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[Kim Seong-kon] The country that our children will inherit

Sept. 28, 2022 - 05:31 By Korea Herald

What kind of country do we want to hand over to our children? We should ponder that question constantly and seriously because we have a solemn responsibility to bequeath a healthy, prosperous country to our descendants. If we end up bestowing a sick, unstable country to our children and thus make them live miserably, we should suffer regrets and immitigable guilt forever.

We vote for politicians with the hope that they will run the country skillfully and ensure peace. Unfortunately, it seems they always let us down. Currently, our politicians seem to ignore the imminent geopolitical crisis we are now facing and continue to indulge in petty skirmishes with the same old rivals. If this pattern keeps up, our children will be doomed to inherit an irreparably damaged country.

If our political leaders are not good at diplomacy and consequently ruin our relationship with other countries, our children will inherit a hopelessly isolated country detested and derided by the international community. Once damaged, friendship between countries cannot be restored easily. It takes a long time to heal the psychological wounds inflicted by inconsiderate, reckless politicians. If our politicians devastate our economy by unscrupulous populism, our children will inherit a down-and-out bankrupt country.

We can learn from the past. Recently, a newspaper columnist pointed out that our current politicians resembled those incompetent, ignorant politicians of the late Joseon era, who eventually lost their country’s sovereignty amid the international web of power intrigue. Indeed, who knows? If our current politicians fail to deal with our menacing external crises skillfully and stop internal brawls right away, our children may have to inherit a country that has lost its sovereignty.

Of course, it is the worst-case scenario and may sound far-fetched now. Nevertheless, we should prepare for the worst. For example, we should keep in mind that the two current crises of Ukraine and Taiwan stem from the claim of a stronger country that the smaller country once belonged to it.

What would happen if our politicians decided to expend all their time and energy on factional disputes or hounding their political foes? The answer is obvious: Our children will inherit a country in chaos, torn apart by social disruptions. What would happen if our politicians called for a social revolution and attempt to change the fundamental principles of our country, such as “liberal democracy,” with their own radical ideology? Then, our children may have to inherit a socialist country.

What would happen if our politicians, whose mindset is not future-oriented and who do not understand the concept of being indebted to the next generation, drag us into the labyrinth of the nightmarish past? What would happen if our politicians were preoccupied with obsolete Marxist ideology in the era of bitcoin and virtual currency and thus regard business corporations such as Samsung as nothing but capitalist institutions that exploit workers? Then, our children would definitely inherit a backward country obsessed with the specters of the past.

Today, South Korea has become one of the foremost developed, advanced and democratized countries in the world. The international community especially admires Korea’s state-of-the-art technology, successful economy and charming pop culture. We want to give South Korea to our descendants as it is now. We cannot let our politicians drag us into the 19th century and ruin what we have accomplished at the cost of our sacrifice and hard work. We cannot let our children inherit a crippled country plagued by the outdated political ideology some of our politicians worshipped when they were in college.

These days, Koreans are deeply disappointed in and disillusioned with their politicians whose only concern is how to give a hard time to their political rivals and how to win the next election. They do not seem to care about the unprecedented crisis their country is now facing. Every day, they are busy with factional squabbles and slandering their political enemies, just as their predecessors did during the Joseon era.

As enlightened citizens, we should press our politicians to run the country wisely and discreetly. Although the new administration does not meet our expectation fully yet, perhaps we should give it a chance to prove its competence. We can blink at its unfortunate mistakes and blunders for the time being, instead of faultfinding, for the sake of our children and the country they would inherit.

Foreign experts are already beginning to warn South Korea about the surging crises it faces, both internally and externally. In order to overcome the external crisis, we should put an end to internal disruptions. “Internal decline and the gradual loss of the civic virtue of its citizens,” will surely crumble any country, including ours, just as it once did Joseon or the Roman Empire. We have a civic duty to choose right-minded politicians. Politicians can either ruin our country or make it prosperous. We should give our children an admirable country, of which they can be proud for a long time.

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.