Undoubtedly, history will remember 2020 as the Year of the Global Pandemic. For the first time since the Spanish flu hit the world in the early 20th century, a worldwide disease caused society to change drastically on a vast scale. Throughout the year the coronavirus panicked and paralyzed society by indiscriminately attacking people, forcing businesses to shut down and devastating the economy. Aside from the countless people who lost their lives, many others lost their jobs and suffered grief and destitution as a result. Children could not go to school or go out to play, and adults could not go to work or go shopping. Many countries declared national emergencies with stay-at-home orders and even curfews.
Furthermore, the pandemic forced nearly everyone to wear masks. Regrettably, this often meant that people were cut off from one another, isolated from society and inhibited from verbal communication. Of course, we wore masks to protect others and ourselves from the deadly virus. At the same time, however, wearing a mask could also signify that we were suspicious of others as potential virus carriers.
Looking back upon 2020, we realized that it was a lost year for everybody. Unfortunately, the global ordeal will continue to haunt us in 2021 as well, even after vaccines become available. If worse comes to worst and we cannot overcome the pandemic, then 2021 will be another lost year for all of us. The problem is that no one knows exactly when the pandemic will end and everything will go back to normal again. In that sense, the situation looks bleak and we may have a grim future ahead of us.
In 2020, many things happened worldwide amid the pandemic. In the United States, for example, Joseph Biden won the presidential election and yet Donald Trump still did not concede his election loss. Watching what happened in the US in 2020, people came to realize how fragile democracy is even in the United States. It was embarrassing that even America, an undisputed emblem of democracy, suffered election fraud allegations and disputed results, even though these claims were nothing but groundless conspiracy theories.
Consequently, foreign countries were disappointed in America and lost confidence in her as she gave up her role as world leader. In 2021, we hope America will restore its reputation and regain its respect as a world leader, following President-elect Biden’s catchphrase “MARA” or “Make America Respected Again.” We also hope that in 2021, America can restore democracy to its full strength, since democracy, though fragile, has a miraculous self-healing power.
The year 2020 was not rosy for South Korea, either. The South Korean people were dismayed at their government’s misguided foreign and domestic policies. For example, many South Koreans were worried about the overtly pro-China and pro-North Korea policies that might isolate South Korea from the international community. They also found the misguided real estate policies, intolerably heavy taxes and numerous political scandals frustrating. In addition, South Koreans were disappointed in their government’s failure to secure any vaccines for COVID-19.
In 2020, many South Koreans pointed out that democracy had significantly deteriorated in their country. People watched lawmakers forget their duties and follow the instructions of the administration faithfully by implementing new laws that might jeopardize human rights and freedom of speech. These controversial laws shocked and disturbed many South Koreans because they made the country a target of international criticism. South Koreans are even more embarrassed that those laws will have to face a Congressional hearing in the United States early next year.
Because it won the parliamentary election last April in a landslide victory, the Ruling Democratic Party must have made the mistake of thinking that victory had given it license to serve its own interests without restraint. As a result the Democratic Party is, ironically, far from democratic, despite its name. South Koreans even suspect that the administration tried to control not only the National Assembly, but the judicial system as well.
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2020 was also the Year of the Mouse and perhaps it has brought out some of the darker qualities of the sign. Reminiscing on this past year, we realize we blindly followed the alluring pipers whose enchanting tunes might lead us to annihilation, just like the mice in the German fairytale “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” We also resembled the parliament of mice in Aesop’s fable “The Bell and the Cat,” in which the mice only make craven excuses and hide, instead of trying to put a bell on the marauding cat.
In 2020, we went through unprecedented social and political turbulence. It was not only the deadly pandemic, but also the infamous chronic diseases of South Korea called political skirmishes and factional brawls, that dismayed and frustrated us.
We strongly hope that we can overcome all such diseases next year and see a bright future in 2021.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. -- Ed.