[Viewpoint]Past presentThe late President Park Chung Hee is one of the most controversial figures in modern Korean history. He had lots of followers, and to some he was an idol. At the same time the hatred against him is widespread and deep. Many think his 18-year rule was terrible and detest him. Whether it is enthusiasm about his strong leadership or the still-vivid wounds from the political dictatorship, it will take more time to calmly evaluate him from a balanced perspective.
Still, it is hard to deny the fact that economic growth and modernization were achieved while Park was president.
Although we cannot deny the tears of the female factory workers at Cheonggyecheon, the miserable lives of poor people in the cities and the sacrifices that farmers made, it is also an objective fact that Korea overcame 5,000 years of poverty during his administration.
At times, I try to imagine what it would be like if Park Chung Hee were to come alive and seize power now.
Would he make another five-year economic development plan and achieve annual economic growth of 8 to 9 percent?
Would it be possible for the president to shout, “Hey, you! Build ironworks there!” as he flew past in a helicopter? Could he push business people, saying, “Make this” and “Focus on that?”
Whether it was planting trees on mountains, encouraging the use of domestic products or restricting long hair and miniskirts, would society today follow his decisions?
I don’t know what the readers of this article will think, but for the life of me, I don’t think they would. We have grown too big for Park to be able to do so. At that time, the whole nation had a festival to celebrate the achievement of $10 billion in exports. Today, Samsung alone exports more than $50 billion in products.
At that time, miners and nurses left in tears for foreign countries in search of jobs to make a living. Now, more than 100,000 children go abroad to study. In the past, soldiers and bureaucrats were considered the smartest. Today, everyone laughs at such a thought.
In short, the world has changed. The sacrifice and efforts that past generations made should be acknowledged. But whether we like it or not, we must accept the fact that the 1970s-style growth strategy and way of thinking has expired.
On June 26, President Roh Moo-hyun had a so-called “debate” with 152 university presidents across the country. Many said that the scene looked just like a meeting held during Park’s rule, when he called in business people for instruction while ministers and participants bowed in agreement.
Do we resemble the people we hate? During his rule, Park never gathered university presidents for collective instruction. So the “debate” held by Roh will remain a record and become a topic of conversation for a long time.
Almost everyone complains these days that their lives are hard because of education. The situation will not change as long as the Education Ministry does not change. Korea’s economy has already outgrown the level the government can control. This goes for education as well. In other words, the situation is no longer the same as it was in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Education Ministry controlled education. Universities know this, and so do informed teachers, students and parents. Even so, the Ministry of Human Resources and Development is eagerly reiterating “whole-character education and standardization,” an already outdated ideology.
College students are bound to protest if they are treated like young children. Naturally, they complain if they are forced to fit their grown bodies into the small clothes they wore as children.
We applaud the Education Ministry for its past efforts to make basic education required, reduce the illiteracy rate to zero and foster capable manpower. But they should no longer fetter the future to the past when times have changed.
The ministry says education will end when it gives autonomy to universities and colleges. Many people made the same argument more than two decades ago when the curfew was abolished.
Now no one contends the curfew is right. Making Korea more competitive through reform, opening up the market and educational autonomy is the spirit of the times in the 21st century.
When will the ministry stop running against the times?
*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chong-hyuk