The 18th Historical Perception and East Asia Peace Forum in Seoul
I attended a conference in Seoul two weeks ago.
It was the first conference I attended since I came back to South Korea last September.
While I was studying in the UK, I attended several conferences on the history of medicine as a presenter. That day two weeks ago, however, I was only an attender, so I only listened to the South Korean, Japanese and Chinese speakers giving their papers.
They mostly read their own scripts that they wrote, which were also included in the conference book, so actually I didn't even feel it necessary to listen to interpreters during their speech.
A South Korean high school student asked a Chinese scholar on the panel during a Q & A session after panel speech. His question was whether it could be rationalised for China to have nuclear weapon as war deterrent force against the United States.
In fact, this question can be applied exactly the same way to the case where South Korea or Japan insists nuclear weapon as war deterrent force against North Korea.
The Chinese scholar answered that it is inevitable to consider a variety of ways to achieve peace and that China loves peace.
After the Chinese scholar's answer, a Japanese speaker on the panel talked about his opinion regarding the question after getting permission to do that. He said that having nuclear weapon cannot be rationalised with any reason.
Instantly, the ambiance in the conference room turned cold.
Yes, it is true that both the Chinese speaker and Japanese speaker on the panel clarified their views regarding the South Korean student's question.
The truth is that, although the conference's title was 'Peace Forum', the speakers from the three countries were reading their scripts which were largely devoted for rationalisation of their own countries' situation, depicting unrealistic pictures.
In some sense, they were not free from the political frames after all.
Kim Yeongwhan, one of the South Korean speakers from 'The Center for Historical Truth and Justice', argued that the new gale of anti-Korea is expanding now in Japan owing to Abe government and that individuals' rights of claim to the damage they suffered from during World War 2 cannot be abolished by states. He talked about trauma, damage and pain through the testimony of some victims who are now in their old ages. However, at the same time, he touched every current political issue in South Korea, from the incident that he called 'candle revolution' to the one he called 'judicial monopoly'. He did not hide his hatred against the governments led by Park Jeonghee, Lee Myeongback and Park Geunhye.
The conference was felt like a political event against Abe government. Among the speakers from the three East Asian countries, there was no other voice. All the participants seemed to equate the present Abe government and the former South Korean governments led by Lee and Park as anti-peace.
The only difference between South Korean and Japanese panel speakers was that the former represented the mainstream view of South Korea whereas the latter was minority in Japan.
International and historical views of many South Koreans seem to be based on the frame that views the world as a place where strong and evil countries exploit weak and good countries. Those with such views consider the relationship between the war time Japanese government and Korean nation as such. Their view is indeed the mainstream view shared by most South Koreans.
However, I think it is risky to be tempted to apply such a view to the modern relationship between South Korea and Japan. I see many people in South Korea only criticise the historical phenomenon but lack the efforts to investigate why such phenomena happened universally in human history, not only in Korean peninsula but also in many parts of the world. Without efforts to know the reason, it is very likely that similar incidents happen in the future. Just criticising the other and requesting their 'sincere' apology cannot fundamentally solve problems. It is important to understand the fundamental mechanism behind the scene.
Let's look at another current situation where Trump government is asking Japan and South Korean governments to pay more defense costs for maintaining American troops in both countries. Is it really true that Trump's claims are simply a commercial tactic so as to make deals in favour of the United States? However, what if the US really gives up providing not only the national security for the two countries but also international security for global trade?
People tend not to pay attention to the importance of protecting private property and securing safe trade. However, humans are animals that are selfish enough to take someone else' property rather than trying to make property with their own efforts if there is absolutely no hindrance in taking others'. The reason we can walk safely on the street is also based on our belief that laws are being obeyed in society. However, we all know that it is not the case in certain areas like slams dark at night.
Sadly, global trade in human history has not been secured without powerful physical protection, even until now, as the US army is doing their job in many parts of the globe. In fact, countries like Japan and South Korea are now enjoying (and have been enjoying) the benefits from the security provided by the US army in terms of their economic power since the mid-20th century, which has come from their involvement in global trade.
Historically, in many cases of colonialism or imperialism the driving force was rooted in the necessity for security of international trade.
In a sense, the fundamental reason of such mechanism can be related to the selfishness of human instinct as mentioned above, that is, the desire to get what we want at the minimum efforts. However, this desire of wanting maximum utility paying minimum cost is also the fundamental principle of human behaviours in terms of economics.
After all, all that matter is views of humans and views of society, that is, how you define humans, how you view society.
If you don't agree with the view that humans or society can be simply divided as two groups: a good and weak group versus a strong and evil group (which is the socialist view of humans and society), but if you agree with the view that humans or society itself is neither good or evil but just defective and incomplete (selfish enough to be cruel to others but also able to sacrifice themselves for good causes), then you can understand human history much more objectively and human society much more realistically.