[Viewpoint] Four generations, four sensibilities

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[Viewpoint] Four generations, four sensibilities

The month we have all been waiting for has finally arrived. Red Devils fever has swept the nation once more and now our team faces its last chance to advance from Group B at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, having already scored one victory and suffered one defeat. The entire nation, still harboring the glorious memory of 2002 World Cup, is again trembling with excitement.

But June of this year - marking the 60th year of North Korea’s invasion and the beginning of the Korean War (1950-1953) - is too important to pass on an exuberant note alone. We must embrace both victorious news from South Africa and painful memories of six decades ago to contemplate our path toward a triumphant future as we, arms linked, chant “Daehanminguk [South Korea]!”

No doubt both the war and World Cup have some effect on everyone living in this land. But the extent of feeling would be different for each person depending on their personal experience and connections. Our history has panned out among four generations over the span of 60 years, creating gaps and diversity among each generation in their perspectives of history and culture.

Those in their 60s and 70s experienced the war and its aftermath, while those in their 40s and 50s were whipped up by the modernization and democratization movements. And those in their 20s and 30s were immersed in the globalization wave, while teens were born into the fast, mobile Internet age.

Our society, unlike any other, encompasses large and extraordinary generation gaps that can potentially unsettle rather than unify society. The fissures have already caused us a lot of pain and unrest.

The more advanced a society becomes, the greater the problems that come from generation gaps. Moreover, we live in a society at conflict with its neighbor and haunted by the fear of war even two decades after the end of the Cold War, creating a sea of difference between those who experienced the war and those who did not.

The double duty of committing to building a global community for the 21st century and maintaining a deterrence against armed legacy of our past stymies our countrymen and widens the generation divide. Our society - a household with four generations living under one roof - must now come to grips with its inherent burden and we must open up to one another in order to work out the problem.

Now we must try to find a solution to the South-North military confrontation in an international context rather than a regional one. The world has converged to seek a common path for prosperity and a single community through open economies and trade. The World Cup and Olympic Games have become festivals of the global community.

Korea respects both the political uniqueness of individual countries and common rules and norms to improve freedom and welfare of the entire global community. But our northern neighbor insists on playing a maverick’s role, going against historical and global currents and enforcing a duality on us as well.

One cannot remain an exception in history forever. North Korea’s intractable obsession with its singularity cannot last as well. We can only wait with patience for the North Korean leadership to abandon its abnormal universe of an antiquated hereditary succession of power and deified dictatorship.

However, we still believe in a deeply-rooted sameness and connection from sharing the land over 5,000 years. That’s why deep down we maintain hope and the conviction that we can all live in a community that respects human dignity and freedom.

The nuclear threat and torpedo attack on a naval patrol ship reminds us of the looming threat of armed conflict. But we must not forget that improving the welfare and human rights of North Koreans and helping Northern refugees are part of our duties to build a single community.

Therefore, we long for the emergence of future-oriented conservatives standing in the forefront to help struggling North Koreans and reasonable liberals fighting to free North Koreans from an oppressive dictatorship.

I hope that the war generation, who knows how hard and important defending a country and its freedom is, the democratization movement generation, who knows the value of economic development and democracy in sustaining a society, and the generation who proudly stands among the global community will sing out “Go Korea!” in one voice.


*The writer is former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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