[Viewpoint] Two different types of patriotism

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[Viewpoint] Two different types of patriotism

We watched as tears streamed down the face of Japan-born striker Jong Tae-se as he stood with his North Korean teammates listening to their national anthem being played at the World Cup for the first time in 44 years. The tears warmed many hearts and elicited a variety of interpretations of their meaning.

I believe they were an emotional manifestation of the love Jong feels for the country he was playing for. Jong, educated in a pro-North Korean school to avoid discrimination in Japan, must have been steeped in pride for his North Korean heritage. Not long ago we witnessed tears from our own athlete, Kim Yu-na, after she finished a stunning performance in the figure skating competitions of the Winter Olympics.

But my heart turned heavy watching this young athlete let tears flow as he gazed at his country’s flag, undoubtedly reflecting on the harsh realities of North Korea. The tears may have flowed because he was programmed to feel deep loyalty to North Korea or because the dreams of a boy whose sole passion is football had finally been fulfilled. I felt both sympathy and fear for the young man.

And suddenly I started to wonder if our young people would be a match for such strong-minded counterparts from North Korea.

War scares spread fast in cyberspace following the government’s announcement that a North Korean torpedo attacked our Naval ship Cheonan. Someone wrote, “It is us, the young, who die when a war breaks out.” Another netizen boasted that he told his parents not to vote for candidates from President Lee Myung-bak’s party in local elections because a war could take place and soldiers would die if the party won.

These young people helped defeat the ruling party in the elections, and the opposition had a field day fanning an anti-government campaign with an anti-war slogan. Critics attack the government but then fall silent on North Korea’s role in the assault on the Cheonan. A rights group even sent a letter to the United Nations Security Council criticizing its own country’s investigation into the Cheonan case. Where is our country heading?

The thousands of young people at Seoul Plaza shouting their hearts out for our team at the World Cup must be driven there by a fervid love for their country and fellow countrymen. They cannot be a wholly different group from those cynical about the Cheonan report. There are two types of patriotism - an easy, self-serving one, and a difficult and sacrificing one.

If I want to defend my own country, some form of sacrifice is inevitable. Bearing loyalty to one’s country regardless of the sacrifice is the difficult kind of patriotism. Chanting “Daehanminguk!” in a festive mood while rejecting any hardship and obligation to defend the country would be the easy brand of patriotism.

The party ends when a new dawn breaks. There is no duty or responsibility in this kind of playful love for country. Red banners bearing “Daehanminguk” are draped from every tall building on the main streets. This too may be a manifestation of patriotism. But deep down, they mask a marketing campaign. We should ask ourselves whether or not patriotism in this land has degenerated and been exploited as a playful and profit-making instrument.

We adults, however, cannot blame the youth. Upon confirming the Cheonan sinking, the Blue House discounted North Korea’s involvement. Some say the Blue House did not want to spoil the chance for a possible inter-Korean summit or scare the world ahead of the G-20 Summit in Seoul. Then the Blue House and government suddenly detoured to the hard line with talk of a possible armed conflict ahead of the midterm local elections. They were suspected of trying to exploit the fear of war to help the conservative party in the local elections.

After keeping silent for nearly two weeks after the crushing election defeat, the president suddenly addressed the public on Monday morning. The public was in an exuberant mood following the first win at the World Cup against Greece. The public relations office of the Blue House then slipped to reporters that the president said it would have been great if North Koreans had won after watching their 2-1 defeat by Brazil.

Is there another metamorphosis in the making? The incumbent administration is excellent at going with the flow, but somehow appears to be wanting in sincerity. That is why the leaders are so doubted and distrusted. Maybe it’s how their own pragmatism works - void of principle and acting on self-serving interest.

What is the meaning of being a member of a state? Although military service in the U.S. has long been voluntary, all naturalized American citizens must pledge to “bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law [and] perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law.” The citizens of Athens and Rome all were required to carry swords in times of war.

Those who do not care whether North Korea should be absorbed into South Korea or vice versa may not have to concern themselves with the duties of defending the joint Korean community. To them, only the Korean race may be important. But patriotism does not merely serve to sustain a certain ethnicity.

Italian patriot Giuseppe Mazzini said, “A Country is not a mere territory .?.?. The Country is the idea which rises upon that foundation.” Patriotism to us should be defined as upholding a country of freedom, justice and laws.

If we all pursue our own self-interests, avoid sacrifice and resort to easy patriotism, who will be left to fight? Genuine patriotism is performing duties for the community no matter how difficult they may be. That is the kind of courage displayed by the late Warrant Officer Han Joo-ho, who sacrificed his life to salvage sailors trapped in the Cheonan.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Moon Chang-keuk
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