[OUTLOOK]Looking back in pride, regretAs Korea celebrates the 60th anniversary of the country’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule, each citizen must feel differently depending on his or her age, personal experience and situation. Sixty years is a long time, and Koreans have gone through many changes.
The generation that vividly remembers the excitement of August 15, 1945, namely the citizens over age 70, are reminded of the emotional and ecstatic moment when they rejoiced over their independence 60 years ago. But at the same time, they cannot shed uncertainty and disappointment over the flow of history for the last six decades.
The elderly are especially worried that as generational frictions are aggravated, citizens become divided in their historical perspectives, and become more fragmented instead of reaching a national consensus or harmony. We cannot help but repent the lack of effort to understand and explain the country’s past 60 years as one unified flow.
Firstly, we need to review whether we have paid the proper and fair price for the success we have achieved. In the last 60 years, Korea has achieved a kind of success that has surprised the world.
In the midst of chaos after liberation, we succeeded in founding the Republic of Korea. We successfully guarded the country in the vortex of the Cold War, and the Korean War in particular. From the morass of extreme poverty, Korea has accomplished industrialization and made a leap to become the 11th largest economy in the world.
Moreover, Korea has peacefully emerged from its authoritarian regimes and achieved democratization. So we deserve to be proud of ourselves. However, we have often neglected or forgotten the simple truth that any kind of success is accompanied by sacrifice.
The price that we had to pay for the foundation of the Republic of Korea was the fixation of the division of the peninsula. In return for the attainment of national security, many citizens were made victims of undeserved punishments, such as the system of guilt by association, and serious infringements on human rights. Successful industrialization did not end the gap between rich and poor, and the compensation for the people’s toil and sweat has not been proportional.
We have also been stingy about acknowledging the sacrifices and contributions made in the course of democratization and the path to overall reform. Administrations and social leaders must make efforts to repent their failure to appropriately deal with the prices, sacrifices and side-effects of our successes so far.
Secondly, we need to consider whether we are engaging in the collective folly of neglecting the lessons of history and repeating our mistakes. The saying that those who forget the lessons of history have no future at all is an important lesson, and one that Koreans need to keep in mind.
Obviously, there was a common theory applicable to the turbulent situations of both the period from late 19th century to 1910 and the chaotic period after liberation in 1945. In order for a small country surrounded by giants to survive, it needed to have a cool-headed understanding of its environment.
Internally, national unity and obedience to leaders was necessary. But Koreans back then were ignorant of the situation abroad and were divided internally, and in the end, the country was in ruins.
We need to ask ourselves whether, as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of independence, we have forgotten that very lesson of history. Our answer is cause for concern and repentance.
Given the suffering and ordeals of the 20th century, we cannot but admit that we have been so immersed in regaining our sovereignty and establishing the nation that we neglected to build a social community. Therefore, as we celebrate, we need to renew our pledge to bring our power and wisdom together in building a national community for all Koreans.
The present is only an extension of the past; we cannot just cut a piece out of history. The glories and disgraces of our past are all part of the history we have inherited, and repenting the past is a voluntary endeavor to free ourselves from the spiritual shackles of the past and create a better future.
Such repentance has to be thorough, and it has to be voluntary. In reflecting on the past, we should be generous in praising achievements and tolerant in denouncing past faults. It is time for us to spur the effort to build a national community and move into the future.
Heaven helps those who help themselves. If we pride ourselves on being wise and bright, and if we march forward toward a unified national community, we will soon celebrate a Liberation Day in which we rejoice over the unification of the peninsula.
* The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hong-koo