So many of us these days cling to a particular political ideology to which we religiously subscribe. Then, almost as a matter of course, we build a faction of like-minded people and flock together, while excluding and discriminating against others. Once this occurs, it naturally follows that we begin to impose our ideology on others, forcing them to join our camp. Then, if they refuse, we wage war with them and lead witch hunts against them as if they are archenemies and heretics. Such is the sad story we keep playing out at this moment in our world’s history.
Given this sequence of events, if a political leader ran a country with his or her radical political ideology, the country would inevitably suffer from social disruptions, political turmoil and bloody vengeance. Intoxicated with ideology, the leader would be like a driver under the influence of narcotics or alcohol. Eventually he or she will crash the country, damaging it irreparably and killing innocent people in the process. If ideology only promises to demolish our society and hurt other people, why do we feel like we need it in the first place?
Dialogue from an episode of “NCIS” proves illuminating on this point. Jack Gibbs, a World War II veteran pilot, tells his son Leroy Jethro that his fellow pilot Walter Beck, who saved his life in wartime, is now dying and he wants to visit him. Leroy, however, checks and finds that there was no pilot named Walter Beck in his father’s squadron. Thus, Leroy suspects his aged father is hallucinating due to his senility.
Eventually, the truth emerges. Jack reveals to his son that Walter Beck was a German pilot. As his plane was hit and his compass was malfunctioning, Jack flew in the wrong direction. Suddenly, the German pilot approached and guided him in the right direction. Thanks to the warm-hearted enemy pilot, Jack was able to survive.
Leroy protests to his father as to why he did not mention that the pilot was German, which was clearly an important detail. Jack replies, “No, son. The important thing was that we were both fliers. We were brothers up there. We were the same. We were all the same. But we kept fighting each other.”
“He is dying and all he can see is the people he killed over ideas that were not even his,” he continues, before lamenting, “How silly and absurd to hurt other people over political ideologies that were not even ours?”
While listening to him, it occurred to me that our ideology-oriented politicians should also bear the above phrase in mind. Indeed, our politicians should realize that they are hurting people over political ideologies that were not even theirs. It is someone else’s ideology imported from overseas
According to recent newspaper reports, a young private academy instructor taught his students that the US had deliberately plotted for the Korean War to break out and orchestrated it. Perhaps we should ask him, “Did you live through the Korean War? Did you actually witness the US orchestration of the Korean War? On what grounds do you preach this false information?” His answer may be, “I have learned it from books.” Yet, how can he trust history books? How dare he be so presumptuous in front of the older people who have lived through it?
The above radical instructor reminds us of Netflix TV series “La Revolution,” which begins with Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous phrase, “History is a set of lies agreed upon.” The narrator of the drama illuminates the essence of history: “It is said that history is written by the winners. It is forgotten that it is rewritten over time. Transformed by books. Reinvented by those who did not live through it.”
In an episode of “Supernatural,” demons infest the town of River Pass, Colorado, and as a result, people turn against each other. The two demon hunters, Dean and Sam Winchester, come to the town to fight the demons. However, it turns out that there are no demons in the town. There is only a demagogic evil spirit named “War” in human shape that manipulates the villagers from behind. “War” instigates people to regard others as demons and kill them. Under the name of ideology, we, too, hurt or even kill others.
River Pass mirrors the predicament of contemporary Korean society. Like the villagers of River Pass, we, too, suspect and blame others as demons, and try to eliminate them with extreme prejudice. Demagogues inflame us with the belief that some countries are evil, rich people are a social malady and the rival political party is corrupt. However, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but through every human heart.”
Indeed, what good is an ideology if it hurts other people? Why should we fight over ideologies? Ideologies will fade away eventually. Only humanity will persevere and prevail.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. -- Ed.