The Korea Herald

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[Editorial] ‘Patriotism index’

Government’s measurement of patriotism is improper

By 백희연

Published : March 31, 2016 - 17:22

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Around 7 in 10 citizens are willing to take up arms to fight in a war, according to a recent survey released by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs.

The highest proportion of those willing to do so was made up of those in their 50s and 60s, while those in their 20s and 30s were less willing. The poll also found that women were more passive about participating in war than men. It also showed that white-collar employees had much less desire to participate in armed conflict, compared to farmers and the self-employed.

The credibility of the state-led survey is seen as high, as the result takes into account the different demographic groups of Korean society.

The ministry also added that the results of the 2015 survey was similar to the previous year.

It is disconcerting that the ministry publicizes the survey in a “patriotism index” every year. Its definition of patriotism among South Koreans does not seem to be based on a social consensus.

Even if the ministry wanted to look only at patriotism related to defense, its premise is somewhat childish and impractical. After all, nobody can be certain who will really fight against North Korea if a war breaks out. It is absurd to conclude that all those who answered negatively when asked if they would take up arms to fight will actually flee. 

This is no longer the era of the Cold War, and neither is it the 1950s, the period of Japanese colonial rule or the Joseon era. The yardstick for patriotism can no longer be based on “yes” and “no” answers to questions about an individual’s willingness to fight in a war. Such methods may remind some citizens of the anticommunism education at elementary schools decades ago.

It would be more noteworthy if the ministry measured patriotism by posing questions to male citizens, differentiating between those who carried out military service and those who were exempted from it for various reasons.

In the cited poll, the ministry had also asked whether respondents would exercise their political rights in public elections such as the April 13 general election. More than 80 percent of the 1,000 respondents said they would.

The question should have been more detailed. For example, whether citizens would vote for male candidates, who — or whose sons — were exempted from military service based on dubious medical records.

Such questions could more effectively judge patriotism.

The current Patriotism Index can be likened to the distorted economic patriotism of past decades. Citizens were pressured to use products that were made in Korea as much as possible for the sake of the country, in an attitude that closely resembled chauvinism.