[Viewpoint]Take a wide look at narrow issuesIn the face of international criticism about the comfort women issue, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan finally changed his earlier stand and apologized ― although some questioned whether his apology was genuine ― and admitted Japan forced women from other countries into sex slavery for the Japanese imperial army during World War II.
I think this incident is quite revealing.
If the issue had remained just a bilateral issue between Korea and Japan or China and Japan, it is hard to imagine any progress could have been made.
In East Asia, the problems related to history are not limited to a particular issue or a particular country and its bilateral relations with a neighboring country.
And they are not issues that can be solved through simple historical research, either.
From the beginning, history has been full of chaotic material and dotted with cruel and irrational facts. I believe the right approach lies in drawing the right conclusions to history from this cruel reality.
I think it is possible for anyone who is fiercely determined ― however unethical and irrational ― to easily rationalize historical records by fabricating a story that sounds plausible.
If we look back on the Pacific War or World War II, it was nothing but a brutal incident like any other war, caused by the foolishness of human beings. Whatever cause one tries to find to defend themselves, the sacrifices of the people who perished in the war and the suffering of those who had to endure the pain of the war can never be compensated.
If we try to find a minimal meaning from all of the foolishness, however, we can say the war provided a chance for the eradication of militarism and fascism from the center stage of political ideology.
Both the free world and the socialist world agree on that point. First of all, World War II provided the chance to defeat the forces that pursued external expansion through military means while suppressing domestic politics.
The United States played a vital role. During a little more than 50 years since the war, the countries in Northeast Asian have experienced almost revolutionary changes.
A formerly militaristic country turned into a model example of a free democracy almost overnight, and others have achieved democratization one after another after many twists and turns.
While the belief and passion for socialism have disappeared, a more diverse and free political culture has taken root in place of semi-feudalistic and hierarchical authoritarianism.
Above all, along with the enormous improvements in living standards, a big change has taken place in people’s attitudes toward accumulating and enjoying wealth.
As North Korea’s Kim Jong-il has said, “an unprecedented change” has occurred in Northeast Asia during the past half-century.
Whether you like it or not, it is unimaginable to think of these big changes without the role played by the United States.
There has been a long period of stability since the Korean War, and the status of the region has increased in importance internationally. Moreover, the region has accumulated a cultural heritage that seems to indicate a bright future.
Despite many positive changes, however, some dark clouds also lie ahead for the future of the region.
As has been pointed out by President Roh Moo-hyun recently, narrow-minded nationalism in the region does not bode well for the future.
The center of this problem is the confusion over the past.
Without a basic understanding about the past, every country in the region thinks in their own individual way.
The United States, which played a crucial role when there was a big change in the region, is taking the attitude of refraining from expressing its ethical stand on the issue.
The country only indulges its military strategic and economic interests in the region.
Without a basic understanding about the past, which is vital for the development of present and future relations, it is not possible to create a genuine regional community.
We should all go back half a century.
The problems related to the past are not issues between Korea and Japan or China and Japan.
We are all the victims of the wrong thoughts, ideology and governing systems of the past, and we should not let the historical wrongs repeat themselves.
The conclusion of the Pacific War should be a victory for us all, including ordinary Japanese people.
It should be a victory for all ordinary people who have humble wishes and expectations toward the world, not toward a particular leader or nation.
As the Europeans have been wisely doing, Aug. 15 should become a remembrance day on which all of the people in Northeast Asia remember the past together and and vow not to repeat historical wrongs, instead of becoming a festival celebrated by one nation or group.
It should be a solemn but pleasant festival in which people from the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and South and North Korea gather together, look back on the unhappy past, recall the lessons we learned from it and contemplate the things we should now resolve together.
*The writer is the president of Woosuk University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ra Jong-yil