Looking at 1920 from 2020

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Looking at 1920 from 2020

The author is a deputy head of the popular culture team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Last year was a meaningful centennial in many ways. It was the centennial of the March 1st Independence Movement and the establishment of the provisional government in Shanghai. Korean cinema also celebrated its centennial.

This year is different. Two newspaper companies that were founded in 1920 are celebrating their centennials. In 1920, the independence army had Bongodong and Cheongsanri victories in battles with the Imperial Japanese Army, but they eventually led to the Gando massacre, in which the Japanese Army killed thousands of Koreans living in Manchuria. Until 2045, the centennial of the liberation, the series of not-so-pleasant memories from the last century will continue.

How about world history? As I reviewed the timeline on English Wikipedia, I paid attention to the New York Times’ error of the century. On Jan. 12, 1920, the Times published an article titled “Believes Rocket Can Reach Moon.” It discussed a “multiple-charge, high-efficiency rocket” that drew attention from academia, and denounced the possibility of exploring the moon. In the editorial on the next day, it claimed that there was no guarantee that the rocket could return, and said that Prof. Robert Goddard “only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.” Forty-nine years later, on July 17, 1969, the New York Times published a correction. It said, “The Times regrets the error” the day after the launch of Apollo 11.

Today, we are used to the expression “rocket delivery,” but back then, a rocket launch didn’t seem to make sense. Goddard, a professor of physics at Clark University, said, “Every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it; once realized, it becomes commonplace.” He went on with his research as if nothing happened. After the first test rocket launch propelled by liquid fuel in 1926, Goddard’s team launched 34 rockets until 1941. They were the prototype of space rockets today, including Apollo 11.

History does not jump from nothing from something. Goddard’s rocket research was inspired by “War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells, which he had read as a teenager. People who continued this vision made Apollo 11 possible. Future generations conveniently celebrate centennials, but history is made step by step. Even if no breakthrough was made in the Korean Peninsula in 1920, various big and small events took place, such as the publication of the comprehensive monthly magazine “Kaebyok” in Korea. Those visions accumulated to make liberation possible 25 years later. For the next 25 years, until the centennial of the liberation in 2045, what visions will the Republic of Korea plant? How will the Korean Peninsula in 2020 be remembered in 2120?

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 2, Page 28
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