Flagging patriotism“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.”
That quote is from the inaugural address of U.S. President Gerald Ford in 1974, but it could be addressed to Korean society today. It was a message intended to bring American society together after the Watergate Scandal. Just as the bible brought Jewish people together to overcome external invasion and internal division, the Constitution of the United States is the script that unites American society.
What brings Koreans together? Unfortunately not the Constitution. Former President Park Geun-hye called the floor leader of a ruling party a “traitor,” and he shouted in response, “The Republic of Korea is a democratic republic” — as proclaimed in Article 1, Clause 1 of our Constitution. Ironically, he proved that the country had not been a democratic republic. The Constitution is not at fault, but wrongdoers habitually blame the Constitution for not reflecting our zeitgeist.
Our national flag, Taegukgi, may do what the Constitution can’t. The flag is an embodiment of Korea’s tragic history as well as our proud memories. Taegukgi amplifies the sorrow of a lost nation into a cry for national salvation. Koreans cheered on the nation by flying, carrying and wearing flags during thrilling moments of the World Cup. But it is regrettable that the meaning of Taegukgi was tainted in the course of President Park’s impeachment and removal. The Taegukgi’s patriotic spirit was irrevocably lost as it represented not the nation and the people but a group that humiliated and deceived the whole nation and its people. Of course, Taegukgi is not at fault, but as a result, some people avoid the national flag now that it is associated with that sinister and foolish group.
It is sad that I am not surprised by a recent article in the JoongAng Ilbo that dealt with the disappearance of so-called “patriotic marketing” around Liberation Day. A friend of mine posted on Facebook, “I do not want to hoist Taegukgi this year.”
Flags were not hung in the residential areas, and not just because of the rain. Misfortune leaves trauma that is hard to overcome.
It’s about this time that a newly coined phrase, “patriotic high” emerged. It is a more candid expression for chauvinism, and is dangerous and extreme. Good-intended nationalism can turn into sinister chauvinism very rapidly. The cultural scene responds most sensitively. In the absence of patriotism, a country’s shames such as corruption and abuse of power are highlighted in the name of justice.
I don’t mean to argue what’s right and what’s wrong, but any extreme idea is dangerous. “It is group polarization, which means that if you listen to people like you, you’ll probably get more extreme and more confident too,” said Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein. The polarization is evident in online and mobile forums. Todd Buchholz cited a NYPD white paper in his book, “The Price of Prosperity”: “Internet is a driver and enabler for the process of radicalization by luring weak-minded and strong-minded people into fringe groups.”
Today, the United States is experiencing its worst division since the Civil War. Korea is not much different. The nation is faced with a North Korean nuclear threat and is sharply divided over it. I hope the Moon Jae-in administration would be able to overcome the narrow-mindedness of the past administration. It must not follow in the footsteps of the past administration. Looking out at the empty flag stands on a rainy Liberation Day, I look forward to a more united nation a year later.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 16, Page 30
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.