[CAMPUS COMMENTARY]To understand, students must stay currentSome months ago there was a big conflict over the relocation project to the new U.S. Army base in Daechu-ri, Pyeongtaek.
Demonstrators who objected to the project occupied a school in protest, and the Korean military was dispatched there to arrest them.
There was violence committed on both sides. But when the media reported the news to the public, it was the demonstrators who looked more violent. University students, including ours at Sejong University, discussed this issue and concluded that the protesters were in the wrong for opposing the U.S. Army move, and some pointed to the protesters as bbalgaengyi, roughly translated as “reds,” because they were only doing North Korea good.
The word “bbalgaengyi” connotes something like “traitorous communist.” During the Cold War era, South Koreans were taught to view North Korea as their main enemy, and questioning that was taboo. Over time, we began to think that almost everything associated with North Korea was wrongheaded and unjust. Those who had a sympathetic view or curiosity about North Korea were silenced or got a lot of grief from government authorities. With the press under government control, some people understood that the North was evil from reading their articles.
But now we live in a society where it is O.K. to question and wonder what is truly evil or what might not be. Still, I found out that most students refuse to question their own thoughts on matters of ideology. Actually, they do not care enough to think about the issue.
A bird may only fly when its left and right wings are in balance, the saying goes. Perhaps, the protesters at the Daechu-ri riot were wrong. But maybe they were right. Right or wrong, whatever the conclusion, some students felt antipathy toward them. It is surprising that they seemed to already have a conclusion before they knew the facts. They disliked demonstrations, and liked to stay in peace and solve problems quietly. That was all.
One day, at my Sunday school, I asked a class of 8-year-old children the following question: “What do you think is the least peaceful [thing] in this world?” They responded by describing the scene of a violent demonstration. When I asked why, they seemed just to dislike the image of violence.
In fact, many university students are not all that different from those children. Everybody dislikes the violence of demonstrators. But they often do not know the reasons behind the violent image. Of course, violence can never be justified. Demonstrators must avoid violent demonstrations, which have cost activists much of their ability to appeal to the public. Understanding current events is not easy, but being concerned about them can lead people to develop an understanding of the issues that drive protests that sometimes become violent.
However, students are preoccupied with concerns about their own lives, such as finding work, the Test of English for International Communication and the pursuit of grades. Those are necessary and essential concerns. But for students to have a balanced viewpoint and concern about social and political events they have to have larger concerns. That is what sets students apart from children.
* The writer is the editor of the Sejong Times, the English-language newspaper at Sejong University.
by Jung Yeon-joon