Shame on the ‘shame culture’Liverpool is a maritime city in northwest England. It’s famous today as the hometown of The Beatles, but it used to be a great port city where 40 percent of all transport volume in Europe passed through, connecting Europe with Africa and the Americas. It was once called the “New York of Europe,” and the its wealth exceeded London’s in the 19th century.
They said the British Empire was made possible by Liverpool. Many immigrants with American dreams and the ocean liner RMS Titanic had departed from Liverpool. After the glory days, Liverpool began to decline in the 1970s. The shipbuilding industry declined, and trade diminished as former colonies gained independence.
Now that the glory days are over, history remains. The city struggled with economic decline but aimed to revive its tourism using abundant historical heritage. In 2004, Liverpool applied for a Unesco World Heritage Site status with a 48-page report. The municipal authorities included even the shameful parts of the history, including Liverpool being the biggest slave trade center.
Its stance was very different from Japan, which tried to hide the forced labor of Koreans when promoting industrial sites for World Heritage status. Liverpool was granted the status in 2004 as Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City, which includes the history of the slave trade.
Unesco has granted the World Heritage status to 802 sites, and while each of them is notable, the list includes five sites of tragedy.
“As witnesses of painful events in the history of humanity, these sites serve as bulwarks against negationism and force us to draw lessons from the past in order to construct a more peaceful future.”
As a result, the island of Goree in Senegal - the site of the slave trade in Africa - was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1978. The Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp in Poland; Robben Island in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were detained; and the Old Bridge Area of the old city of Mostar destroyed during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s, all remind us of tragic events in human history.
The fifth one is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, which remembers the devastation of the first atomic bomb. As the Japanese government applied for the World Heritage Site status, it argued that the site of tragedy must be preserved in order to not repeat the catastrophe. But now, Japan and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are trying to erase the historical fact that Koreans were mobilized for forced labor. Ruth Benedict investigated Japanese culture in “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,” and she focused on the “shame culture” as a cultural characteristic.
But the most shameful thing is to fabricate history to cover up shameful events. British philosopher Edmund Burke advised, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 13, Page 35
by NAM JEONG-HO