Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Korean Left’s Problem

The Institute for Research in Collaborationist Activists, a far left Korean think-tank, has released the names of 4,776 people who apparently worked with the Japanese government (or gave some type of support to it) during the 45 year occupation of Korea prior to the second World War. It includes Ahn Aek-tai, who wrote the Korean national anthem. You can only imagine how that’s going to go over.

This institute claims that this list is not intended to “punish any individuals,” but based on this groups background, Kim Seong-kon from the Korean Hearld sees it for what it is:
Does the institute really think their ruthless disclosure will help "Korea move forward?" No, it will hopelessly drive the nation backward. Do they really think that by disclosing the names in public, they can create a "society free of nationalist oppression?" On the contrary, their unscrupulous action is obviously enflamed by unchecked nationalism and blind patriotism, which seriously threaten "the value of pacifism and democracy."

The director also used phrases such as "purge," "purify," and "demand in a more dignified way that Japan addresses its past wrongdoings." Perhaps he was not aware of the danger of using the words "purge" or "purify." History tells us that those who called for "purity" were invariably jingoists. As for mentioning "demand," the director should know that demanding too much will make us lose dignity. Instead of clinging onto an old grudge, we should seek reconciliation, cooperation and partnership. It has been 63 years since Korea was liberated. Isn't it about time we shed the past and move forward? How much longer do we need to whine about the past?

Well said. I will add that I have no problem having all the facts presented that pertain to the occupation of Korea by the Japanese. It was truly brutal and reprehensible. The Japanese authorities generally refuse to apologize in any substantial way for their actions in Asia, and continues to whitewash their imperialist past. Koreans have every right to push for them to recognize the toll the Japanese occupation had on their nation.

But living in Korea and studying Korean politics has allowed me to see how a tattered pride can produce truly foolish ideological decisions. The Korean left sees Korea as histories whipping boy; a position that can only be alleviated in their eyes through constant and nonsensical squabbles over past wrong doings. Even if the Japanese emperor came to Korea and personally apologized to every Korean citizen for his country's wrongdoings, the diminished pride the Korean left has in its own country and people would endure.

Other than the nationalist flavor that the left in Korea adopts, it shares many underpinnings that hold “the left” back in America. It has recognized that it has failed in its forward minded policies, and they have been rejected by the public at large. So rather than trying to make Korea stronger, more influential, and thus a more important country, they have resigned to complaining about the past in the vain attempt that this will correct their tattered egos. This strategy is backwards minded and it will never repair the frayed Korean psyche.

On the other hand, you have a president like Lee Myung-bak, who regardless of his faults, actually wants to make Korea important. This nation will be important not as the bickering younger sibling to other countries, but as an economic leader that cherishes and supports a free and democratic society. It will be respected when it no longer tolerates Kim Jong-ill’s humanitarian cruelty, and holds them accountable for the aid Korea gives them hand over fist.

But pride won’t be won by fighting last century’s wars. And because he brought this to my attention, I’ll let Lee Seong-kon have the last say (with my emphasis).
“The institute's blacklist includes even those who studied in Japan and briefly worked in the Japanese government before serving the nation after the liberation. But had not even Gandhi studied in Britain before he began working for his country's independence? Had not the leaders of Vietnam, including Ho Chi-minh, lived or studied in France before they fought for the freedom of Indochina? Even the Communist leaders in China, with the exception of Chairman Mao, studied in Europe before they took over the country through a socialist revolution.

Update: the Metropolitican has a look at the economic outcome from these foolish nationalist tendencies that manifest in Korea.


The New Centrist said...

Very interesting post. I don’t know much about Korean history besides Korea’s relationship to a series of empires whether Chinese, Japanese or American. I guess I’ve bought into the lefty narrative.

In the U.S., I agree that the radical left is largely fixated on a past where they can present themselves as victims of the state and capitalism because they realize their ideas have little validity—and even less political support—among most people today. The question is why? Why don’t their ideas find support? If it’s due to the ideas themselves than the radical left is screwed. The intelligent leftists realize this. But, if they claim their ideas do not find support because their ideas were demonized by the forces of capital and the state, that their ideas face obscurity due to historical oppression, that their ideas really are the best but you and I are simply not “class conscious” enough to get it, than they can manage to hobble along unburdened by the reality that their ideologies are for all practical purposes irrelevant. But, as you know, being relevant is the furthest thing from these peoples minds.

The last quote speaks to a broader relationship between empire and revolution, colonialism and nationalism, etc. Eric Hobsbawm has written about this as has Robin Blackburn, Benedict Anderson, etc.

Anonymous said...

The Korean media is anti American because it is lazy. It publishes this because it is easy.

jams o donnell said...

Interesting stuff Roland. While I strongly believe that history, waarts and all, should be looked in the face, ultimately every nation has to progress, hopefuly learning from its past and not wallowing in it

Roland Dodds said...

Jams: I also think having a complete history available is important, even if it damages “national pride.”

NC: I think you hit on the head why the left has become so bitter and angry over the last 30 years. It recognizes that it has failed and that its ideas where not popular with the very people they claimed to belong to (the working class). When a majority of the working class rejected the radical programs from the left, it gave the left a black eye that I think it has never recovered from.

They have come to hate the very people they were supposedly trying to elevate, and have now turned their attention to fighting pointless battles form the past knowing that no bright future is on the horizon. Being relevant is no longer important, and they have resigned to fighting it out in academy places like that, where they have the ability to re-write or “re-think” the last 70 years.