[Viewpoint] Pay proper respect to history’s greats

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[Viewpoint] Pay proper respect to history’s greats

A poet manages the dignity of a society. Poetry symbolizes the class of a nation.

The major American poet Robert Frost died in January 1963. Nine months later, President John F. Kennedy made a memorial speech at Amherst College in Massachusetts, where Frost had been a professor.

Today, the Robert Frost Library at the school exhibits the speech made by Kennedy, titled “The President and the Poet.”

The speech takes a new approach to national class and identity. It shows fresh insight on national brand image and vision. Kennedy quoted the poem by Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” and said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”

All countries produce great people and geniuses in any age. However, different countries have different degrees and methods of memory and respect. How the president commemorated the memory of the poet left a deep impression, showing off the class of the United States.

The year 2010 seems momentous not because of its future but because of its past. It reminds us of national ruin as the 100th anniversary of Japanese annexation, of war as the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, of democratization as the 50th anniversary of the April 19th Revolution and 30th anniversary of the May 18th Democratization Movement, and of industrialization as the 40th anniversary of the completion of the Gyeongbu Highway. I can think of no precedent in world history for so many important developments occurring precisely one decade after another.

Thirty countries are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Korea is the only member to have become an independent country after World War II. Most of the rest became advanced countries in the beginning of the 20th century and have experience as world powers.

The accomplishments of Korea changed existing theories. The dependence theory predominated in the 20th century. It was strong in Korea, too, in the early 1980s. The core of the theory was that a central country exploited surrounding developing countries. The miraculous industrialization of Korea put the dependence theory to sleep, and its democratization was the last nail in the coffin. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the godfather of dependence theory, was the president of Brazil in 1996 when he met President Kim Young-sam. At the time, Cardoso confessed, “I realized that there are many contradictions in my theory. I have made many revisions.”

The father of the theory engaged in public self-reflection. However, some Korean intellectuals who were absorbed by dependence theory have still not acknowledged academic defeat. They hold on to the theory. Most of them are third-rate leftists. The characteristics of the third rate are closed minds, like a big fish in a small pond, and regression.

Modern Korean history has produced numerous figures. There have been heroes and geniuses in all fields, including politics, economics and culture. However, Korean society has not remembered them very well. It has lacked that sense of balance that makes accomplishments into visions for the future and errors into lessons on what not to do.

It has been more accustomed to exposing weaknesses. Third-rate leftists have cleverly created such social habits. They have amplified the weaknesses of people to spread division and pessimism. This atmosphere has stopped younger generations from learning about the heroes of modern history. It has made people hesitant about making heroes role models for the new generation.

President Lee Myung-bak visited the National Cemetery on New Year’s Day. He paid his respects at the graves of three former presidents - Syngman Rhee, who founded the country, Park Chung Hee, who industrialized Korea, and President Kim Dae-jung, who achieved democratization. This was the first time an incumbent president had made such a visit on New Year’s Day. It is a sign of succession and unification.

Modern Korean history needs to create an atmosphere that respects great people. It needs to remember its heroes and geniuses. The social atmosphere of a nation raises its class. It guarantees a positive and enterprising social mood. It nurtures imagination and vision for chances to progress. This is what it takes to move to the heart of the world.

*The writer is the executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Bo-gyoon
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