A matter of will
Historians often credit Silla’s diplomatic power for its successful allied operations with the Tang dynasty. Education programs that produced talented generals including Kim Yu-shin and Gwanchang also contributed greatly. Veteran Buddhist monks such as Wonhyo and Uisang also helped to unify the people through religious faith.
What made diplomacy, education and national unity possible?
At the site of Hwangryong Temple in Gyeongju, the foundation for a nine-story wooden tower still remains. The tower, built during the era of Queen Seondeok, is a reference to the nine countries that surrounded Silla at the time - Japan, Tang, Wuyue, Tamna, Baekje, Mohe, Khitan, Jurchens and Goguryeo. According to Volume 3 of “Samguk Yusa,” or “Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms,” the tower was built to express the wish that those nine countries would eventually pay tribute to Silla. The tower was built by stacking up the Silla people’s will for unification.
South Vietnam, before its defeat, was in extreme chaos. The government was incompetent and officials were corrupt. Protesters demanding the withdrawal of American troops and democratization flooded the streets while Buddhist monks committed suicide by setting themselves on fire. Weapons supplied by the U.S. military in the morning were taken by the Vietcong in the evening. There was hardly a determination for unification in the South.
North Vietnam, however, was different. Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh left a dying instruction to the people to achieve a Communist unification. The North Vietnamese forces managed to take over Saigon only two years after U.S. troops pulled out. North Vietnam had an unswerving will for unification.
Who says German unification came abruptly? West Germany established the groundwork to absorb East Germany by including it in the German federation in Article 23 of its Basic Law. Starting in 1961, it operated the Central Registry of State Judicial Administrations in Salzgitter to investigate East Germany’s crimes against humanity.
In respect to the Helsinki Accords that linked economic assistance with human rights issues, West Germany brought more than 280,000 political prisoners and their family members from East Germany. In 1978, it also established the basic guidelines for unification education for the youth. It was an expression of its will for unification.
Although German unification was formally declared on Oct. 3, 1990, it actually started with antigovernment protests of East German residents starting in the spring of 1989 and the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November that year.
East Germans who crossed the wall realized that the gap between the two Germanys was not just economic. They felt strongly that freedom, the source of humane dignity, could be enjoyed under the Communist regime and they managed to topple the Communist regime of Erich Honecker. The next year, the unification treaty was signed and the first all-German free elections took place. Then the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany was approved by the four powers that occupied Germany at the end of World War II. The power of German unification came from the will for unification of the people of the two Germanys.
North and South Yemen established a unified government based on an agreement, but conflicts from splitting power developed into a civil war. The unification treaty became nothing more than a meaningless piece of paper. North Yemen’s military eventually took over South Yemen and absorbed it, but movements are under way in the South for separation and independence. That case shows the outcome when a will for power is stronger than a will for unification.
The Korean Constitution’s Article 3 states that “the Republic of Korea shall seek national unification, and shall formulate and carry out a peaceful unification policy based on free and democratic basic order.” But productive dealings with a nuclear-armed regime obsessed with a desire for power based on a three-generation dynastic rule is but a vain dream.
The truce line that separates the two Koreas can be erased by the burning will of the two Koreas’ people for unification. As long as the 80 million Korean people at home and abroad display their strong passion for unification, no superpower, including China, will be able to decide the fate of the Korean Peninsula. Our security and diplomatic capabilities must be reinforced, but what’s more desperately needed is the will of the South Korean and North Korean people for unification.
Today, we see an irony that those who value economic growth and survival more than freedom are more enraged about the stolen freedom of the North Korean people than their hunger, while the democracy fighters, who value human rights over the right to food, are turning a blind eye to the North Korean people’s violated human rights while demanding economic assistance for them.
This is a hypocrisy that would never exist if we had strong will for unification. Human rights and the right to survive are the two values that we must use to induce a will for unification from the North Korean people.
The Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights of North Korea of the United Nations disclosed the extensive crimes against humanity committed by the North Korean regime and demanded the people responsible be punished. But where is a North Korea human rights bill from the South Korean National Assembly? We cannot even dream about having unification education for youngsters because of the ideological conflicts and political power struggles.
The biggest obstacle to Korean unification is not the North’s nuclear arms or the superpowers’ clout. It is the lack of our will for unification.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 17, Page 31
*The author is a partner at Hwang Mok Park, PC, and former head of the Seoul Central District Court.
By Lee Woo-keun