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[Kim Seong-kon] Between ‘take-off’ and ‘crash-landing’

In the 1970’s when the South Korean economy bypassed North Korea, the foreign press reported that it was finally in the stage of taking-off after a long taxi on the runway.

Indeed, the whole world was watching South Korea’s successful take-off at the time. The South Koreans were very excited because they finally made their way out of the long, dark tunnel of postwar poverty.

Recently, however, I came across a rather depressing newspaper article by professor Kim Young-min entitled, “In 2019, Korean Society is Crash-landing and I am Expecting the Imminent Impact.” The insightful article diagnoses that Korea is now crash-landing not only economically but also socially and culturally. If his prediction is right, it will be quite embarrassing; the whole world is now watching the crash-landing of South Korea, a much-envied country that once took off and flew into the blue sky gloriously. Since South Korea has been enjoying both economic and cultural affluence for the last few decades, the impact of such a crash-landing would be unbearably painful.

Perhaps sensing the imminent crash-landing of their country, many South Koreans are reportedly trying to relocate to another country these days. Newspaper reports say that some people have chosen the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and others Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines. According to recent news, quite a few South Koreans are now seeking Malaysia’s MM2H visa -- Malaysia My Second Home visa. Why can our politicians not make South Korea a country that foreigners want to choose as their second home? Why do they keep ruining the country so people want to leave it for another place?

Why, then, do the South Koreans want to leave their country and find a home elsewhere these days? According to newspaper reports, many people think that the future of the country is grim and nebulous. In addition, they are no longer sure if they can protect their properties in a country leaning heavily toward socialism that calls for heavy taxes and the government’s control of private properties.

People are also worried about South Korea’s unstable national security caused by a belligerent, nuclear-armed North Korea. To make matters worse, South Korea is now facing a rapidly deteriorating alliance and friendship with the United States and Japan. In these times of crisis, our politicians have torn our country apart ideologically and made South Korea a battlefield of uncompromising, antagonistic bipolar ideologies.

Therefore, we should blame our politicians for this undesirable phenomenon of the Korean Exodus, if it is really happening. Unfortunately, our politicians are hopelessly unreliable and irresponsible, and intoxicated with the sweet outcome of populism. Since they are confident that they are morally superior to others, words such as “concession,” “compromise,” and “coalition” do not seem to exist in their dictionary. If someone does not belong in their camp, they think he is their enemy. Naturally, they do not feel the necessity of negotiating with others who have different opinions.

Surely, it would be tragic if our country can no longer soar up and suffers a crash-landing. It would also be tragic if we have to leave our home and become a wandering Bohemian or a self-appointed exile. During the military dictatorship half a century ago, many South Koreans were similarly disillusioned and chose to emigrate to America and other countries. Now we are living in the 21st century, and yet people still want to relocate to other countries. What, then, is wrong with our society?

Once again, we should ask a fundamental question: “What is a home?” A home is a place where you are happy, feel comfortable, and live peacefully. A home is a place that always embraces you and comforts you when you are alone and lonely. If your home loses those qualities, and becomes antagonistic and hostile to you, it is no longer a home. If it is a violent place that threatens you, it is no longer a home either. Then you want to abandon it and find another place for your second home. It would be sad and tragic if we had to give up our home and live in an unfamiliar, foreign place for the rest of our lives.

Those who seek immigration to other countries say that they would like to secure a permanent resident visa of another country as an insurance for the peace of mind. Perhaps then, the crash-landing of our country might not happen, if we maneuver well, avoid harm’s way, and choose the right path. It may not be too late yet and we still might be able to avoid the disastrous crash-landing.

As Thomas Pynchon suggests, we are now living in the deferred stage. Soon Judgment Day will fall upon us. Before that day comes, we should choose between annihilation and salvation. Could we soar in the blue sky once again, transcending the gravity of our politicians’ ideological skirmishes that are pulling us down, or will we be hopelessly crash-landing? The choice is ours.

Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University. -- Ed.