[Viewpoint] Cowardly peace-mongers

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[Viewpoint] Cowardly peace-mongers

A responsible member of a community should take a moment to ruminate on an important landmark coming soon, Constitution Day, which is celebrated on July 17. Sixty-two years ago, the country promulgated the Constitution to define this country as a free democracy and republic.

The Constitution has greater meaning beneath the surface than that of an imported democratic system or a power structure for governance. Its deeper significance resides in the fact that we systematized a political structure for the first time in our history, ensuring citizens of South Korea to be equal - free to connect with one another and to pursue their well-being through agreement and persuasion.

The bedrock of the Constitution is freedom. The English word “liberty” originates from the Roman goddess Libertas, who embodied freedom of action, and it is the opposite of the term “despotism.”

At its most basic, despotic rule creates slavery. The humiliating and inhumane existence under despotism is well represented in the Middle Eastern folktale collection, “One Thousand and One Nights.”

The legendary Baghdad caliph Harun al-Rashid is one of its protagonists. The main framing device in the book is a Persian king who discovers his wife’s infidelity. The angry king executes the queen and, declaring all women unfaithful, marries a series of virgins only to execute them the day after their weddings.

The last bride, Scheherazade, was different. She intrigues the king with fascinating tales that she intentionally doesn’t finish. The king postpones her execution to hear the conclusion of the tales. Her storytelling goes on for 1,001 nights. She is eventually pardoned by the king.

The book contains a wide range of romantic and historic tales, tragedies and comedies, including “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves,” but the story that frames the book is the most tragic, with the young bride desperately telling tale after tale to keep the king interested in order to secure another day of life.

That tale stars an archetypal autocrat who earns loyalty through intimidation and harshness instead of reason and persuasion, whose people are deprived of humanity and under the yoke of an erratic individual.

The legacy of that type of brutal despotism remains on our shared land. North Koreans kneel before their leader Kim Jong-il although he is no more a deity than any of his subjects. We are lucky to have a Constitution that ensures inalienable rights to live with free will, not in enslavement.

Our modern history, too, is full of distorted freedoms, coercion and brutality despite the Constitution. A lack of freedom was conspicuous in the late 1950s, mid-1970s and early 1980s under authoritarian rulers. But our people never let themselves tumble into the complete enslavement that North Koreans know.

Are the spirit and principles of the Constitution healthy today? The Cheonan disaster forces us to ponder this thought. Belligerent North Korean leaders dealt a deadly and aggressive blow to intimidate us and infringe upon our freedoms.

Yet many in the younger generation brazenly think that a cowardly peace is better than war. But cowardly peace suggests that a humiliating life of enslavement can coexist with a brave heart and free will that can shout “Give me freedom or give me death.”

The nonchalant attitude of the main opposition Democratic Party is most incomprehensible. The party that demanded an inquest after the Cheonan sank refused to support a multinational investigative report and didn’t chastise North Korea for the attack.

When the National Assembly declared a resolution of response to North Korea for the attack, the party members either abstained or voted against it.

Anyone who tolerates forces that threaten freedom is a cowardly peace-monger. It is ironic for them to serve a Constitution that prohibits slavery.

A normal person walking down the street would shout “Thief!” if someone snatched his wallet. But we hear no one from that political party shouting “Criminal!” to the country that killed 46 of our young men.

How can a cowardly party defend the freedom of our country? I plan to study their faces carefully when they stand in front of the national flag during the ceremony commemorating Constitution Day.

*The writer is a professor of civil ethics education at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Park Hyo-Chong
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