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Let people judge history

Posted June. 07, 2019 07:31,   

Updated June. 07, 2019 07:31


Those who study South Korea’s modern and contemporary history do not question how the black-and-white way of thinking became a cause of big misfortune to the nation. In reality, a perfect black or white does not exist. There are only gray colors between the two extremes. However, people try to exclude one another for being “gray.” They do not know that they are one of them and that there is no absolute value in society.

Such reality is not just a problem in Korea. Western countries that have led the modernization process are not immune. European countries, excluding Anglo-Saxon societies that have developed the tradition of empiricism, have taken similar paths. We can accept their rationalism. However, Germany’s idealistic dialectic cannot win universal sympathy. Even German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is criticized for having built a giant palace of ideology but residing in the guard’s room himself without being able to live in the palace. Pragmatists criticized idealists for building a house down from the sky, rather than building it up from the ground.

It was Karl Marx who converted such idealism to a metaphysical structure while arguing that all the fundamentals of social life starts from economy and is converted to materialistic value. The German philosopher and sociologist viewed that social structures change depending on economic productivity. He maintained that the best way of production and consumption is co-production and co-consumption. Marx viewed it as a path to utopia that resolves the conflicts and contradictions of capitalism. What is important is, however, his socioeconomic dialectic followed paraconsistent logic and thus was not different from the black-and-white logic that we are concerned about.

Korean writer Yi Kwang-su collaborated with Japan during the colonial period. Although we were influenced by his literary works, no one has become pro-Japanese collaborators because the influence. We are just regretful about his betrayal. Former President Park Chung-hee was an anti-democratic dictator. Thanks to him, however, Koreans started getting out of absolute poverty during his reign. He established the economic foundation on which we are living today. He is more positively assessed internationally than domestically. I heard that some of my seniors were in the list of pro-Japanese collaborators. However, I doubt if Korea would develop its capabilities for independence without their enthusiastic education.

How can a nation grow if it obliterates all accomplishments and have nothing but negative legacies. It is up to the people to make a value judgment of what happened. It is not a task given to a particular government or ideological dividing.

Eun-Taek Lee nabi@donga.com