[OUTLOOK]Nightmare of the past repeatingLast summer, I experienced a subtle hallucination when I visited the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) in Istanbul, Turkey. About five centuries ago, Constantinople, the capital of the East Roman Empire, came under attack from the Ottoman Turks. When Constantino-ple finally fell after 53 days of resistance, the city walls were filled with terror and panic. Crowds rushed to the Aya Sofya, then a cathedral, to pray for a miracle and salvation. There were some 800 churches and monasteries in Constantinople at the time and all were filled with people crying out for heavenly protection from the invaders. The conquerors immediately ordered that the Aya Sofya be converted into a mosque. One can imagine the hardships that the capital city of the Christian kingdom, which had lasted for 1,000 years, faced when it came under the rule of an Islamic power. It is recorded that crowds of people flocked up the pebbled path to the bright upper floor during the Ottoman Turk invasion as if it led to salvation.
My hallucination came as I climbed that very path. I wondered what would happen if the same thing happened in Seoul one day. Would people flock like clouds to churches as big as the Aya Sofya to pray for salvation? There are those who still remember the experience of the Korean War when the citizens of Seoul were assured by the government that the city was safe only to be horrified by the sight of North Korean tanks advancing on the streets of Seoul three days later. The thought of such a thing happening again was so horrible that I hastily put it out of my head. But my thoughts returned to the recent memory of when we’d heard news of North Korea’s nuclear test. Our newspapers and minds are only filled with news of political struggle and violent rallies. The government tells us we have nothing to worry about. It seems that we are the ones least worried about North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
This situation reminds me of the peculiar phase of peace during the Second World War. In September 1939, the world was thrown into the turmoil of war when Germany invaded Poland and France declared war on Germany as a result. Yet the western front that France shared with Germany remained quiet and uneventful. Germany carefully avoided any hostile acts that would encourage the French to cross the thinly guarded Western front. The two sides were at conflict but they would sometimes watch soccer games together and exchange gifts during Christmas. This amicable mood of peace went on for a long time, and both France and Germany hesitated to launch into war despite it having already been declared.
The mood of reconciliation had begun several years before when representatives of the two countries met and vowed to uphold peace in Verdun. French newspapers heralded the meeting and emphasized Adolf Hitler’s words that he did not want war with France, portraying the German leader as a peace-loving man. They chose to forget that Hitler had written in his “Mein Kampf” that he would destroy France. Awash in the mood of peace, the French never dreamed that Germany would actually invade France. The French government reassured its people that they had the strongest army in the world and that the Maginot Line was impenetrable. Germany, meanwhile, finished ravaging Poland in a month and started preparations to invade France. Eight months after war was declared and forgotten, Hitler attacked the Western Front. Right up to the invasion, peace had existed in a strange manner between France and Germany.
Two weeks after the German advance on the Western Front, the French army fell, and a month later, Paris was taken. No one had imagined that France would collapse so helplessly. It turned out that Germany had been buying time to develop its weapons and plan its strategy. The French couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw the German army march into Paris in victory just one month after the fighting broke out. Yet it was the undeniable truth. For four years, before it was finally liberated by the Allied Forces, France suffered terribly under Nazi German rule.
It seems impossible that any country would now be taken by surprise by a sudden and hostile attack in this era of openness and all-knowing intelligence. And yet I continue to have nightmares of the past repeating itself. Is it the fault of the age or is it just my old age?
*It seems that we are the ones least worried about North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
by Choi Woo-seok