[Outlook]A month for reflectionJune is a significant month for both South and North Korea. It is the month in which the nightmare of the Korean War, as well as the daydream of the June 15 Joint Statement, occurred. We no longer sing “O, how could we forget this day” in remembrance of the war. Nevertheless, the annual commemoration ceremony of the June 15 Joint Statement seems to get more lavish every year despite the fact that the road to joint cooperation is vague at best.
French historian Pierre Nora completed the 7-book series of “Lieux de Memoire” or “Realms of Memory,” on which he worked for eight years starting in 1984 with the help of 120 first-class historians. While other historians were busy finding France’s history buried in records, he succeeded in recreating French history through a multidimensional approach to collective memory. Since then, history writing from memory and the loss of memory has become a trend throughout the world. With South and North Korea diverging in their recollection of history and the recent rivalry between the New Right and the New Left to recount Korean history, it is on the Korean Peninsula where a collective memory approach is most urgently needed. Throughout the Cold War era, the Korean War was remembered completely differently in the two Koreas. North Koreans claim that it was the South that invaded first, riding on American imperialist ambitions. In the South, the conventional view that North Korea attacked first with Soviet help has faced a challenge since the 1980s from revisionists who claimed that the United States and the South should take the primary responsibility for the war. Numerous movies, novels and TV dramas on the Korean War today no longer reflect the conventional view. The United States is often portrayed not as a good friend but an empire that participated in the war because of its self-interest and that committed several wrongdoings in the process. The fact that North Korea invaded the South first is obscured by the revisionist interpretation that the Korean War was a series of military attacks from both sides of the peninsula. However, the Cold War history that was disclosed with the dismantlement of the Soviet Union, one of two Cold War superpowers along with the United States, revealed that the revised view on the Korean War was wrong. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, more sophisticated new interpretations of the Korean War issued forward, but South Korean society still wades in the murky confusion of the political battle between the two schools. However, it is only a matter of time before the revisionists exit. What’s more important is providing a new view on the Korean War for the new generations living in the 21st century who do not remember the war at all. We need a more in-depth view on the war than those provided by one-sided movies like “The Marine Never Returned” and “Welcome to Dongmakgol.”
Over the past seven years since the June 15 Joint Statement, North Korea has conducted nuclear tests and the South-North mutual cooperation has expanded while being heavily criticized as a one-sided pouring of aid. The results of the seven-year Sunshine Policy are clear. The effect was limited, to say the least. The Sunshine Policy cannot possibly change a regime whose primary objective is to uphold the current leadership and to pursue military reinforcement.
All it did was to increase inter-Korean exchanges within the framework of a pro-military North Korea. Therefore, we must abandon the false hope that the Sunshine Policy is a panacea in inter-Korean relations. It was only too obvious that last week’s ministerial-level meeting between the South and the North would end without any results. This is not something that can be solved by our minister pleading fervently to his North Korean counterpart. We must recognize the limit of the ministerial-level meetings and give and take accordingly. The same goes for summit meetings. We should not expect a summit meeting to facilitate a breakthrough in the six-party talks. A summit meeting would only have an adverse effect on the coming presidential election and on our international relations. We should recognize the achievements of the June 15 Joint Statement properly and commemorate accordingly.
The Korean War and the June 15 Joint Statement should not be forgotten easily. However, they should not be remembered falsely. They are the core of war and peace on the Korean Peninsula. We must understand the Korean War in today’s domestic and international terms in order to prevent a future one.
The same goes for the June 15 Joint Statement. Unless we recognize the limits of the statement and carefully prepare the way for joint implementation accordingly, June 15 will only become a date in forgotten history and not in the future.
*The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ha Young-sun