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I have a special reason for feeling this way. ...
I have a special reason for feeling this way. Korea, my homeland, has kept a special place in my heart before I can remember. My homeland is Korea - a peninsula divided across its middle into north and south. I have long dreamed of reconnecting this land, making her one country and one nation. For a long time, this has been the dream after which I have most desperately sought.
Who was the candlelight demonstration for?
August of 2002 was very hot not because it was summer, but rather because the frustration, hatred, anger, and tension of the people were leading them down to an unknown path. An unforgettable incident took place that was beyond people's understanding and which made the future of Korea unclear. A U.S. armored vehicle brutally killed two middle school girls, Misun and Hyosoon, who, at such a young age, had not yet had a chance to bloom. It was a truly sad and heart-aching incident. One could not even imagine what the girls' parents must have felt, losing their beloved children.
The whole nation mourned the preposterous deaths of the girls. The wave of mourning which began on the internet, traveled to Kwangwhamun, to city hall, and eventually to every part of the nation. This led to candle light assemblies which then turned its color by taking on ideological and political characteristics. More specifically, people began to be influenced by such things as anti-American sentiments and the upcoming presidential race, all of which resulted in the vigils turning into serious demonstrations.
The sadness, frustration, mourning and commemoration of the young souls were pure and beautiful. But the violence went beyond the genuineness of heart, the ideology and politics that targeted the presidential race was a problem. Particularly, the emotional anti-American feelings - not rational anti-American sentiments - marred not only the friendly relationship between the ROK and the US but caused still more serious problems.
I thought to myself, 'This is not right ... This is definitely wrong.'
I closely observed the situation with anxiety and restlessness. I wanted to convey constructive and desirable opinions, but it was obvious - even to my eyes - hat my opinions wouldn't have any impact in the face of the gigantic wave that, with mob psychology, was hitting the crowd, who were blind to reason and rationale of every kind.
I also thought to myself, "If I don't do anything during a time of need, I am no different from those people. Even if I can't make an impact, may my trial itself be righteous and in accordance with my religion and conscience." I made my decision and said, "Let's go into the mob, even if I die by the stones people are throwing at me. I should at least convey my thoughts and let them see my sincerity. God will be with me!"
Before my resolve began to fade, I got a big board and jotted down my thoughts. Tears rolled from my eyes. I ached as if I were spitting out blood as I wrote. "I will go to city hall during rush hour in the afternoon and without any fear I will jump into the crowd."
But my eldest daughter Yeun-Hoi visited me. She came to my office in Yongsan base camp. She wanted to go home with me so she came by around the time I normally leave the office. I hesitated for a moment. I should carry this out alone; putting her in any potential danger was something I didn't want to do.
But it occurred to me that this might be God's will. As my father planted in me the dream of my country's unification, this could be my chance to plant the very same dream in my daughter. Also it might be my duty to awaken in her the reality of her country. Yeun-Hoi, who had grown up without causing any trouble and who had always been my greatest pride, would understand and be able to deal with it.
"I guess you wanted to go home with me. But, Yeun-Hoi, I have to stop by somewhere before we go home. It's really important to me. Shall I take you with me? Do you want to come along?"
Not knowing my reason for going to city hall, she said "yes." I was thankful to her, for not asking. This is how Yeun-Hoi, who was attending Seoul American High School at that time, and who is now studying electrical engineering at the University of Illinois, experienced the single most unforgettable incident of her life.
After having arrived at Plaza Hotel, across from city hall, we went to a restaurant first, as I thought I needed to first have a nice dinner with her. We didn't say much during dinner, just usual conversation about small things.
After dinner, we went back to the car and I took out the big board with the stand, on which I had written my own personal protest.
"What is this, dad?"
"This is my opinion and my heart."
She looked puzzled, and as I walked into the crowd with the board, her doubt turned into bewilderment. There was already a large crowd carrying various flags with names of different groups and their slogans, waving here and there. Among them, I could spot a number of political groups who would play important roles in the presidential race.
The assembly soon began and there were shouts everywhere. The protest leaders were screaming rather than speaking or calmly appealing to the crowd. It was as if an old woman were pouring out her anger and hatred for the US that she had kept inside her for the last sixty years. It wasn't a mourning crowd, it was a wave of screaming and rage; it was not a quiet candle assembly, it was an angry torchlight protest full of hatred.
After having watched for a few minutes, I told Yeun-Hoi to stand in the corner and I went into the middle of the crowd. I held up the board that had turned into a large picket with a leg. The picket said, "I am a Korean-American with four children and I sincerely apologize for the death of the two girls. But we cannot entrust the fate of our country and people to this incident. We should leave this matter to the congress and the next president. Stop turning it into a political matter and go back to your schools, homes, and places of work."
