[Viewpoint] The liberals doth protest too much
The summer has been disturbingly rackety. A crane-top protest against layoffs at Hanjin Heavy Industries - ongoing since January - re-entered the public spotlight after sympathetic demonstrators stormed into the Busan shipyard in vans and buses. A peaceful fishing village in Jeju has become the scene of clamorous rallies against a plan to establish a new naval base there. Protesters have been clashing with construction workers and police for months to keep the base off the island. The government’s ambitious four-rivers restoration project would have come under ferocious attack if any of the riverbanks and surrounding regions were to have been submerged by heavy torrential rains that wreaked havoc around the capital.
The rallies have procedural commonalities. They were first launched by a minority, then joined by activist groups, and later hyped up by political parties. The “Bus for Hope” demonstrations at the Busan shipyard and protests in Jeju evolved the same way. Opposition politicians joined the crane protest, and after organizing an investigation into the military’s plan to dock naval warships in Gangjeong, Jeju, they are proposing a special legislative probe.
The protests are, however, all illegal. The naval base has been endorsed by Gangjeong residents and was voted for by the legislature. The Hanjin labor dispute also had been settled by bargaining with the management but is now led by a third party.
The timing was also synchronized. The crane protest started in January and the demonstration in Jeju in the spring. The protests remained local for several months but suddenly caught fire and spilled over around the same time.
We cannot discern whether these incidents panned out naturally or deliberately. A naturally caused incident could be capitalized for self-serving interests or could have been orchestrated for a certain purpose. Once the issue turns political, questioning how the event was born becomes meaningless.
The case loses reason once it becomes an instrument in political campaigns, with proponents hyping up the genuine cause while opponents suspect ulterior motives. The campaign could be stained by ideological pursuits, and some naive groups could join the bandwagon without knowing it was all manufactured.
A Hong Kong-based historian jailed in China for leaking military secrets on the Korean War was recently released after 11 years of imprisonment. In his book, David Tsui, citing material from the People’s Liberation Army, said the Korean War was a collaborated byproduct of North Korea, China and the Soviet Union. He vowed to prove his innocence after his release.
Kathryn Weathersby, a scholar from Johns Hopkins University currently teaching in Korea, is a cold war expert. She refuted the revisionist history that the Korean War was a civil war by a thorough study of classified Soviet archives, which revealed that South Korea had been invaded. Historian Bruce Cumings has argued that the Korean War was a civil war that was caused by multiple internal factors. Weathersby told Koreans that it is a pity that there are some South Koreans who still do not believe that the South had been invaded in 1950.
Even though six decades have passed since the war, there are many proponents of the revisionist theory that essentially blames natural causes for starting the war instead of outside forces. There have been two espionage cases recently. A political party claims the probe has been motivated by the government to suppress the opposition even as two incumbent heads of district governments have been arrested and a judge tolerated a person hailing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in court.
I am concerned that the series of disruptions may be masked as purposeful, organic incidents. They may be ignited by some forces to start a civil war. What’s worrisome is that some have been fooled to join the bandwagon, and some parties are touting them for political gain.
Since we uphold democracy, we must guarantee legal demonstrations. But we must be firm on illegal ones as freedom of expression can be easily abused by hostile forces. Authorities must be decisive.
Mold colonies grow in stable temperatures and humidity. They exist in all societies and ours originate from the North. The recent disruptions may be prompted by next year’s presidential and general elections. But we must look around and examine whether our habitat has grown increasingly accommodative to foster mold.
The war on this land has not ended. Mold cannot stay alive in an open, bright society. The privileged class should be the first to open their eyes and take action to protect our environment from security hazards. They must turn their eyes to the dark and cold neighborhoods, exercise responsibility and sacrifice for society and the country. Conservative politicians and society’s elites must stand in the forefront.
*The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk