[Viewpoint]Move ahead with the past in mindForty years ago, 34 men stood on the shore of Yeongil Bay in Pohang, North Gyeongsang. The men, Park Tae-joon, then 41, and the founding members of Pohang Iron and Steel, now known as Posco, were armed only with their ambition to build a steel mill on vacant land there.
Today, the acrylic nameplates of those men are enshrined in the hall of Posco history, at its headquarters in Pohang. The nameplates of the living members have a green light while those of the deceased are lit in red.
The green light on one nameplate was recently turned off; only 21 now remain green. Of the surviving members, who are in their 80s, only 16, including Park, attended the 40th anniversary of Posco’s foundation ceremony on Tuesday. The other five were too ill to attend. Just like that, the veterans of the nation’s industrialization era are disappearing, one by one.
They were heroes who created great things from nothing. Even though they had never seen a steel mill work, they built Posco with their bare hands. They were patriots who served the nation by producing iron and steel, also called the rice of industry. Starting with the Liberty Party-led administration in 1958, Korea has made five failed attempts to build a steel mill. The dream was called impossible by experts and media at home and abroad, but that meant nothing to those men.
They were ready to jump into the waters of Yeongil Bay if they failed, and they were armed with a resolute military spirit. At the center of the development dictatorship was Park Chung Hee.
Park Tae-joon was the commander-in-chief on the frontline of the development-driven combat.
The late Jung Woon-young, a hard-core leftist economist who majored in Marxism, witnessed the tears of Park Tae-joon during the early 2003 recording of a History Channel program for JoongAng Broadcasting. The episode, called the “Iron Myth from the Sandy Land and Park Tae-joon,” aired on Feb. 26.
Asked how felt at 7:30 a.m. on June 9, 1973, when the red liquid steel first came out of the blast furnace, tears fell from Park’s eyes.
Those tears caused Jung, the leftist economist in his 60s who loathed the development-driven dictatorship, to take a new view of the process of industrialization and the heroes of the past.
Because of them, Korea has become a superpower in the steel industry, Jung realized. Because of them, Korea has become No. 1 in the global shipbuilding industry and No. 6 in the world auto industry. And, because of them, Korea was able to move beyond the industrialization era and build a foundation for democratization, Jung realized.
When it completed the construction of the Pohang 1 facility in 1973, Posco was ranked 70th among the world’s steel industries.
In 1992, with the completion of the Gwangyang 4 facility, Posco ranked No. 3 globally. In 1999, Posco finally became the No. 1 steelmaker in the world.
Due to the recent mergers of global steelmakers, Posco was pushed back to No. 2, following India’s L.N. Mittal Group.
The world, however, has drastically changed.
Steel, which used to be the rice of industry during the industrialization era, is not the staple of the information era. Its place has been taken over by the semiconductor. The devotion and spirit of the past are not enough to win the global competition of today.
Just like that, the era of the legendary heroes of Korea’s industrialization ended.
Marking the 40th anniversary of its foundation on Tuesday, Posco announced its long-term vision in front of 16 of the founding members. The company said it aims to produce more than 50 million tons of steel and record 10 trillion won ($10.1 billion) in sales in 10 years.
At the ceremony, Posco Chairman Lee Ku-taek made an important remark.
“In the era of industrialization, Posco, with its patriotic devotion, wrote the history of success. In that way, we will continue the global success for the development of humanity in the future.”
It is a declaration to move beyond the industrialization era – frankly, it is a declaration to move beyond the Park Tae-joon era and the image of a national company to become a global business.
At the ceremony, Park offered his successors words of encouragement about continuing to push ahead.
Still, it is important to remember this remark by Park:
“Remember the chains of dictatorship and remember the chains of the poverty,” Park was quoted as saying in “The World’s Best Steelmaker, Park Tae-joon” published by Hyeonamsa.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jong-soo