The crimes of Cho Seung-hui have sent a shudder through
South Korean society.
JoongAng Daily, South
The Legacy of Cho Seung-hui:
America's Lesson to Koreans …
reinforced Americans in the spirit of their founding fathers. For Koreans, the
event must also serve as an opportunity to escape our own brand of
- JoongAng Daily - Original Article (English)
Cho Seung-hui, a student at Virginia Tech in the U.S., was the
perpetrator of what is - for now - America's worst mass shooting.
When he was eight, Cho immigrated
to the United States with his family and was educated there. He was a member of
the "1.5 generation," which means he was born in Korea but raised in
When it was discovered that the gunman was from a Korean
family, the Korean government tried to send a delegation to offer condolences,
but the U.S. State Department declined. They said their decision was based on
the fact that America is a multi-ethnic country, and as such would be
uncomfortable having representatives of another government take an ethnic
approach to the shooting.
While the Korean government and most Koreans regard Cho as a Korean, the U.S. government and its people think
of him as American.
This disconnect stems from
different concepts of nationhood, which were formed through the different
histories of the two countries. Like its motto "E Pluribus Unum"
which is on the Great Seal of the United States, the country is a melting pot of
immigrants from around the world.
It would go against what America stands for if the country
were to refute its racial mix just because a small impurity had dripped into
the melting pot. If Americans were to define Cho as a
Korean and let the seed of racism sprout, their nation could be doomed to
suffer more conflict and hatred.
With this in mind, the U.S. government and media have
chosen to view this violent act as a crime committed by an individual and use
it as a reason to review its policies on gun control.
Written by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of
Independence espouses universal values such as the right to life, liberty and
happiness. The Declaration starts with, "We the People," which shows
the United States is a community that embraces all of its citizens.
Such noble ideals have a dark side, however, that can breed
monsters like Cho. His shooting spree was a byproduct
of America's past and Constitution, which embraced the right to possess guns.
The violence has left Americans with questions about how to remove this dark
shadow of history. But for Koreans, the killings provide a mirror for
reflecting on themselves. Americans have the time bomb of racism; but Koreans
have the curse of nationalism.
On the one side, Koreans chant slogans about how we must
open our doors if we are to survive, as they did when the Free Trade deal with
the U.S. was signed. On the other, however, Koreans still maintain a closed
Now is the time to open our minds, and not just to trade.
Unless we remove the deep-rooted nationalism in our hearts, our efforts to open
society to greater prosperity through initiatives like the Free Trade Agreement
will amount to nothing.
Korea must become an increasingly flexible and multi-ethnic
society. In the past, official Korean history books concealed the fact that
Korea is a multi-ethnic society. We were taught that we are all descendants of Dangun , the
mythical founding father of Korea.
But with the exception of a few that originated from the Silla kingdom ,
such as the Kims, Parks and Chois
- when we look at our family genealogies, most Koreans see that their roots
began in China.
But rather than addressing this discrepancy between
official history and our genealogies, we instead lead lives of schizophrenia.
We treated Hines Ward as a hero who exuded all of the great Korean
traits. But before he became an NFL football star, he was seen as one of the
"mixed-blood children" that we Koreans are so ashamed of.
We must now adopt an attitude of post-nationalism. By this
I don't mean anti-nationalism, but rather a transcendence of nationalism as a
prerequisite to opening up our society.
Recently, the Ministry of Justice decided to grant
residence permits to four people from Mongolia who - while in the country
illegally - saved 11 Koreans from a fire. Our society betters itself by
embracing other types of individuals - even more so than when we emulate
celebrities like Hines Ward.
History textbooks in the United States begin by pointing
out that Americans have worked for freedom and equality throughout their
history. Americans are a people who have learned how to realize the spirit of
their Constitution, where "all men are created equal."
reinforced Americans in the spirit of their founding fathers. For Koreans, the event
must also serve as an opportunity to escape our own brand of nationalism.
*The writer is a professor of history at Kyonggi University.