[Viewpoint] From the frozen ground

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[Viewpoint] From the frozen ground

The year 2010 marks the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the national tragedy that was the Korean War. The 60th birthday in any person’s life - known as the “hwangab” in Korean - symbolizes the completion of one full cycle and the beginning of another. Confucius said he understood heaven’s mandate at the age of 50 and was able to hear the truth with docile ears by the age of 60. He meant that by 60, he was able to consider the feelings of others without getting angry.

Continued growth after 60 is not limited to the lives of individuals. When a nation reaches such a significant anniversary, it looks back at its history and its recent achievements, and works to remove the obstacles to opening a new chapter for society as a whole. It is said that the only way to know how to have the best of the universe is through self-led innovation and significant change. Change is certainly the most vital factor to growth.

Korea is building bridges of peace in partnership with various government and civic organizations in order to overcome the difficulties that stem from the 60-year division of the South and the North - an aspect of our history that has led to deeply rooted pain - and to create an atmosphere of peace on the Korea Peninsula.

President Lee Myung-bak’s New Year address this year expressed a desire for improvements in inter-Korean relations. He said, “I will push forward the excavation of the remains of Korean War dead by engaging in dialogue with the North.” This is a vital task we can’t afford to delay any longer at this critical 60th anniversary of the war. We can see how Lee remains firmly committed to seeking reconciliation and innovation by taking concrete and tangible steps that inspire the public.

I believe that work to recover our war dead will provide even greater momentum in moving toward creating a peaceful atmosphere on the peninsula. It may become a meaningful project in its own right that will play a role in ushering in a new era of peace.

Such work has been conducted only in areas of South Korea over the past decade. Carrying out joint projects to recover the remains of South Korean soldiers in close collaboration with the North may also represent the official termination of the war between the two countries and restore dignity to our relations. This is a duty that the people of both Koreas must carry out.

The South and the North must strive to find a common denominator that generates empathy and heals wounds, while at the same time showing consideration to the bitter grief of the bereaved families of those who lost their lives in the war.

The delegates at the second defense ministers’ meeting, held in Pyongyang in November 2007, raised the issue of excavating the remains of soldiers from both sides during the Korean War and agreed to formulate measures to resolve such problems. However, no progress has yet been made due to strained relations with North Korea and Pyongyang’s noncommittal attitude.

Of course, it would be difficult for the North to actively engage in launching a joint project aimed at recovering remains, as it was defeated in the inter-Korean confrontation. However, if the project includes the excavation of fallen soldiers from the North in areas of South Korea and their return to their bereaved families, and if this is conducted in close collaboration with the South, the whole endeavor would become more meaningful to North Korea. This is a great way to seek peaceful coexistence and mutual prosperity.

World Vision, which has assisted widows and orphans through a variety of humanitarian aid projects, also marks its 60th anniversary this year. The most invaluable experience that we have gained in the process of providing assistance to North Koreans was the opportunity to realize that we are all one people. Their hearts, which had been frozen shut by the institutional differences between the two Koreas, began to thaw when we sincerely offered them a helping hand.

It is our honest hope that the governmental authorities who provided the blueprint for the excavation projects will strive to induce North Korean officials to work together on the operation.

There is no greater deed than treating the remains of soldiers buried in the cold soil with honor. If the two Koreas recover the fallen soldiers from each of the two nations, it will create a new history for the future of Korea. The United States goes to great lengths to locate the remains of its soldiers who have sacrificed their lives anywhere in the world, no matter how much it costs.

The time when inter-Korean relations will go smoothly will certainly come, just like the spring comes after the ground-freezing cold.

*The writer is the National Director (CEO) at World Vision Korea.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Jong-sam

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