Throughout our lives, we encounter countless people and say countless farewells. Among them, some farewells are hard to get over and others are hard to even remember. The eternal farewells that do not have the possibility of reunion are death.
That is why humans have been expressing their condolences to eternal farewells. In the Bronze Age, people used a giant pottery as a coffin. At first, they buried the pottery near their house probably because they wanted to keep the dead close to them. But later they may find out that keeping the dead close was harmful for them. They started to bury the dead outside the village and further away on distant mountains.
As the size of village and society grew, people started to build a cemetery at the entrance of the village or at a temple. Many European countries and Japan have cemeteries at the entrance of villages or at temples whereas Korea does not owing to the Confucian culture.
I once visited a walled town from the Medieval times in Europe and saw a village cemetery next to a historic site. Even though the cemetery was so small, they had a designated area for fallen soldiers. In Korea, it is hard to see one’s military career included in their epitaph unless they were high ranking generals. But in Europe, it was interesting to see one’s military career proudly written on the gravestone, whether it is their participation in the World Wars in the 20th century or the ones before that, even though they did not die in those wars.
In Korea, we have National Cemeteries for fallen soldiers. The Arlington National Cemetery in the U.S. is considered as a sanctuary. I do not mean to say national cemeteries are bad. But I think national cemeteries have a side effect of separating the military from civilians. I felt it stronger when I visited village cemeteries in Europe. Village cemeteries deeply resonate with people, helping them to realize that they exist thanks to the sacrifice of their father, grandfather, and people before them.
Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush died at age 94 on Friday. Americans are remembering him not just as a former U.S. President but also as a veteran of the Pacific War. I hope to see the same in Korea.