Winning hearts and minds, not land

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Winning hearts and minds, not land


Until the Middle Ages, Japan was a poor, undeveloped country whose central government had no control over local governments. During the Joseon Dynasty (1392?1897), Koreans looked down on the Japanese because Korea had a highly developed spiritual culture based on the teachings of Chu Tzu. By contrast, our image of Japan was of pirates from Tsushima who went around plundering the Korean coast.

But things changed after the development of maritime transportation. European culture and civilization flowed directly into Japan. Japan, eager to absorb the new culture and civilization, developed rapidly, adopting European weapons and advanced systems. Until then, culture within the Asian continent was transferred to Japan via the Korean Peninsula. As it was never imagined that culture and civilization would flow into Japan via a sea route, Japan’s neighbors were shocked at its transformation.

In modern times, Japan accomplished rapid growth and underwent a splendid metamorphosis to become a newly emergent power. But power in the hands of a country that had achieved military and economic might without any spiritual foundation brought about disaster. The Pacific War caused a great deal of pain that, for a countless number of Asian people, cannot easily be erased.

Japan, however, is not the only one to blame here for the outcome. In the past, we Koreans looked down on the Japanese and openly ignored them. As a result, the Japanese had an inferiority complex and became an imperial power, and it boomeranged on us.

But Koreans’ attitude toward Japan after the recent earthquake and tsunami allowed our spiritual culture to shine. The experience of extending helping hands and transcending past animosities to help a neighbor in trouble has made us feel proud of ourselves.

Yet the Japanese attitude, which betrayed our warmth, has made us feel anxious once again. The typical example is the controversy over the Dokdo islets. I wonder whether Japan’s alienation from the spiritual culture of Asia has made them behave like this. Even if they have a strong desire for the Dokdo islets, I think they are not capable of winning the sympathy of their neighbors in this argument. If you acquire a territory, you will gain a profit equivalent to the size of the land. If you win over the minds of your neighbors, however, it will bring you boundless gain in the long run.

*The writer is the president of the Korean Senior Citizens Association

By Lee Sim
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