[Viewpoint] Leaving a mark on historyOne day in Washington, I traveled on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. I passed the Lincoln Memorial and had lunch at the Ronald Reagan Building, looking at the Jefferson Memorial in the distance. Then, I attended a seminar on North Korean affairs held by a think tank at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. People living in the United States quickly become familiar with the roads and buildings named after historical figures. Americans use the names of their greatest ancestors to honor them and respect history.
For instance, one Internet search showed 144 landmarks associated with George Washington, America’s first president, not including local road names such as Washington Avenue or Washington Street.
Even political figures’ checkered pasts are honored in this way, though both their positive and negative actions are put on display. Richard Nixon was the first president to resign in all of U.S. history, but the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum reopened in March after it was expanded. As part of the expansion, the museum added tapes and documents relating to the Watergate scandal, which eventually pushed Nixon to resign. Timothy Naftali, the director of the library, told me that, “The public deserves nonpartisan, objective presidential libraries.”
The process of “leaving names” is still in progress in America. Portraits of U.S. lawmakers hang in the U.S. Capital, and the collection is always being updated.
On Sept. 22, a portrait of Representative Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York, was unveiled. The congressman was most recently in the news after he was reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee for violating various financial rules. But, he is also widely respected as a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, a group which represents black members of Congress, and has served as a lawmaker for 40 years.
And the naming tradition in America is not limited to politics. Americans also construct halls of fame to honor the best players from almost any professional sport, including the more obscure ones, like mountain biking.
By comparison, Koreans are stingy about naming roads or other landmarks after historical figures of any sort. Right now, the public’s attention has returned to Choi Dong-won, one of the greatest players in the history of Korean baseball, since he recently passed away. Korean professional baseball is now 30 years old and has over six million fans, but the Baseball Hall of Fame in Seogwipo, Jeju Island, is the only one of its kind, and former baseball coach Lee Gwang-hwan founded it with his own money.
The Korean saying goes, “When a tiger dies, it leaves a skin. When a person dies, he leaves a name.” If politicians think landmarks will be named after them or that their portraits could be hanging in the National Assembly, will they dare to brandish hammer and extinguisher and engage in physical fights?
*The writer is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Park Sung-hee