[Viewpoint] Patriotism isn’t old-fashioned

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[Viewpoint] Patriotism isn’t old-fashioned

Every country has its days of glory. Ancient Greece enjoyed a Golden Age under the rule of Pericles, and England under Queen Elizabeth I. Americans have had several heydays: during the war of independence, the great expansion of the 19th century and the post-World War II boom years. Great art, discoveries and men are born during the good times. Great American founding fathers, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, came into their own glory days during a time of revolution.

America was blessed with extraordinary men in the 1940s who helped to place the country in a superpower position through the waging of the Second World War. Some of the great leaders were Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and military leaders like Dwight Eisenhower, George Marshall and Douglas MacArthur.

Our history has also had its glorious days. Talents flourished under King Sejong: Hwang Hee and Maeng Sa-sung were deemed the greatest statesmen during the Joseon Dynasty, not to mention extraordinary scholars like Jeong In-ji, scientist Jang Yeong-shil, musician Park Yeon and military leaders like Adm. Lee Jong-mo and Gen. Kim Jong-seo.

In modern South Korean history, the 1960s and 1970s are considered a time of blooming. People worked around the clock with dreams of a better life and we had extraordinary leaders. President Park Chung Hee and corporate founders Lee Byung-chull of Samsung, Chung Ju-yung of Hyundai and Kim Woo-choong of Daewoo are some of them. Posco’s Park Tae-joon, who built the country’s first steel mill, which is now one of the world’s largest, passed away recently.

Our modern leaders are not universally lauded because they have erred in many ways in the process of building their reputation and wealth. But few will disagree that they have shaped the country’s industrial and economic foundation. Why does a certain age generate a number of extraordinary figures? Perhaps they were motivated to challenge a certain set of historical circumstances. Many an insightful leader provided the right opportunities to inspire people to greatness and encourage their talents to come forth.

The economy zoomed under the Park Chung Hee regime. Several factors were involved, such as Park’s charismatic leadership, his strong will and his ability to exploit the diligence of the Korean people. Fearless entrepreneurship by corporate leaders was another factor. I would like to mention one more important element: patriotism. Economic leaders back then did not worked for their personal ambitions but for their country. Park Tae-joon, in a farewell message to Posco employees, exhorted them to work with patriotic hearts. He owned not one of Posco shares. He refused them saying he couldn’t stand the idea of owning part of the company that was created at the cost of our ancestors’ blood. The government established Posco with the money it received as compensation from Japan for colonial rule. Such a spirit of selfishness was an important factor in the creations of one of the world’s leading companies.

There’s writing on a building at the shipyard of Hyundai Heavy Industries. “When we become well, so will our country. If our country becomes well, so will we.” Hyundai founder Chung Ju-yung did not pursue his own self-interests. He used to say, “I am interested in contributing to making a glorious nation and proud people.” Another one of Chung’s quotes: “One cannot become big if you run a company with the belief that corporate interests come before national interests.”

Samsung’s Lee Byung-chull devoted his life to the service of his nation. He endured humiliation from the Japanese in order to import electronics technology to this country. Daewoo’s Kim spent most time on planes flying to many corners of the world to tap new markets, saying, “It’s a big world with a lot of work to be done.” We live comfortably today because of these patriotic entrepreneurs.

The word patriotism at one point became old-fashioned. Intellectuals consider patriotism a philosophy of a former age and liberals demean it as chauvinism.

But a nation is a fundamental value that stands beyond any ideology. The conservatives defend the market economy, but it cannot be placed before a nation. Patriotism is a value we must uphold as our main goal regardless of our liberal or conservative views.

Our economic founders built enterprises based on patriotism. A person is applauded and motivated when he or she works for a higher goal than personal ones. They were successful because they worked to serve the country.

Our population is bisected under liberal and conservative banners. To resolve the conflict, we need a higher value and goal. Devotion and love for one’s nation could be the cure. The flag of Republic of Korea is more important than any ideological banners.

*The writer is senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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