembered as one of America’s founding fathers than as a scientist who discovered that lightning is a discharge of electricity, the people of Korea hope that the electricity sent to the North is used as energy for the unification of the peninsula, and does not go to waste.
by Lee Hoon-beom
The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.