The poisoned needles
The author is a senior editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
In Jean-Henri Fabre’s “Souvenirs entomologiques,” the spider wasp is described. The spider wasp, which lives in Korea, stealthily approaches a spider by avoiding its web and injects a poison. But the poison does not kill the spider. The paralyzed spider is dragged into a cave and the spider wasp lays eggs around it. Its larvae slowly eat the spider alive. A spider, a beneficial insect that kills mosquitoes and flies, eventually dies.
The tragedy of the spider is mirrored in the ecosystem of humans. Extreme thoughts, blind faith, violence and radical moves are poisoning a healthy society. The spider wasp smartly injects the poison in the weakest spot of its prey. The central nerve is the weakest spot, like a tiny crack on an otherwise solid rock. The economy worsened by unemployment, failed governance, human rights abuses, conflicts and a crisis of peace are the target's of the poisonous needle.
In Korean society, extreme conflict — hatred of Japanese collaborators and of communists — is endlessly repeated. Extreme leftists and extreme rightists are the poisons. This tragedy began in the chaos following Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule. At the time, the Communist Party north of the 38th parallel had only 2,124 members. But in three years, they built a communist regime in the northern half of the Korean Peninsula, where 8.8 million were living. They spread to paralyze 4,000 times their numbers in the North. Their lethal poison was the idea of a socialist paradise, where land, medical services and education are free to promote equality.
In the South at the time, extreme rightists carried out violence and terror against the leftists. The vicious cycle of history continued as leaders like Kim Koo and Lyuh Woon-hyung were assassinated. In the South, one million civilians suffered wounds from the war. Their trauma, hatred and distrust toward the leftists are the lifeline of the extreme rightists, until the generation is completely changed.
Until the ’80s, extreme leftists in the South capitalized on the authoritarian regimes’ tyranny and human rights oppressions — and the tacit approval of the U.S. government — to justify their cause. As democratization progressed in the ’90s, the Soviet Union — the utopia of the leftists — collapsed, and hundreds of thousands died in the North after a famine eventually called the Arduous March. As a result, momentum for their anti-U.S. and pro-North ideology fizzled out.
Then the leftists revived an old target: Japanese collaborators. As Japan was hesitant to offer an apology for its past aggression, they were great targets. Furthermore, the frame — that those Koreans who collaborated with Japanese colonial rule became the establishment of our society and that they, too, were descended from dictators — worked. It is no surprise that the leftists did not pay attention to the rightists’ call for the improvement of Seoul-Tokyo relations.
Extreme leftists and extreme rightists share some common denominators. After military coups and armed rebellions decreased in the 20th century, those in power or those with ambition to win power worked behind the two extremist groups for political gains. Martin Wolf, a columnist for The Financial Times, said, “Nowadays, the most common way for authoritarian regimes to emerge is by eating out democracy from within, rather as the larvae of some wasps eat out host spiders. Such processes make up close to 40 percent of all contemporary collapses of democratic regimes.”
Extreme leftists and extreme rightists both promote nationalism and patriotism. Fascists — such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini — and Joseph Stalin all charmed their supporters by exploiting nationalistic memories and blind patriotism. While promoting patriotism and nationalism, they justified all forms of violence against others. They are the true threat. While they are standing on the totally opposite side of love, forgiveness and mercy, they claim that only they can save a country from chaos. We must be vigilant of such people. The everyday life of a good, ordinary citizen is true patriotism.
The present danger posed by extremists is their denial of democratic systems, such as courts, legislatures and the media. Attempts to ignore a court ruling or a legal conclusion — such as a presidential impeachment — and attempts to ignore the independence of the prosecution and media are the signs that they are holding poisonous needles.
Strangely, extreme leftists and extreme rightists have supported one another’s survival in a symbiotic way. Hitler and Mussolini won their power by fueling hatred toward communists. Extreme leftists also survive by cursing the fascist tendencies of the extreme right and complaints among the public toward the social establishment. Those promoting anti-communist sentiments and those fueling anti-Japan sentiments are all sleeping with their enemies.
It is a new trend that the two extreme groups are resorting to social media and the internet — which have no filtering functions — instead of traditional media as their tools for propaganda. They are bent on brainwashing the younger generation, which is increasingly critical of the establishment.
It is terrible to see them paying attention only to the past, not the future. When a spider wasp poisons its prey, it is paralyzed for up to three weeks. Concerns are high that the central nerve system of our society is already being paralyzed. Our solid reason is the only thing that can protect us from the poisons of the extreme left and extreme right. We must not forget the lessons of history. We must let our consciences act.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 18, Page 31