Revolutionary lessonsAt every turning point in our history, the younger generation has played a key role in moving us forward. A half-century ago yesterday, teenagers raced out from high schools and college campuses to stand up against an autocratic government. The streets were stained with their blood.
But their sacrifices were not in vain. The April 19 Revolution did not stop at bringing down a dictatorship - it also lit the torch for democracy in the hearts of the entire population. Today’s legacy of democracy is rooted in the 186 deaths and 6,000 people who were wounded in the revolution. The movement was chastised by the military government as an “uprising.” Dissident-turned-President Kim Young-sam shed new light on the movement by using the “revolution” title and recognized the grave sites of the victims as a national cemetery. The government decided this year to start commemorating the March 15, 1960 civilian protest as well.
We commemorated the April revolution this time around while mourning the tragic loss of 46 sailors who died from a sudden explosion on a naval ship near the sea border with North Korea. The commemoration renders more meaning and grief during this time of crisis, as most of the victims were in the same age range as the young people who were killed and injured in street protests a half-century ago. We again owe our well-being to valuable young lives.
This country has paid a heavy price for its journey through modernization and democratization. Before the April revolution, independence activists risked their lives to win back the country’s identity and freedom from Japan, and thousands of young lives were sacrificed to safeguard the country from communism.
This year also marks the centennial anniversary of the forced annexation by Japan, the 60th anniversary of the Korean War and the 30th anniversary of the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement. The country also opened the Gyeongbu Expressway, marking the dawn of the country’s industrialization, 40 years ago. The country has endured tragedies and conflicts in its path to industrialization and democratization, but it has built an economy that has now become the envy of many countries.
Our future should be directed and shaped so that we don’t shame our ancestors and their sacrifices. We must nurture and sustain the values of democracy painstakingly defended through the April and May movements. The victims in the April revolution and Cheonan taught us that this country cannot afford to tilt one way or the other when it comes to democracy and security. We must never forget that our security, democracy and wealth have come at the expense of many precious young lives.