[Outlook]The legacy of Cho Seung-hui

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[Outlook]The legacy of Cho Seung-hui

Cho Seung-hui, a student at Virginia Tech in the United States, is in the history books as the perpetrator of what is, for now, America’s worst mass shooting.
Cho immigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was 8, and was educated there. He is a member of the “1.5 generation,” which means he was a Korean born in Korea but raised in the United States.
When it turned out that the gunman was from a Korean family, the Korean government tried to send a delegation to offer condolences but the authorities in the U.S. State Department declined. They said that the United States is a multi-ethnic country, so it would be awkward for the government of another country to take an ethnic approach to the shooting issue.
The Korean government and most of the Korean people regard Cho as a Korean, but the U.S. government and its people think of him as an American.
This variance stems from different concepts of nationhood which have been formed through the different histories of the two countries. Like the motto “E Pluribus Unum” used on the Great Seal of the United States, the country is a melting pot of immigrants from different racial backgrounds.
America would be denying its own existence if the country refuted its racial mixture just because a tiny impure substance happened to crawl into the melting pot.
If Americans defined Cho as a Korean and let the seed of racism sprout, their country could suffer more conflict and hatred.
Thus, the U.S. government and media want to view this violence as a crime committed by an individual and examine it as an issue that bears on gun control.
The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, espouses universal values such as the right to life, freedom and happiness. The declaration starts with “We the people” and that shows the United States is a community that embraces all its citizens.
However, on the other side of such noble ideals, there is a dark side that breeds monsters like Cho. His shooting spree was the byproduct of America’s past, which enshrined the right to possess guns in the Constitution. The recent violence has left Americans with questions about how to remove the dark shadows that have been cast by its history.
For Koreans, the killings provide a mirror they can use to reflect upon themselves. While Americans have the time bomb of racism, Koreans have the curse of nationalism.
On the outside, Koreans chant slogans that say we must open our doors if we are to survive, as they did when a free trade agreement with Washington was signed. On the inside, however, Koreans have a cramped, closed consciousness.
Now is the time to open our minds, and not just for trade. Unless we remove the deep-rooted nationalism inside our hearts, our efforts to open our society to greater prosperity, through initiatives like the FTA with the United States, will turn out to be a fantasy.
Korea must become an increasingly flexible and multi-ethnic society. In the past the official taught in our history books concealed the fact that Korea is a multi-ethnic society. We were taught that we are all descendants of Dangun, the mythical founding father of Korea.
However, when looking at family genealogies, most Korean families have their roots in China, except a few that originated from the Silla kingdom, such as the Kims, Parks and Chois.
We have not narrowed this discrepancy between official history and our genetic memories ― instead we lead a schizophrenic lives.
We treated Hines Ward as a hero who showed all the great Korean traits. But, before he became a star football player, he was one of the “mixed-blood children” that we Koreans were ashamed of.
Now, we must adopt post-nationalism. That does not mean anti-nationalism. Transcending nationalism is a prerequisite to opening our society in this era of globalization.
Recently, the Ministry of Justice decided to grant residence permits to four people from Mongolia who were in the country illegally after they saved 11 Koreans when a fire broke out. Our society has improved by embracing people such as these, more so than when we do the same thing for celebrities such as Ward.
History textbooks in the United States begin with the statement that Americans have worked for freedom and equality throughout their history. Americans are a people who have learned how to realize the spirit of their Constitution, where “all men are born free and equal.”
Cho’s rampage made Americans reinforce the spirit of their founding fathers.
For Koreans, the event must also serve to give momentum to our escape from nationalism.

*The writer is a professor of history at Kyonggi University.Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Gi-bong

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