Ideals and realitiesA person or a community that does not have a dream for the future often falls into a lethargic vacuum. In contrast, a person or a community that ignores reality and obsesses over a dream could lose direction and end up at a blank wall. Distinguishing between the ideal and the real is perhaps the most important mission of mankind. That is why we need a wise person or a wise community capable of acknowledging the difference between the ideal and the real and putting consistent effort into narrowing the gap between them. Now is a good time to acknowledge this, as we face the 70th anniversary of liberation from Japan’s colonial rule.
Seven decades ago, we were liberated from the shackles of colonialism and witnessed the end of the age of imperialism. But the seven decades since were marred by national division, a fratricidal war and decades of confrontations, leaving us a history full of both moments of glory and disgrace. During the course of this history, the importance of peace and preservation of the Korean people emerged. A war, most of all a nuclear war, must be prevented and that became the national mission.
In fact, the Korean people’s independence movement, which started about a century ago, was pushed forward with the movement to establish a new order of peace in Asia. The March 1 Declaration of Independence and the essay by Ahn Jung-geun, “On Peace in East Asia,” which he worked on during his imprisonment and before his execution, clearly stated that the Korean Peninsula’s independence and a peaceful order in Asia are intertwined prerequisites.
After the nuclear era began with the Hiroshima bombing in Aug. 1945, creating a system to prevent war and a nuclear weapons control system became the most urgent policy goals for everyone. The 1947 pacifist constitution of Japan and the 1992 South-North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula are the documents that best show the hope and resolution of the people of Korea and Asia.
After World War II, Japan had to come to grips with its losses and the legacy of dehumanization left by militarism. Despite such grief, the Japanese people’s determination to build a peaceful world without war was expressed in the pacifist constitution, and Article 9 particularly declared its intention to renounce war.
“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes,” it said. “To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”
This could be an expression of extreme collective idealism, but it is undeniable that this must be the ideal and goal for not only the Japanese people, but all nations in Asia.
After witnessing German reunification and the end of the Cold War in 1991, the two Koreas signed the basic agreement and jointly joined the United Nations. They announced the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in order to remove the danger of a nuclear war by building a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and create an environment beneficial to peaceful unification in order to contribute to the peace and security of Asia and the world.
About 10 percent of the Hiroshima victims were Koreans and the Korean War was as fierce as a world war. Those experiences allowed the two sides to easily agree that denuclearization was the best way to ensure the security of the Korean people in an era of nuclear weapons. That was a wise decision. It must have been the outcome of pragmatism as well as the instinct to preserve the Korean people.
Japan’s declaration to give up war 68 years ago and the joint declaration of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula from 23 years ago seem unrealistic and naive when we think about today’s realities. With China’s rise and North Korea’s nuclear arms development, Japan’s security cannot rely on a pacifist constitution and South Korea’s security, facing a direct threat from the North, cannot rely on the joint declaration of denuclearization. But we must not forget that politics is the competition of powers and at the same time, the competition of justifications. There is no place for a stance that everyone should walk the path of mutual destruction for the sake of the security of one particular leader or regime.
Politics is the art of creative mixing and a selection of the ideal and real, of justification and pragmatism. Now is the time for the leaders and people of East Asia to remember the day 70 years ago when they vowed to uphold peace from the ruins of the war and demonstrate their ability to mutually understand that nuclear security and safety are the best policies to ensure the peace for everyone.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 3, Page 31
*The author is a former prime minister and an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hong-koo