At first, people just passed by, thinking that the picket was one of those that supported the demonstration, but a couple of people who read it gathered around me, attracting more people. People had different responses. Some nodded in agreement but many started jeering and cursing. Some shouted, "If you are so brave, go express your thought and opinions in front of the US bases." Some criticized me with unreasonable arguments; some asked questions that did not make any sense and persistently demanded answers from me. But it was all something that I had been expecting.
I too had many things in my heart that I wanted to shout at them, but I couldn't. I knew what was to be expected if I did. It would inevitably lead to arguments and quarrels, and perhaps even to violence. That was not what I wanted. All I wanted was to have the opportunity to get even one person to think rationally and quietly about the future of our nation through me. So I stood still, with no response, desperately defending my picket.
The candlelight vigil back then was not just a simple candlelight assembly. It had long lost its purity. It was politically driven, with political interests that manipulated people to influence the presidential election in December. The leftist camp maneuvered the assembly to distort the importance of the US-ROK alliance. This was the beginning of former president Noh Mu-Hyun's government. And even those people who later criticized Noh Mu-Hyun, perhaps didn't mind the 'anti-American sentiments', as long as it was guaranteed that North Korea would not invade South Korea.
However, the people living on the Korean peninsula cannot force the US to shoulder responsibility for our unfortunate history and the division of our land. The reality and problems on the Korea Peninsula directly and indirectly affect overseas Koreans. Even the smallest matter within Korea becomes their problem. One's country is just like one's family. It can be divided into pieces by conflicts and quarrels. To Korean immigrants living with people of other nations on foreign soil, problems within Korea directly relate to the pride and strength of their motherland. As such, we cannot leave the fate of Korea to be determined by some other country. It's a disgrace and insult. Nothing will help our children recover from the feeling of humiliation and sense of inferiority. We must defend our country from the misfortune brought upon us by other countries. Korea is already divided in two, and allowing it to be further divided by differences of opinion would be shameful and provide a dismal.
I was determined to prevent further division among the people even if I were to have been killed by the outraged mob. I was confident that the angry mob's behavior and attitude would not help, but only hurt the interests of Korea.
More people surrounded me. People were talking and some were even shouting over what I wrote on the picket. Only a few people encouraged me, while most others criticized me. An hour of the threatening atmosphere passed, when a tall and black suited person (along with two other stout, young men) stood in front of me. He gazed at my picket for a while, then kicked it, and turned around, walking away. It was so scary that I felt as if a sharp knife had been plunged into my side. I had the impression that he was not a commoner but someone who was deeply involved in the candlelight assembly.
Yeun-Hoi was looking at me from near the Plaza Hotel. What must she have felt? She was probably watching with terror. I tried to pick up the picket, which had fallen on the ground, but couldn't manage on my own, so I called her over. She came running, full of tears.
"Father, are you okay? Aren't you hurt?"
"No. I'm fine. Don't worry!"
"Dad, I'm so scared. Let's just go home."
I could sense fear in her voice. I calmed her down, and asked for her help to hold up the broken picket. With her help I held up the picket and told her, pointing to the police car parked in front of the gate of Duk-Soo "Yeun-Hoi, you see that police car over there, right? Will you wait for me over by it? You can report to the police should anything happen to me. So don't worry and wait for me just a little longer."
After sending her off, I went back to the one-man protest. My protest was a wordless plea against the politically bent candlelight demonstration. Strangely enough, I was very calm and stood without shaking. A number of people encouraged me, telling me that my one-man protest was a courageous act. In them, I found hope and courage for my country. Soon, people moved from city hall to Kwanghwamun and so came the end of my protest.
Yeun-Hoi was close to tears in the car coming home.
"Dad, I have never been so scared in my life."
"You must have been really scared. I am sorry for not having told you in advance. But I wasn't scared at all. Do you know why? It was because my heart was full of love for this country and its people. But above all, it was because of the sense of duty I felt for the unification of Korea that your grandfather instilled in me. It made me stand bravely in the middle of the raging mob. Now that you are all grown up, I will tell you all about it at home tonight."
Yes. What drove me to enter among the angry mob? And why wasn't I scared at all, with no hesitation or fear? It was my father who had hoped for the unification of Korea all his life. I completely understood the people who participated in the candlelight assembly. Although I have compassion for them, the problem lies in the fact that they expressed their feelings through impure and unwise actions. The medium they adopted wasn't going to help solve the problems for the future of the country. It would only strengthen the position of the neighboring countries, with no benefit to Korea. It was my father's enthusiastic passion for Korean Unification that drove me to berate the mob at city hall. No matter how compassionate I was, I knew that the candlelight assembly would only disadvantage Korea, so I stood there with sincere heart hoping that people would regain self-control and reason.
That night I told Yeun-Hoi, who now was all grown up, her grandfather's (my father's) life-long grief, hope, and desire for the unification of the Korean Peninsula, in just the way I had heard it from my own father.
Grandfather Who Went to Manchuria and My Father Who Was Taken by Japanese
My father was born in 1925 as the eldest child in Oakchun, Chungcheong Province, Korea. He was famous in the area for his strength though he was not a big person. He also had tenacity and determination to pull through on whatever he had his mind set.
