[Viewpoint] Red specter still haunts the South‘A specter is haunting Europe - the specter of Communism.” So begins the Communist Manifesto, aimed at propagating the Socialist movement. “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Proletarians of all countries, unite!”
When the theorists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, then in their late 20s, sat down in a corner of Europe and wrote this pamphlet of less than 40 pages dissecting the problems of capitalism and explaining the theory of communism, they surely could never have imagined the power their words would have to turn the subsequent century into a bloodbath of ideological war and revolution.
A new century has dawned, and the legacy of bloodstained vandalism led by ruthless Communist leaders Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin perished long ago. Lost was freedom, leaving the people of Socialist societies still chained by tyranny and deprivation.
Yet the ancient and ailing specter lingers, haunting the 21st-century Korean Peninsula - in the cold hills of North Korea and in less obvious forms here in South Korea.
“We declare Joseon an independent state and our people a self-reliant race,” reads the March 1 Declaration of Independence against the Japanese colonial occupation. The extreme nationalists who adopt an attitude of self-righteous isolation and fail to realize their self-contained identity need to remember the resonant cries of our ancestors. There they would find no traces of servile capitulation to superpowers or narrow-minded insistence on our own ways.
The self-proclaimed crusaders of justice, engrossed in digging up the wrongdoings of the past with no concern for today’s duty and tomorrow’s vision, should go back and reflect on the final words of the declaration. Our ancestors fighting for our people’s liberty repressed their anger against the incompetent leaders and elites who sold out their country to Japan and instead urged the people to stand united and unwavering in their strong march toward the light of the future.
Legendary military strategist Zhuge Liang from China’s Three Kingdoms period, in a letter describing his reasons for pursuing a “northern expedition” despite successive failures, wrote, “Your highness has commanded me to strike at the enemy because a country cannot coexist with enemy forces, and the royal mission cannot be shelved in a corner.”
The statesman, trying to fulfill the dying wishes of his king for unification, “could neither sleep nor eat comfortably” with the burden of such a historic mission. He vowed “to bend my body to squeeze out all my effort until death stops my labor.”
Even a wise strategist like Zhuge Liang devoted his life to the security and unification of his beloved country.
We live today facing the even greater threat of nuclear weapons. The month has come for the 60th anniversary of the war that split our country and people in half, bringing many chilling memories rushing back. We too long for the peaceful days when we can beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, to paraphrase Isaiah. Yet we cannot put down our swords and spears as long as there are forces in the North firing torpedoes at our young men.
Benjamin Franklin said there was never a good war or a bad peace. But a battle to defend the country and its peaceful sustainability is not a problem of good or bad, but a necessary aberration. Because of this aberration, we have to send our sons to the military and pay hefty defense costs.
If we fear the aberration, we will have to kneel down before a nuclear threat and plead for peace or let others rob us to provide security on our behalf. That would not be a fight for peace, but a renunciation. Silence in a graveyard cannot be considered peaceful. Those advocating such a peace are deceiving the public with their calls for freedom and progress.
The future of our nation is now in the hands of a generation who learned about the pain of tyranny and deprivation from books. We have failed in educating our young, who are even now shaping our future, if they are swayed by menacing threats to choose between peace and war and eschew the more serious choice between freedom and submission. We will have no future if our young people shrink at the bluff of a warmonger to turn our capital into a “sea of fire,” or if they give up on defending their own freedom for the more immediate comfort of surrender.
The historic declarations that influenced a country and a race began exceptionally and ended without cliche. They were the blood of noble souls, with the power to resonate and awaken other souls. The paradox of the Communist Manifesto, the progressive resistance to the Declaration of Independence and the loyal words of Zhuge Liang should ring loudly in our hearts as we pay our respects to the veterans who fought for this country during this month of memorial.
*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a partner at Hwang Mok Park, P.C., and the former head of the Seoul Central District Court.
By Lee Woo-keun