The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] Angry old men vs. naive generation

By Kim Seong-kon

Published : June 19, 2018 - 17:40

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Some time ago, young Korean men and women became angry and frustrated when they realized they could not secure a job, even with a college degree. Whenever there was an opening in the job market, hundreds of applications poured in, each flashing superb, impressive qualifications. Naturally, the competition for each position was always intense. Under the circumstances, the chances of getting a job were slim and so the outlook of the youths became bleak. At that time, young people were infuriated because they thought that incompetent older people were blocking their path.

Nowadays, older Korean men and women are angry and frustrated at youths because they fear that South Korea might end up becoming a socialist country subjugated by North Korea because of the naivete of young Koreans. “Our generation had to work so hard to achieve the internationally-acclaimed economic success of South Korea,” they mutter. “In order to bequeath a better society for our children, we have endured unbearable ordeals and relentless sociopolitical turmoil. Now the foolish younger generation is ruining what we have accomplished.”

These angry old people in Korea lament that young people, who have not known the horror of communism or the atrocity of the Korean War, are intoxicated with the hollow peace campaign and hallucinating that building a unified capitalist country on the peninsula is possible. They complain that the youth are naive to believe that South Korea will be economically prosperous, let alone safe and sound, if US troops withdraw from the peninsula. These older people are furious because in their eyes this naive, ignorant younger generation is ruining the country that they have built and made prosperous against all odds.

On the other side of the fence, young Koreans deride and despise older people. In their eyes, the older generation is nothing but a laughing stock that is hopelessly obsessed with an obsolete Cold War mentality, anti-communism, pro-Americanism and patriotism. As for the older people’s seemingly groundless worries about the future of Korea, they could not care less. In their eyes these older people that they see waving Korean flags at demonstrations are simply pathetic and even repugnant.

Some young Koreans are not interested in unification at all. Others daydream that when unification comes, North Korean nuclear weapons will be theirs and Korea will be one of the strongest countries on earth. Not realizing the connotation of their statements, they also naively rejoice that South Korea will soon take over wartime operations from the states and place US troops under its command. But what makes them think that Washington would allow American troops to be under another country’s command? Even if the US government decided this, it would only ensure that America would not be responsible for what happens to South Korea in the future.

Someday, history will tell us who was right and who was wrong. In the meantime, however, we must realize that the country is falling apart due to this unprecedented bipolarity and antagonism. In order to avoid verbal fights, many Korean parents no longer talk about politics with their children and vice versa. Due to these unspoken political differences, communication blocks occur and seriously hamper the connection between parents and children that is already rapidly deteriorating in Korean society. As a result, the irreducible gap, the fundamental distrust and blind antagonism that persist between the young and the old, between parents and children, remain a rampant problem in Korea these days.

Meanwhile, politicians are taking advantage of the situation for political gain. Their only concern seems to be winning the next election no matter what. Therefore, sometimes they stage political shows and other times, they use North Korea in their own way to gain popularity. Politicians are those who should run, not ruin, the country with the rights bestowed upon them by the people.

Disappointingly, however, our politicians often seem to lead the nation into harm’s way. The one and only thing they care about seems to be how to stay in power or how to seize it. In fact, it was the politicians who waged the generation war with their ill-advised political ideologies in the first place. Unfortunately, we do not have any great statesmen who could heal the psychological wounds of our society and save the country from falling apart in the whirlwind of domestic and international crisis.

The chronic disease of Korean society stems from the predisposition of moral superiority over others. Instead of moral superiority, we desperately need moral integrity and humility. In his public lecture, Dr. O-young Lee said, “We should discard the tyrannical notion that my generation, not yours, made the economic miracle of Korea possible. At the same time, we should also abandon the self-righteous notion that my generation, not yours, made the democratization of Korea possible.” He continued, “Only then can we create a truly great country.” We cannot agree with him more.

Kim Seong-kon

Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and visiting professor at Kyunghee Cyber University. He can be reached at -– Ed.