The collapse of the old left

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The collapse of the old left

College students joining student activist movements in 1980s preferred National Liberation (NL) over People’s Democratic Revolution (PD) as their ideological front in their battle against the anti-democratic government. It was because it was easier to be an NL member.

They were given orders in the morning and had to attend assembly in the evening. They did not have to study socialism and Marxism or engage in ideological debate like the members on the PD front.

The pupils of the PD front, who had gone to university when the student democracy movement peaked in the mid-1980s, and who now occupy the Blue House, are regarded as anti-Chun Doo Hwan because their prime focus was fighting the president and his plan to hand the presidency to another military general.

Because they had a common enemy at home, this authoritarian military regime, they were more favorable towards North Korea, with some even regarding them as having a better state system.

They would have been disillusioned by now, seeing the brutal violation of civilian rights and reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons under the hereditary rule that has extended to a third generation in the North. But humans are proud. They hate to admit when they are wrong. That is why they do not outright criticize Pyongyang. They try to circumvent the matter by talking about peace and shared racial identity even as North Korea commits major transgressions. The real face of the NL has been shown by the blindly loyal younger generation.

Kim Jong-dae, lawmaker of the leftist Justice Party, came under fire for his criticism of Lee Cook-jong, a trauma specialist who miraculously saved a North Korean soldier who suffered multiple wounds from gunshots fired by his fellow officers during his movie-like dash across the military demarcation line to the southern side of the Joint Security Area (JSA).

Kim accused Lee of violating the medical ethics rule and human rights by exposing complications involving the soldier’s state after surgeries due to “an incredible amount of parasites” in the patient’s stomach. Kim was not a die-hard NL member, but nevertheless conforms to its manifesto of demanding arms cuts in the South.

Kim followed the typical pro-North Korean approach, mitigating any attack on the North by highlighting the follies of the South. But the internet community was not convinced by his hollow argument criticizing the doctor. The doctor also did not sit quiet. Offended, Lee held a press conference to explain why he shared the full state of the patient’s condition and the validity of the procedure, as it had been discussed with military and government authorities in advance.

Other members of the Justice Party talked about being ashamed of their peer, who tried to demean a doctor who is now seen as national hero. The internet community began a campaign to strip Kim of his representative status. Kim said he would meet the doctor and settle the misunderstanding. But the public sentiment against Kim has not died down.

The incident underscores the fact that the old school of student activists who glamorized North Korea while fighting against the military regime of Chun draws little empathy from the people in their 20s and 30s who grew up in a democracy. The black-and-white views about North Korea held by people in their 40s and 50s, who spent their campus lives mostly demonstrating against the military regime or seeking greater labor rights, are being ridiculed by the younger adults who in universities were engrossed with matters of personal interest and career ambitions as opposed to national and security interests. The generation that has grown up taking democracy and human rights issues for granted cannot understand why the older generation wants to advocate for the North Korean regime, which is starving its own people to make nuclear weapons to then threaten other countries.

Few young people are willing to attack a doctor for detailing the brutal reality of a North Korean soldier’s life by describing the worms in his stomach. Justice Party presidential candidate Sim Sang-jeong had said that if she were president, she would have had the state abstain from the vote on a UN resolution condemning North Korean human rights.

Today’s young Koreans are not so naïve as to fall for the sophistries of the older generations. They cannot understand why the leftists still consider criticizing North Korea taboo and go on advocating for the unruly dictatorship.

The more North Korean leader Kim Jong-un resorts to nuclear threats, the more young South Koreans will lose sympathy for the North. The extreme leftists in the Democratic Party and Justice Party must ask why Yoo Seung-min, presidential candidate from the Bareun Party, was popular among voters under 40 with his centrist pitch of being “progressive on the economy and conservative on security.”

Kim of the Justice Party did a favor for South Koreans by exposing how outdated the old leftist perspective is. Through his attack, he ended up placing Lee in a positive light for his devotion to a patient’s life, and sharpening public awareness about the realities of life in North Korea.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 24, Page 34

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Kang Chan-ho
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