[Viewpoint] Korea’s records, good and appalling

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[Viewpoint] Korea’s records, good and appalling

South Korea and North Korea have, in very separate and distinct ways, been racing toward setting new world records ever since they were divided in 1945.

After enduring 35 years of colonial rule and three years of civil war, the newly democratic state in the South sprinted down the path of prosperity. Founding President Syngman Rhee laid the framework for modernization and industrialization through land and education reform, along with a strong security alliance between Korea and the United States. From the military revolution by General Park Chung Hee in 1961 to the democratization movement in June 1987, South Korea made great strides in industrialization and democracy.

In just a few decades South Koreans were able to rid themselves of the rags they wore for centuries and join the modern and democratic sphere of the world. Our speedy accomplishments are a rare find in civilization’s history.

The fact that such triumphs were gained with scarce natural resources and under a security threat makes the country’s accomplishments all the more meaningful. Our country deserves equal credit in its contribution to the progress of world civilization as America’s independence from England, the French Revolution and the Meiji Restoration.

Modern Korea has wowed the world with various records. Korea Inc. has conquered key industries like semiconductors, television sets, cellular phones and shipping. It built some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers and its biggest freight vessels.

A country of fewer than 50 million turns out top athletes in various fields and holds world records in archery, table tennis, baseball, ice skating and short-track speed skating.

South Korean women recently became world champions in the under-17 football category. The sports powerhouses of the former Soviet bloc didn’t produce as many No. 1s in such a variety of sports.

In the meantime, Koreans across the border in the North have set their own records. The founding leader of Communist North Korea, Kim Il Sung, ruled for nearly a half-century from 1945 to 1994, sharing the dictatorial ruling record of Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, who has ruled for 41 years, is short of the world record, but is expected to surrender the helm to his second son.

They can’t match North Korea’s knack for keeping the power in the same family. The father-son rule of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il already totals 64 years. If Kim Jong-il’s third son successfully ascends to the leadership of North Korea, the dynastic rule could hit the century mark.

This is unprecedented in a nonfeudal society. There have been countries that also sought hereditary rule. But in modern days, they at least put up a facade of elections. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has been in power for 10 years after his father’s 29-year rule, but he held an election. War-torn Congo also went through an election, and the son of an assassinated leader took power through an election in 2001. North Korea is the only state that designates a successor without the modern formalities of elections.

North Korea holds the world record for state terrorism. Of course, there are many terrorist states. North Yemen’s president was murdered in 1978 by a suicide bomb by an envoy from socialist South Yemen.

But few countries can match North Korea’s record of multiple and diverse attacks against the same race. It sent commandos to the presidential residence to assassinate the South Korean president, bombed a presidential entourage in a foreign capital, had a female terrorist blow up a Korean commercial airplane, and ordered a submarine to torpedo a South Korean naval ship.

Its diverse methods and attempts would take up many chapters in a Terrorism 101 textbook. While in severe economic straits with millions of its people starving to death, the regime spends billions of dollars to develop modern weapons. Its audacity is also rare in modern civilization.

The South’s track record shines while the North’s history is a world of darkness. Left-wingers and naive youth rail against the long-term rule of Park Chung Hee but say little about the North’s third-generation dynasty.

South Korea’s public rages against a minor nepotism scandal at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, yet has little to say on the monstrous cronyism in the North. They hit the ceiling over American beef imports on iffy suspicions about mad cow infection, which has a one-in-a-million chance of causing a fatality, while totally ignoring the fact that North Korean is developing nuclear weapons that could wipe out our entire population.

People who enjoyed the taste of luxury and the feeling of real political power over the last decade take the side of a culprit blamed for killing 46 young sailors doing their duty to our state on a doomed naval warship. Their blind foolishness also earns a world record.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Jin
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