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☞ Issue 233
글씨크기 크게 글씨크기 작게 기사 메일전송 기사 출력
Semantic irony

Moon J. Pak (2014/05/03 18:02)  

Semantic irony
=Disunity in the movement for peace and unification=

(April 5, 2014)


By Moon J. Pak


The Korean peninsula in the past century has been mired in one turmoil after another, all involving struggles among foreign powers.


However, since Korea’s most recent division by the U.S. and USSR just prior to the Korean War, a reunification movement has grown among Koreans, and still exists in both Koreas and among Korean Americans today. This would seem to be a hopeful sign.


Among progressive Korean Americans, multiple groups have engaged in many honest and effective activities for peaceful unification in Korea. Pro-reunification activists are from many backgrounds: religious leaders; academics of various disciplines; professionals, media people; and more recently, the second generation Korean American professionals.


Since the North is still defined as enemy country by the U.S. and thus is under embargo, Korean Americans have gained access to North Korea with difficulty. They struggle for better understanding of the country, society, politics, economy, and leadership so as to develop appropriate activities to promote unification between the two Koreas. This activity has been carried out even under constant denunciation and attack by the conservative element of Korean American community as being “pro-North.”


However, there are also conservative Korean Americans engaged in their own kind of unification movement. The two sides, it seems are at odds concerning what unification of Korea means and how it should take place. In the cause of reunification, it often seems like Koreans are their own worst enemy.


The division of Korea in 1948 is directly linked to the Japanese occupation from 1910 to 1945, and prior to that, to the feudal age (before 1900), which left Korean society weak and vulnerable to the Japanese or indeed to any other power with imperialistic ambitions.


When one scrutinizes the situation in Korea just before occupation, it becomes painfully clear that at that last stage of feudalistic Korea, the society was in a retarded state. There was a harsh cast system, an ignorant and poorly-educated people, and an aristocratic ruling class that intentionally rejected the western civilization knocking at its door.


There is evidence also that during that time, there was a lack of true patriotism, a tendency toward selfish individualism, inclination to rely on foreign powers, ignorance of the world outside the small peninsula, negligence in using power of education for the good of the coming generation, and lack of realization of the need for a strong defensive military power in the face of the world filled with imperialism. There was a cascade of failures to prepare and failures to act, all contributing to a situation in which the Japanese were able to annex Korea without significant organized resistance by the Korean people.


Significantly, no leader emerged at that time to lead Korea out of its vulnerable state. Had there been a national leader to personify the people’s aspirations and command their respect, the modern national tragedy that is the recent history of Korea might have been avoided.


During the last 60 years of post-war period, both Koreas have gone through significant metamorphosis; the South has become a strong economic power, 11th in the world, with 42 million people, a democracy patterned after U.S. capitalism, and the North, a strict socialist country, with 24 million people with 1.2 million armed forces and nuclear arms.


It is obvious that there should be a strong unification movement in the Korean peninsula either at an inter-governmental level between the two Koreas, or at least among its people. Although there were promising inter-governmental level agreements by the two Koreas in both 2000 and 2007, both of these agreements were unfortunately nullified by the conservative regime of the South that emerged in 2007.


There is obviously a need for a people’s movement for unification among Koreans in Korea and overseas. It is perhaps even more important for overseas Koreans to promote the cause, since they are critically motivated, have better access to world opinions, and therefore tend to have better influence on both Koreas. And in fact, there have emerged in the past 10 to 15 years, many groups, organizations, movements from various Korea American communities all engaged in promoting what they define as activities in support of unification.


Unfortunately however from the outset, the reunification movement has been troubled. The groups have been divided into two major political categories; conservatives and progressives. The conservatives are actually committed to the South, and their idea of unification is simply the absorption of a collapsed North Korea by the South. Furthermore they not only reject any concept of a negotiated and compromised unification proposal between the two Koreas, but also denounce supporters of such a concept, most of them, progressives, as “pro-North” or even “red.”


Therefore right from the beginning, the Korean American unification movement has been weakened by the lack of consensus, even sometimes by contradiction. There is a kind of black comedy in the idea of a Korean unification movement characterized by division and disunity.


To most progressives engaged in this unification movement, there is a unique and complex emotional element to unification. It is not just a patriotic peace movement based on altruistic commitment. Reflecting on the sad modern history of Korea, particularly its 60-year-long division, the unification movement, at an emotional level, is really an effort to reverse the shameful record of Korean modern history. Therefore, activities in the cause of unification should be carried out with humility, solemnity, and anonymity.


However, it is a sad reality that among the groups, there is a significant number of Korean Americans who participate in the movement with ulterior motives; for financial gain, political ambition, social promotion, and for desire for recognition. And very often, such motivation results in interpersonal conflicts, organizational disruptions, and distractions from the purity of the movement’s objectives.


Indeed, the unification movement seems also to be hopelessly divided; Koreans appear not to be able to understand the semantic irony of their “divided unification movement.” I wonder often if the emergence of the right leader, who could command the respect of unification advocates in the North, South and overseas, could lead the many voices and points of view within the unification movement in a way that could truly help the cause of peace and reunification.
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* Moon J. Pak, M.D., Ph.D. is a physician in Detroit, Michigan and is also the senior vice president of the Korean American National Coordinating Council (KANCC) which facilitates cultural exchanges between Korean Americans and North Korea. He is also the chair of the Medical Science Exchange Committee, involved in medical exchanges and partnerships in North Korea.
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“Korean Quarterly”
Spring, 2014, (Vol.17, Num 03)











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