Future visions matter

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Future visions matter

Yeom Jae-ho
The author is an emeritus professor of Korea University and former president of Korea University.


The founding fathers of the United States dreamt of a new world. They sought to minimize the authority of the government, initiated the first-ever presidential system, and created a democratic constitution based on the separation of powers.

An interesting anecdote well illustrates the ambition of the settlers to create a new world. When first U.S. President George Washington wanted to step down after finishing two four-year terms, his aides were perplexed. To those who were used to the monarchy, in which a head of state reigns for life or until abdication, the four-year term system was unfamiliar. Then, someone proposed Washington bequeath his seat to his son. (Washington did not have any biological children with Martha Washington.) The proposal reflected a misunderstanding of the new election system. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson became the second and third U.S. presidents to set the foundations for a new republic.

The United States not only launched the new federal system and emancipation but also created new technologies, such as electricity, automobiles, radio, television, semiconductor and computers and invented new cultural genres of films and music. Being a society of immigrants, new experiments are always conducted in America. After the Soviet Union launched the world-first satellite Sputnik in 1957, the United States established the NASA and sent men to the Moon. “We choose to go to the Moon,” President John F. Kennedy said at Space Center Houston in 1962. “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills …” America’s space and defense technologies helped advance not only precision technology but also other diverse technologies in the second half of the 20th century, including the internet, information and communication technology and others. In Silicon Valley, the world’s top elites are striving to invent new cutting-edge technology for humankind.

After analyzing the future of the world order in his bestseller “The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century“ and “The Next Decade,” George Friedman in his new book “The Storm Before the Calm” defined the United States as a country that endlessly creates something new. Its forefathers set the foundations for a dramatic transformation of once a small British colony into a superpower 200 years later. The pioneering spirit epitomized by bold challenges and experiments is still helping broaden the spectrum of the United States.

What about political leaders in Korea? Instead of designing the path of a country with insights into the future, they are stuck in the myopic issues of the past just like their ancestors did in Joseon Dynasty four centuries ago. Political circles battle over prosecution reforms today, reminiscent of the rapacious factional fights of Confucian scholars in the old days.

The future should be left to the future generation. Regrettably, however, assistant professors cannot be allowed to attend a meeting of department professors on campus just because their tenures are not guaranteed. I am dumbfounded at the sad reality that a few grumpy old professors soon to retire are blocking the entry of fresh faces into their exclusive club, citing their lack of seniority. In politics, too, political leaders must listen to the voices of the young. The time has come for our politicians — whether they are from the conservative camp who have been sucking honey from industrialization or liberals who are wielding enormous might only thanks to their vestiges of fighting against authoritarian governments during college days — to pack it in and leave the political stage. Our new president must be able to present a global vision to at least 2050 beyond the Korean Peninsula.

After watching the dirty war between the ruling and opposition parties over partisan interests, the public is convinced that politics is the most outdated and outmoded legacy in Korea. I hope our politicians get to understand why a 36-year-old political rookie was elected leader of the opposition party. When President Moon Jae-in promised to create a country no one has ever experienced — a fair and just society for all — just four years ago, Koreans dreamt of a promising country in the near future. But our future generation is ever sickened by the vengeful slogan of the ruling party to root out “past evils” and achieve judicial and press reforms under the banner of justice.

I hope shallow politicians preoccupied with deceiving the people with populist pledges rather than toiling over the future of our country disappear from the scene as soon as possible. The opposition camp also must find a presidential candidate who can change the country, not the government. Only when political leaders have far-looking insights like the founding fathers of the United States, Korea can have hope.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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