The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] Demagogy ruins our friendship with neighbors

By Korea Herald

Published : July 19, 2023 - 05:30

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John F. Kennedy once said, “Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies. Those whom God has so joined together, let no man put asunder.” Indeed, no one can force us to change such a God-given situation.

Having a good neighbor is crucial for having a peaceful life. On the contrary, a bad neighbor is like a recurring nightmare that you have to suffer and endure every day. Therefore, what kind of a neighbor you have is always a compelling issue.

When your neighbor is intolerably irritating or horrible, there are solutions. You can, for example, move to another place, and thereby end your neighbor problems for good. In the case of countries, however, things are much more complicated. No matter how annoying and obnoxious your neighboring countries are, you cannot possibly move your country to another place. You have to live with them forever.

Korea is no exception. Due to her geopolitical situation, Korea, too, historically has had to deal with aggressive neighboring countries. As a result, the Joseon Kingdom, which was formerly Korea, experienced foreign invasions, diplomatic humiliations, and finally the loss of sovereignty.

Even today, the situation is fundamentally the same. We have three authoritarian neighbors to the north, all of which are overbearing, domineering and imperious. One of them directly threatens us with deadly weapons. Another one intimidates us with the threat that if we do not support it in inter-village conflicts, we will be in big trouble.

In the south, we also have a neighbor who upholds liberal democracy, as we do. Recently, this neighbor announced that he would release “treated water” from a nuclear power plant shutdown due to a tsunami. Although the water to be released is duly processed and guaranteed by IAEA as safe for human health, we are still anxious about it.

Taking advantage of our anxiety, the demagogues in our household are spreading ungrounded rumors for political gain. For example, they say that our neighbor’s release of this “radioactive water” will severely contaminate our fisheries. Yet to many of these alarm ringers, scientific truth does not matter. The important thing for them is how to appeal to our fear and anxiety, to use it politically in order to wield power and gain popularity.

This is not the first time this has happened. When Lee Myung-bak was the head of our household in 2008, he decided to purchase US beef. At that time, our demagogues instigated unrest and propagated disinformation that the beef from the US was infested by mad cow disease and thus would damage our brains. The mad cow conspiracy successfully duped our naive, gullible family members and ignited huge candlelight demonstrations that effectively crippled the Lee administration. Although it turned out to be a fraud that had disrupted the whole house, strangely no one was punished for the malicious deception.

No surprise, then, when they did it all over again, when we let a friendly neighbor build the THAAD anti-missile batteries on our turf to protect us. At that time, the demagogues deceived us once again by widely spreading ungrounded rumors that the radiation from the THAAD base would seriously contaminate our agricultural crops, which was far from the truth.

The inscrutable thing is that those demagogues have never criticized their totalitarian, socialist neighbors in the north for their bad behaviors or misdeeds. For example, they have never stood up or protested against their belligerent neighbor’s consistent threats to annihilate us with weapons of mass destruction. They have also never complained about the extremely hazardous micro-chemical particles frequently coming from another neighbor. Obviously, nuclear weapons and air pollution are much worse than weak radiation. Mysteriously our demagogues, who seem to care so much about our health, have remained silent.

Instead, they blame and condemn our allies and friendly neighbors that share the same principles and values with us, such as liberal democracy, human rights, and the market economy. For example, when a submarine of our unfriendly neighbor sank our warship Cheonan, the demagogues spread fake news that a US submarine was responsible for the incident. When the ferry Sewol was sunk, they also came up with similar groundless rumors for political purposes.

It seems obvious that what the demagogues have been up to is exactly what our antagonistic, socialist neighbors want. Indeed, they slander our friendly neighbors deliberately, while idolizing our hostile neighbors simply because the latter suits their political ideologies.

H. L. Mencken said, “The demagogue is one who preaches the doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.” We should let our demagogues know that we are not idiots, but they are. As a Korean journalist recently pointed out, they are “useful idiots” for our socialist neighbors. They should know that their malicious “fake news” tactics that have seriously harmed our country will no longer work.

Kim Seong-kon

Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.