[Viewpoint] Colossal memorials to move the soul

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[Viewpoint] Colossal memorials to move the soul

This autumn, Seoulites were greeted by a new statue of King Sejong the Great, glittering under the sunshine. If the dark blue statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin symbolizes the deep water of the Korea Strait during the Japanese invasion of 1592, the copper tone of the Sejong statue seems to represent the autumn fields where the wise king sang with his people. Finally, these two heroes are within the citizens’ reach. After all, statues are meaningful only when people can touch and look at them closely.

Great statues highlight the history of a nation, elevate its dignity and enhance the pride of its people. Statues of heroes have a power to impress the right and the left, the rich and the poor and bring a society together. In front of King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sun-sin, the Grand National Party and the Democratic Party are equals, and the National Action Campaign for Freedom and Democracy in Korea and the Candlelight Solidarity are the same.

When a great statue endures for decades and centuries, it can encourage even greater national spirit than military might ever could. The statue of 16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. is more powerful than 100 intercontinental nuclear missiles, and the statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson in Trafalgar Square is more powerful than 100 aircraft carriers. The statues of King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sun-sin in Seoul can also be more powerful that North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

In 1914, when Europe was entering the storm of World War I, Americans began building the Lincoln Memorial in downtown Washington, D.C. The United States shed blood to win independence from Britain and shed even more blood to defend itself from division. As war engulfed Europe, Americans might have felt that they needed a spiritual leader and guardian angel. The product of this desperate desire is the Lincoln Memorial. President Lincoln was born again as a statue inside the memorial. Sculptors carved and polished the marble from Georgia. The statue is 5.8 meters high, 0.4 meters shorter than the statue of King Sejong, but the stone sculpture weighs 175 tons, 8.5 times heavier. Americans describe the statue as “colossal,” a word for a massive statue used in the ancient world.

President Lincoln faces the Capitol on the other side of Washington. Americans believe that he watches over the government and protects freedom and democracy. Under his gaze, the United States marched towards integration and reconciliation.

In 1963, civil rights movement leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. President Barack Obama had an inaugural celebration at the Lincoln Memorial. Abraham Lincoln ended slavery, and the statue of President Lincoln was the perfect setting for Dr. King and President Obama. When they look at the statue, Americans are filled with their national spirit, which cannot be oppressed by any tyranny or military force.

King Sejong, our intellectual hero, sits next to Admiral Yi Sun-sin, our military hero. Together, they will be effective guardians of the national spirit. When Gangwon was hit by a devastating famine, King Sejong gave away the land owned by his sons. As the brothers and sons of the president look at the eyes of King Sejong on their way to the Blue House, they will not even dream of committing corruption.

King Sejong gave 100 days of maternity leave to his servants, calling them “the same subjects blessed by heaven.” The president and ruling and opposition party leaders will be reminded why they need to save the poor and the weak as they face King Sejong.

King Sejong always discussed important state affairs with ministers, and today senior officials will realize the importance of communication. King Sejong said, “To the common people, heaven means food.” Businessmen can take pride in producing goods and creating jobs under his eyes.

The pen is mightier than the sword, and a statue can be more powerful than a weapon. We need to bring back not just King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sun-sin but also Ahn Jung-geun, Syngman Rhee, Kim Gu and Park Chung Hee. The more statues of heroes we have, the stronger Korean society will be armed spiritually. Without the statues, we will suffer from division. The statues will begin our march towards social integration.


The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin
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