As far as a sense of history is concerned, no other people or nation has more to say than the people of Israel or so-called Jewish people. Their history itself is the history of survival in the face of persecution, expulsion, atrocity, and hostility from all the greatest empires of the world for thousands of years. So Mark Twain writes in a magazine in 1899 that the Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman all made noise into the world, but they passed away, burned out, vanished, and are gone. "All things are mortal, but the Jew. All other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?" John Adams, the second President of the United States, even says that "The Romans and their empire were but a bubble in comparison to the Jews."
I think the secret of their survival is their sense of history which has kept them united and consolidated not only against external forces, but also against the internal danger of their identity being wiped out from the face of the earth. Though they failed in defending themselves from outside forces throughout history, Jews never failed in remembering exactly what had happened to them and teaching it to their children from generation to generation. This is why remembering the painful past is more important for the survival of any nation than boasting of its glorious achievements during a certain period of time in history. In most cases, a glorious moment for one empire used to be a horrible experience for its neighbors. Therefore, remembering the pain of the past affects the present, thereby reinforcing solidarity among themselves and helping prevent history from repeating itself. The Jewish people have kept reminding their children of hatred, suffering, violence, and destruction befallen their fathers so as to teach them who they are now and how they have survived all kinds of atrocities.
In this respect, Korea is not different from the Jewish nation in that we have suffered innumerable invasions from the powerful states surrounding the country in our long history. It is hard to imagine how our peace-loving ancestors could cope with repeated aggression from China, Japan, and Russia - three nations regarded until recently as a few of the belligerent countries in the world. It is no wonder that we still remain the only divided country on the planet, a consequence of the Cold War in the previous century. This is also good evidence of our recent history of suffering handed down just about 60 years ago.
However, despite the similarity between Jews and Koreans in terms of historical suffering, there is a big difference between them. It is the way both peoples treat their past and remember it. The Jewish people have turned their suffering into ritual and perpetuated its memory in their religion. On the other hand, we have had no system to remember our suffering in the past, nor has there ever been a systematic attempt to educate our young people to be history-sensitive, and furthermore, responsible for a future set free of suffering. Of course, it does not mean that we should keep them on the edge with brooding hatred toward our country's old enemies. It means rather that without history, there is no future, as the well-known saying goes. It is sometimes very frustrating to find that our young people do not even care about our suffering in the 20th century, a period filled with what Winston Churchill would offer to his country: "blood, toil, tears, and sweat." In Korea it is our previous generation that spilt their blood, tears, and sweat for independence and then for democracy.
Therefore, we must learn from Hollywood. Almost every year, Jewish directors make one or more films depicting an episode about the Holocaust or about the German occupation of Europe in World War II. This is a reflection of the Jewish sense of history that repeatedly tells the world about their suffering and about their belief that this should never be repeated in human history. Why is the Korean War, as an example, called "The Forgotten War" or "The Unknown War" today? Moreover, our neighboring countries have made every effort to erase from their memory what they did on the Korean Peninsula. They make it forgotten by distortion and falsification of history. Just imagine what the Jewish people would do if Germany did the same thing. Where is our sense of history? Why are we not keeping an eye on this poor quality product called history made in China and Japan? Now is the time for us to raise our voice about our true identity while Psy's "Gangnam Style" and "Gentleman" occupy the world with friendly forces.
By Prof. Park Young-won
Dept. of English Language and Literature
Park Young-won -
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