The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] Letter from a senior to younger generations

By Kim Seong-kon

Published : April 22, 2020 - 07:01

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The April election is over. The outcome was a landslide victory for the progressive ruling party and a total disaster for the conservative opposition party.

Of course, opinion varies depending on the person, but many say it was a victory of the younger generation over the older generation. If this is true, young people must be happy, whereas older people are disappointed, if not devastated.

Right after the outcome of the election was revealed, someone sent me a heartrending poem circulating on the internet anonymously. The poem went like this: “Now we have realized belatedly/ When the Sewol sunk/ So did our heydays for good/ Now we have realized belatedly/ When ex-President Park was impeached/ So was our value judgment and common sense./ Now we have realized belatedly/ When we see the outcome of the election/ We are no longer the vanguards of the future.”

Then the poem continued: “Now we have realized belatedly/ As we see a new world opening/ We should leave the stage silently./ Now we have realized belatedly/ As we are no longer responsible for the future/ We can now retreat and relax in the remains of the day.” This poem well reflected the frustration and realization of the older generation that their time was over.

After reading the poem, I wanted to write to my contemporaries. “Dear older generation, please remember that clearly this is not the end of the world, even if, undeniably the outcome of the election indicates that you are no longer in a position to decide the future of your country.

“Regrettably, the times have changed and the world you have lived and known is radically different from the world the younger generation now envisions. You have gone through war, poverty and military dictatorship. However, young people, unlike you, have lived in peace, affluence and freedom. How, then, could they know what destitution is, or what atrocities are? How would they know what communism is?

“As I’ve mentioned before in my columns, you would do well to learn from Suzanne Collins’ ‘The Hunger Games.’ The novel teaches you that young people can never know what ordeals their parents’ generation has gone through. In order to build a better and richer society for your children, you have worked so hard, sacrificing yourselves. However, your children simply do not care and are not even interested in your ordeals. You may feel betrayed, but that’s the way it is, as Walter Cronkite used to say at the end of the CBS evening news.

“You can also learn from Richard Matheson’s ‘I Am Legend.’ It is the story of a man who is the sole survivor in a place where all other people have turned into half-zombie, half-vampire freaks due to the attack of some deadly virus. Initially, the protagonist thinks he is the only civilized man who survived, and all others are fiendish monsters. Soon, however, he realizes that these mutants are the mainstream of a new civilization. Thus, he laments, ‘I am legend!’ and commits suicide.

“Dear older generation, as the above poem says, you can lay down your burden now and enjoy the rest of your lives peacefully and comfortably, if not happily. Who knows? The new world might not be that bad, not as much as you worry about now. Besides, our politicians may change and run the nation more discreetly and prudently in the future.”

Then, I would address the youth, too: “Dear younger generation, as much as you are pleased with the outcome of this election, you should realize that it is you, not your parents, who are responsible for the future of your country from now on. It will be a heavy burden for you and yet, you should bear with it. You should also be constantly alert to make sure the politicians you elected will lead the nation in the right direction. Remember, if our nation is not in the right orbit, you and your children must take the consequences.

“As your parents did, you, too, are obliged to build a better society for your children. Compared to your parents, you are lucky enough to have lived in a peaceful, affluent society that the older generation built for you. Thus, it would be much easier for you to make your country better, unless the politicians you elected make fatal mistakes in domestic or overseas policies. That is why you should be a watchdog to guard the nation from possible disasters.

“Dear younger generation, you are now living in challenging times. In order to survive and thrive in the vortex of the pandemic and other international crises, you should be global citizens, not parochial jingoists or ultranationalists. You should embrace the world, not antagonize it. It is your call now and the future of your country depends on you from now on.”

I hope my letter will not arrive too late to wish us all a better future. 

Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. -- Ed.