[FOUNTAIN]Love it or leave it?Ko Mi-suk, a historian, decodes the latest soccer fever and retrospective boom about Queen Myeongseong in Korean society with a key word: “nationalism.” She argued that the wild popularity of the sport is a “frenzy of patriotism expressed through soccer,” and said Queen Myeongseong has been reinvented as a “martyr who stood against foreign powers” because Koreans are obsessed with the idea that being anti-Japanese is a pursuit of the highest good.
In addition, she says that Koreans highlight nationalistic heroes such as King Gwanggaeto out of a longing to recover the glory of their ancient history.
According to her book, “Modernity of Korea: Search for Its Origin,” nationalism is the mightiest ideology in Korean society. The word minjok, meaning “the people of a nation,” came from Japan in the early 1900s. After the fall of the Joseon Dynasty and the Japanese occupation, Koreans established two divided nations. In the course of those vicissitudes, nationalism became the dominant value in Korean society, whether on the right or the left.
“North Korea’s nationalism peaked with the rise of the juche ideology,” she says, “and leftists in the 1980s steadfastly stuck to the incantation of minjok to the end.”
Korean society is not the only one to be swept away by nationalism. “The only ideology that moves most nations in the cutting-edge Information Age is nationalism,” she writes. “Unlike other ideologies that alternate between rising and falling, nationalism has never stepped down from its top spot among ideologies.”
Benedict Anderson, who famously defined the nation as an imagined community, criticized nationalism as politically powerful but philosophically impoverished and inconsistent. Unlike other ideologies, nationalism has produced no great philosophers, he argued.
Recently, Korean scholars condemned a view of history that is obsessed with the superiority of the Korean race and with nationalistic ideologies that have been rejected by international society. Its supporters, though, say nationalism is still useful here, if not in the West. But both sides agree that too much nationalism distorts reality and could lead to racism and totalitarianism as well as international ostracism.
Nationalism is here in pop culture. “The Korean Peninsula,” a fictional political movie dripping with anti-Japanese sentiment, is now playing in theaters, and dramas such as “Jumong” and “Yeongaesomun” are on television. I wonder if that’s just commercial exploitation of nationalism?
by Yang Sung-hee
The writer is a culture and sports desk writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.