[Viewpoint] On learning lessons from the past

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[Viewpoint] On learning lessons from the past

A century ago, nimbus clouds blanketed this land. Korea was converted into a Japanese satellite territory and our national rights and identity were obliterated.

How should we imprint the shame of the annexation in our hearts? During the 35 lost years, our ancestors were forced to live as bats confined to perpetual darkness. The hours of darkness slowly caused loss of sight until we were eventually blind. The world without national identity is no different than a shadowy cave.

One cannot be blamed for poor sight when confined to a cave. The fault lies with the predators and bystanders that agreed that the people would live like bats.

Their lives and history would have been so different if only the nobilities of the late Joseon Dynasty had read about and stood up to Japanese imperialist ambition.

We would not have ended up as history’s underdog who lost their own country. Whether or not our ancestors let themselves become completely blinded or half-blinded in the darkness is not important. That we should muster wisdom and strength to never let such history repeat itself is the lesson from our past.

When we remember the shameful chapter in our history, we should regret our powerlessness against the Japanese.

The annexation did not take place because some cunning politicians sold off our country. A nation is taken over, not sold off. Russia sold Alaska to the United States. But the land was devoid of national rights.

Our land, on the other hand, was commandeered by the Japanese. The reason was simple. We lacked strength and wisdom and we had been losers. It is meaningless to debate who were pro-Japanese and had a hand in selling off our country. We instead should focus on building the national strength to make us powerful winners that no country would dare to challenge or intrude upon. To attain that goal, human resources are essential.

Our electronics industry today is toppling Japan Inc. because it invested heavily in human resources from abroad. Because we came to value the need for human resources, we ended the litigation system that was hunting people connected to pro-Pyongyang activities during the Korean War.

But we still saw the list of people with pro-Japan tendencies during the colonial period revealed last November. We belittled ourselves by throwing mud on the names of many public figures who served to enrich our country and name in various fields like arts, education, media and religion with a “pro-Japanese history” label. What good does carving out valuable human resources from our community do for our society today?

If we have learned our lessons from history, we should free ourselves from the mind-set of “minimizing” our community by fragmenting it and instead work on “maximizing” it through engagement. The mentality of minimization cannot sustain our community, sandwiched more and more between the regional powers of Japan and China.

Our ancient history has produced many heroes. Roads are named after war heroes like Yi Sun-sin. But we have been less appreciative of the modern heroes who devoted their lives to planting and growing democracy and modernizing this land. That is because we have looked more for blemishes than accomplishments.

We had boldly brought in experts from overseas to help drive industrialization and we should not shun those who contributed in building the Korea we live in today. We need the deep and wide bedrock of human resources to build a strong nation standing shoulder to shoulder with Japan and China. We should think big if we want to make ourselves winners.

*The writer is a professor of civil ethics education at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Hyo-jong
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