Friday, December 28, 2007

The full text of the article, plus my letter to the editor.

I claim no copyright for Mr. Kim's article; I'm simply reprinting it here for my personal use, in order to show my friends and family the full context of my letter to the editor. Normally, I really enjoy his column, but this one required a response.

[Kaleidoscope]An end to naivety: No more dark ages
by Kim Seong-kon

The medieval Dark Ages was a period of tumultuous conflict between Christianity and Islam, or Catholics and "heresy." It was also a time of Catholic corruption, witch trials, and the Inquisition. Unfortunately, our age is no less dark, and the age-old struggle between two adversaries still continues. South Korea, too, has been devastated lately by the struggle between two radically different, antagonistic groups, deliberately instigated by our belligerent leftist politicians.

During the military dictatorship, Koreans lived in a "Dark Age." Generals wearing black shades ruthlessly ruled the country with bayonets and iron boots for nearly three decades. During that Dark Age, people suffered in a grim, relentless reality, while weak intellectuals had to combat a sense of futility and impotence. Due to the military fashion of the time, South Korea was hopelessly degenerated into a country of uniformity. Oftentimes, however, the dictators felt a sense of guilt and illegitimacy as they usurped the throne, and realized that they were nothing but amateurs, especially in economics and diplomacy. As a result, they respected public opinion and listened to professional advice, when necessary. They also tried their best to boost the nation's economy, thereby achieving the so-called miracle of the Han River.

A decade ago, the Korean people witnessed the advent of the age of democracy at last. As the generals retreated backstage and permanently disappeared behind the curtain, the monochromatic military culture was replaced by colorful diversity. Soon after, however, leftist politicians and activists seized political power, calling for a socialist paradise on the Korean Peninsula. We naively believed in them; after all, they were the dissidents who valiantly fought against the military dictatorship. Unfortunately, that is what clouded our judgment. Few people realized at that time that we were marching into another type of Dark Age.

Soon, people began to be disillusioned by the leftist politicians' unbearable amateurism, intolerable vulgarity, and impudent self-righteousness. Enraged with personal grudges, they were hostile, resentful, and revengeful. These pseudo-Marxists, who never shared their fortunes with the poor, but fully enjoyed the benefits of a capitalist society, rapidly began tearing the serene country apart with their crude leftist ideology. In their eyes, bourgeois intellectual labor such as writing or lecturing was nothing but a luxury that deserved a heavy tax. Owning real estate was another unpardonable sin to be punished. So they dropped tax bombs indiscriminately upon home owners, and wasted astronomical amounts of tax money on numerous failed projects such as building the administrative capital city in a local province. Instead of creating jobs, they extorted the middle class, and constantly blamed big business corporations such as Samsung as the root of social evil.

To make matters worse, the radical politicians mocked intellectuals by dubbing manual laborers such as Chinese food delivery boys as the "New Intellectuals." Once again, intellectuals in our society had to fight a sense of defeat and despair. Our leftist politicians were not good at diplomacy, either. Seriously lacking diplomatic skills and international sensibility, they frequently jeopardized Korea's diplomatic relationships with allies and other countries with their rude, sloppy, and amateurish approaches. Consequently, they seriously degraded the image of Korea in the international community by garrulous, vulgar language and embarrassingly unrefined expressions.

Meanwhile, the Korean economy stagnated, while other countries enjoyed economic prosperity. South Korea could have truly advanced, if only we had elected the right person as our leader. Alas! We have wasted 10 precious years, and it seems too late to catch up now. Yet our self-righteous politicians did not listen to anybody, for they thought they were always right, while all others were invariably wrong. The so-called social reform they futilely attempted, which mostly stemmed from their personal grudges and resentments, turned out to be a complete failure, only turning the nation upside down, making it into a planet of the apes. Equally corrupt and ruthless as their predecessors, they even placed a gag on the press. As a result, we have been through another Dark Age for the past ten years, and there seems to be no way to restore the lost time.

Some people say that it was an inevitable process we had to go through in order to achieve democracy. Nevertheless, the price we have to pay is much too high. It will take many years to heal the psychological wounds of the people, and restore the damaged relationships with our allies. We once made an irrevocable mistake by foolishly voting for the Leftist politicians who ruined the economy and tore the peaceful nation apart. From now on, we cannot afford to make another mistake, for it will be fatal to the future of Korea.

At the presidential election last week, we have chosen wisely. It was judgment day for the Roh administration. No longer will we be deceived by the anachronistic leftists who still cling to obsolete Marxist ideology. We should put an end to naivety, and open our eyes to the new world and new era. Then we can transcend the gravity of all the dogmatic ideologies, and reach the gorgeous rainbow coalition. O Lord: please no more ideological warfare in this land! No more Dark Ages! We need illumination!


My response:

[A READER'S VIEW] The pot calls the kettle black
by Robert Ouwehand

Normally, I look forward to Kim Seong-kon's "Kaleidoscope" column on The Korea Herald's opinion page. As an adult English conversation teacher, I have often used his ideas and insights in class. He usually looks seriously at relevant topics, and clearly communicates fresh thoughts, instead of offering the same, stale party lines.

Because of my high expectations, I was especially disappointed with his Dec. 26 article "An end to naivety: No more dark ages". His closing words: "We need to put an end to naivety. . . [and] transcend the gravity of all the dogmatic ideologies," call out for a "rainbow coalition" free of polarized ideologies, yet the eight hundred words preceding it completely undermine his conclusion by viciously attacking the left.

Whether his claims about the last two socialist governments are correct is beside the point, when Kim's rightist polemic, loaded with inflammatory language, shows all the one-sidedness and self-righteousness for which he attacks Presidents Roh and Kim.

Many of the last two administrations' shortcomings had nothing to do with ideology: Kim himself often blames their failures in diplomacy and policy on a lack of experience, vision, or political savvy. Yet in his summary, Kim seems to imply that the new Lee Myung-Bak government will solve the country's woes, not because of his group's superior political ability, but by the mere fact they are conservatives. Such a simplistic, and, yes, naive, view, simply rehashes the blindly partisan ideological dogmatism which Kim speaks against in his own article's conclusion.

Models of moral life have come from a rainbow of religious and philosophical backgrounds. Likewise, excellent leaders have come from every point on the political spectrum. If President Lee solves Korea's problems, it will be because he is conscientious, focused, and sensitive to Korea's needs in a rapidly changing world; it will be because he judiciously places the best people, instead of his own allies, in key positions; it will be because he puts the needs of his country above the needs of his party's biggest contributors and old business associates.

Though Kim calls for an end to ideological dogmatism in his conclusion, his rhetoric gives the impression that the only way to achieve the "rainbow coalition" he wishes for, is for everyone to become conservatives like himself, and join in attacking socialists in a rainbow of diverse ways. Whether he is right or wrong, such inflammatory language is further polarizing, and, for a widely read columnist seeking a more enlightened dialogue, it is unhelpful and even irresponsible, betraying his stated ideal.

If nothing else, such simpleminded, black-and-white, left-and-right ideology-stumping is far below Kim's usually high standard of thought and expression.

Robert Ouwehand, Seoul


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