[Viewpoint] On honoring the flag and anthem

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[Viewpoint] On honoring the flag and anthem

Last week, the launching ceremony of an aspiring group of dissidents and civic activists made news for an unintended reason.

Just minutes into the program, it was interrupted by a sudden uproar from elderly members of ultra-conservative groups, and the ceremony was halted. The intruders stood and raised a fuss because the event proceeded without first saluting the flag and singing the national anthem, procedures typically followed at formal ceremonies.

Some newspaper editorials chastised the rude intrusion and reckless activities by the conservative groups, saying such unruly behavior for any reason can undermine the order of a democratic society. There is a certain truth to that point of view. But I began to question why the organizers failed to respect proper ceremonial formalities in a political event attended by opposition party representatives. Were they trying to save time by forsaking the salute to the national flag and singing the anthem? They could have at least taken the time to respect the flag. What would that take? Ten seconds? But it doesn’t appear to have been a matter of time. They skipped the procedure on purpose. Why?

In early July, I received a phone call from a head of a public institution. He told me he was shocked to witness that during the anniversary event of its labor union, the group started ceremonies with “labor formalities” instead of paying proper respect to the nation.

Not only did they ignore the flag, but they also sang labor protest songs and paid silent respect to those who died fighting for labor rights rather than for the country. This was not some ragtag rebel group, but public officials who lived off taxpayer money. Yet they were paying allegiance to a society different from our own. The government last week announced a ban on labor allegiance formalities among public servants. This is the reality of our country. The actions by the progressive groups and labor union demonstrate the reasons.

We live in a democratic state that guarantees freedom of speech and expression. It is up to the individual whether he or she refuses to respect the national flag or sing the anthem. An individual’s rights come before the state.

In the days of authoritarian rule, the cinema always played the national anthem and propaganda video ahead of a regular movie. The audience was obliged to stand up and sing along.

Patriotism was abused to strengthen dictatorship. It was a violation of individual rights and a tyranny by authority to force loyalty to the state upon individuals.

But those days are long gone. These days I become emotional upon hearing the tune of our national anthem and seeing our national flag. In the days of oppressive power, I loathed the coercion of patriotism, but now, my heart tingles every time I sing the national anthem.

I silently give thanks for this country and pledge to do my part to make it a better place for my children.

The battle cry of communism - “Workers of the world, unite!” - touts the rights of the working class over individual countries. During the age of reason and enlightenment, a state was a part of the traditional institutions and customs that certain people chose to revolt against. Because of these historical roots, liberals bear knee-jerk antipathy against the word “patriotism.” Yet the Soviets returned to their motherland Russia and North Korea to their state of juche ideology. Recent developments on the international stage confirmed that the wave of globalism cannot prevail over nationalism. Americans were brought tightly together after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And individual countries rushed to tend to their national economic interests in the face of the global financial crisis.

So rallying cries, be they progressive or conservative, cannot reach beyond this land. We must graciously accept our history of struggles and turmoil and today’s democracy and prosperity.

We need to acknowledge that this system is worth upholding. Our flag embodies the freedom, liberty, rights and law we enjoy and that safeguard this land. The national formalities are important because they allow us to reiterate our love and appreciation for our country. Those preferring a flag of the Korean Peninsula indicating a unified Korea in the place of our national flag and those refusing to pay respect to our flag are in fact discounting what it stands for.

Still, a free democratic society tolerates individual choices. It must embrace those lacking interest or love and even those who loathe their country until they realize the value of being a Korean.

But those who prefer to be not just individuals but representatives of the Korean people should bear respect in their hearts for their flag.

We cannot accept intellectuals or labor activists who, as our representatives, disavow their nation. The progressive groups, therefore, are clearly unqualified to become a political party.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-geuk
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