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[Opinion] Our Second ‘Spirit of Independence’

Posted December. 01, 2005 03:22,   


The patriot Dosan Ahn Chang-ho’s burning desire for independence is evident from his words: “All we can do now is to hold back our tears and take a step back to build up our strength for the future. Our nation had succumbed because we lacked the power, and thus we should gain power to regain our nation. We should grow people power by fostering unity and raising our education and industry. This is the only path toward independence.”

The essence of the “New Mentality Movement” that the Restoration Society declared on the 60th anniversary of independence and the 100th anniversary of the Eulsa Treaty seems to touch the spirit of Ahn Chang-ho.

The Restoration Society was concerned that collective egoism and materialism would worsen conflicts, and that national power would be wasted due to the confusion of misleading ideologies. The senior members worry that “splitting into progressives and conservatives should not be worth arguing over in the 21st Century.” They remind us of Ahn Chang-ho’s teaching: “Work hard and execute in a sincere and practical manner.” This is a warning against useless arguments and internal conflicts. Crying out for protecting the fruits of industrialization is ultimately a motivation for “building a stronger Korea.”

An American reporter whom I met in Tokyo last year once asked, “Are the Bank of Korea building and Seoul Station still there?” He said that the “Capitol Building” that had been the Joseon Government-General headquarters was demolished while he was in Seoul. It seems that the Korean mentality that is close to fundamentalism is a source of interest for foreigners. They seem to find it hard to understand our obsession with history, and also our clearing of the past that is far from practical.

A Western adage that is often quoted by Kelly Smith Turney, an American journalist who has been head of the Associated Press in Seoul, is also worth noticing: “Parents leave their children two gifts—roots and wings.” He says, “Korea’s roots are its 5,000 year old history and tradition. But wouldn’t the more difficult and important task be to present the children of Korea with the wings of the future?” Korea is faced with a confusing irony. The Restoration Society, a group of veterans who should be speaking of our “roots,” is talking about “wings.” On the other hand, a young President and his associates, who should be speaking of “wings,” are instead demanding that we dig into our “roots.”

Kim Chung-shik, Editorial Writer, skim@donga.com