In his internationally acclaimed dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-four,” George Orwell portrayed the world as divided into three regions: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. According to Orwell, Oceania was composed of the United Kingdom and the United States, and Eurasia, which constituted the rest of Europe and Central Asia, was controlled by the Soviet Union. As for Eastasia, Orwell did not mention a specific country that either represented or ruled the region. Yet, at the time he was writing this literary masterpiece, the country he had in mind was not difficult to surmise.
When “Nineteen Eighty-four” was first published, readers initially thought Orwell’s prediction was pure fantasy and far from reality, even though his prediction was in fact based on the postwar landscape of the world at the time. At the Cairo Conference in 1943, for example, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Chinese President Chiang Kai-Shek issued the Cairo Declaration of Postwar Asia. During the Yalta summit conference in 1945, Churchill, Roosevelt and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin discussed plans for postwar Europe. Therefore, Orwell had good reasons to predict that the postwar world might possibly be divided by three regions led by the countries that contributed to bringing forth victory.
Nevertheless, Orwell’s presumption seemed to be far-fetched at the time. How could it be possible that the world was divided into three regions? Today, however, Orwell’s prediction has proven to be valid to a certain extent. His insight was quite remarkably accurate. Today, Europe has become one region via the European Union. The UK is about to exit the EU and, despite Brexit, its alliance with the US is exceptionally strong these days. In addition, as the US is about to withdraw from the world by adopting a noninterference policy, China is launching its expansion policy through the New Silk Road Project.
From the beginning, especially since World War II, the US has played the role of the international police, maintaining law and order in the world, following the spirit of John Winthrop’s sermon “A City upon a Hill” in 1630. Thanks to America’s interference, the world has enjoyed peace and tranquility despite minor regional disputes. Indeed, it was the US that prevented the world from becoming a place full of communist countries and that delivered people from the oppression of dictators in third world countries. Despite its mistakes and flaws, it is true that America has greatly contributed to peace and welfare of the international community.
Now, America seems to be backing off from international disputes under the banner of “America First.” It is understandable because what America has received as a reward for its contribution to world peace is anti-American sentiment and terrorist attacks. The White House seems to have reached the conclusion that it is not worth it to protect the world by playing the role of a peacemaker.
What would happen when and if the US withdrew from the world under the isolation policy? As soon as America is gone, the vacuum will be filled by another superpower claiming the “New World Order.” But what if the new superpower is a totalitarian country that controls information and manipulates people? What if it turns out to be the Big Brother that exercises surveillance and censorship ruthlessly? What if it is the “thought police,” as Orwell describes in his novel, which controls our mind and even our unconsciousness? And what if its ethics and morality are far inferior to America’s? Then the whole world will suffer the consequences.
The situation would be similar to Seoul National University in Korea. Some people think that SNU is a superpower and should be eliminated. Therefore, they conspire to integrate all national universities, including SNU, under the name of the University of Han-guk, for the sake of equality. As soon as SNU is gone, however, either Yonsei University or Korean University will take over and fill the vacuum. Nothing would change or things might get even worse. Another problem is that such a measure would not upgrade national universities to SNU’s level. Instead, all national universities, including SNU, are likely to be downgraded equally.
Likewise, when America no longer exists in Asia, things will get worse. Another country will replace the states, and the impact for South Korea will be tremendous, if not devastating. The day will surely come, and if we are not prepared, we will be at a loss, amid the whirlwind of international politics caused by the advent of a new superpower that would take over Asia under the slogan “New World Order.” It is unnerving to predict such a change, and yet, in my view, it will come inevitably and soon unless America cancels its noninterference policy.
The dreadful thing is that the new superpower might not have the virtues America has, such as generosity, diversity, humanity and liberal democracy. Not any country can become a world leader. Yet, there are countries that want to assume the role of a leader despite serious lack of qualifications. Meanwhile, we are sadly and hopelessly watching America giving up its traditional role in the international community at the cost of losing influence and respect.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting professor at the University of California, Irvine. -- Ed.