[VIewpoint] The great challenge: Reunification

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[VIewpoint] The great challenge: Reunification

When August comes around we recall the day when our country was liberated. Though this July has been chaotic and tough, we will never forget August, 1945 and the day we were released from the shackles of colonization. Our ancestors endured tremendous insults and oppression only to see that day.

Everyday, we must all recall that our country achieved its liberation through their sacrifice.

Words can not begin to tell how truly happy they were on that day.

Sim Hun’s poem “If the Day Comes” describes well our longing for liberation and independence.

“If the day comes, only if the day comes/ Mount Samkak will rise and dance/ The Han River will flow backward and gush upward/ Only if the day comes before my life ends/ I will willingly die from happiness and bear no regrets.”

Although, as we had long wished, liberation led to independence, it came with a toll: separation.

Japan colonized and occupied our country for 35 dreadful years. But liberation caused out country to be split between the South and the North for 64 years.

Compared to our national longing for liberation, our dreams of reunification seem to have dimmed. One wonders if we wish for the day of reunification as eagerly and desperately as we wished for liberation during the Japanese occupation. The song, “We Wish Reunification,” is no longer played frequently. What does this mean?

Of course, our hectic daily lives and simple pragmatism might have made the goal of reunification feel less urgent. But the major reason why the people have lost passion for reunification is that they are afraid of North Korea.

First, as confrontation between the South and the North has continued for more than half a century, the people feel very a tangible military threat from the North. That threat hangs like a dark cloud over the concept of reunification. It makes it difficult to offer concrete and persuasive points for reunification to a wary populace.

This is particularly true recently as North Korea’s threats have accelerated rapidly. We have all sat back and witnessed the North launch missiles, explode a nuclear bomb, and unleash a barrage of aggressive propaganda.

Serious concern that the North is actually capable and somehow willing to ignite a war makes people anxious. Predictably, such anxiety makes talk of reunification sound empty and meaningless.

Second, after more than 60 years of separation, South and North Korea have drifted so widely apart that differences between the two are becoming harder and harder to reconcile and narrow.

During the past two decades, the Cold War ended and the West and the East reconciled. This long-sought development, however, managed to miss the Korean Peninsula where confrontation between the South and North has worsened.

While South Korea achieved both industrialization and democratization and has joined globalization, North Korea has clung to isolation. Instead of joining the rest of the world, the North has clung to its military as its life blood. In so doing, it has become one of the most unusual regimes in the world.

In the process, South Koreans have begun to find it more difficult to understand North Korea as it is to understand Russia, China or Vietnam. Though through blood and history, we should feel closer to the North Korean people than any other, we instead feel we alienated from them.

Fear of North Korea and reunification has grown viscerally and has given rise to antipathy toward reunification.

Third, as inter-Korean relations become more confrontational, instead of dialogue, we get increased tension. Through this process, North Korea grows more isolated.

All of these factors combine to make it more difficult to prepare the people for reunification and find a consensus on what price we should pay for the end result.

We should admit that our sentiment is quite different from what Germans felt 20 years ago when the Berlin Wall collapsed. However, we must overcome out human instinct to avoid conflict. Those instincts must not determine the fate of our country.

As we remember the day of liberation in August, we should imagine the day of reunification, as well.

If we ourselves do not prepare to sacrifice for reunification, how can we expect to persuade our neighboring countries to endure the insecurity and a price that reunification of the Korean Peninsula will surely bring?

The day of reunification certainly comes near.

There is no lasting exception in the flow of human history. The Korean Peninsula has been an exception for more than 60 years. That will end.

Today, bringing about that end is a historic task that we need to achieve for the national identity and pride of each and every single Korean.

I hope this August becomes the time for self-reflection and praying for the day of reunification.

*The writer, a former prime minister, is an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-ku
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