Originally, the members of my family are the seventy-fourth descendants of the Ankyungkong, who took the throne of King Kim Suro, and the sixty-first descendants of General Kim Yusin. Until my grandfather's generation, our family enjoyed local wealth. Their town upholds the civility as a virtue and at the entrance of the town still stands a monument with the inscription "Egrets, don't go where crows play." The family had wealth and power until my great uncle, who was the head of the family, suddenly passed away.
After he died, the family began a downward spiral, so my grandfather took his family to Pusan. Settling in Haewundae, Pusan, he started a commercial business importing trees. He bought trees from Manchuria and sold them in Korea. However, this didn't last long, and because it was during the end of the Pacific War, other businesses were hard to come by, due to severe interference and regulations set by the Japanese government. As a result, his family had a difficult time making ends meet.
Several months later, my grandfather called every member of the family together and said, "There is no hope in this land as it has become a Japanese colony. So, I have decided to go to Manchuria for the future of the family and the country. While I'm gone, Hansoo, my eldest son, will be in charge. Hansoo, I trust that you will do a good job. I will do my best in Manchuria, remembering my love for you all and with you to protect the rest here. That will bring us back together soon."
He left for Manchuria early the next morning. Nobody knew that it would be the last of him. He never returned. It is not even known where in Manchuria he died. Stories similar to this weren't uncommon back then. There were many who shared similar fates. There were a great number of people who died in foreign lands while wondering around without a home. Many of our grandmothers and grandfathers have most likely perished due to the cold weather and starvation.
My father, who became the head of the house at a young age, had to search for work to support his mother and siblings. After having searched day and night with the determination to find work, he was lucky to find a job at an iron foundry that was owned by the Japanese. He worked hard, enduring the pain in his fingers and the heat from the brazier. As a result of his hard work, he earned the trust of his Japanese owner and received a raise. While working, he studied Japanese and modern science every chance he had.
One day just after lunch time, two Japanese police officers came to the iron foundry.
"Kim Hansoo! Who is Kim Hansoo?"
"It's me. Why are you looking for me?"
"Oh, you are Kim Hansoo? You look smart and strong. Kim Hansoo, you should feel honored. You are called to become a soldier for the Emperor of great Japan!"
'How could this be ...? I have lost my homeland to Japan and now I have to be Japan's soldier? Who would take care of my family if I were drafted?'
The two officers presented the conscription paper and commanded him to come go with them. They tied him up and he was taken away helplessly.
"Okay. But first I must bid farewell to my mother.'
They took him home and said, "Your son is going to fight in the holy war for the great emperor of Japan," while forced my grandmother to sign the papers against her will. With eyes full of tears my grandmother had to send her beloved son to war, where he might die shortly after having sent her husband to Manchuria.
With tears rolling down her face, grandmother quietly prepared soojebi (noodle soup). On that cold winter day, my father started on the path for the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, not knowing when he would return home. The head of the house was now his younger brother.
"Dong-soo, you must obey mother and take care of the young ones. And go ask the owner of the iron foundry for work, go to school and study hard. Kyungsoo, obey mother and your older brother. Study hard. I will come back. Don't worry about me!"
He patted his younger brothers and wiped their tears. After having bowed to his mother, he took a step against his will. With his eyes closed he bowed his head in the direction of Manchuria and went on. He left so with his head down and with tears falling down, thinking that this was due to the fate of this weak nation.
And so my father was taken as a student soldier of Chosun to Japan's Pacific War under the pretense that they must prevent the invasion of the west under the name of the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. He was taken to an air force base in Simoneseki, Japan. My father had to endure the endless bombing of Japan for the "benefit of greater East Asia". His fate was to be loyal to Japan's emperor 'till death, not to his family or his homeland'. Without complaining of his unfortunate fate, determined to return home alive he endured in the war-zone where people were dying by the thousands.
"I will not die. I will live and protect my family and my country!"
As a survivor of the nuclear bombing in Hiroshima, my father miraculously returned home in a boat. There were only a few who made it back alive. He, who escaped death grasp and came back, was received with a heart-warming welcome by the villagers. He became famous. Back then, it was not only big news, but a miracle to come back alive from the war.
After having both endured and survived the brutal business of killing fellow men, my father was as strong both spiritually and physically. During the war, he experienced and learned the skills to survive in places no different from hell. He no longer feared anything on this earth. The war had the power to possess and control one human being. As a result, he gave in neither spiritually nor physically on the things he believed to be correct. He learned that he had to fight until the opponent collapses in order to survive. There was no one in Haewundae, or in Pusan to defeat him. Even the sons of rich families in Kyungsang Province, who had gangs that dealt in politics, could not harm him.
Excerpted from The Future by Young Kim Copyright © 2010 by Young Kim. Excerpted by permission.
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