Saturday, August 15, 2015

yo, party people!

Ho there, Korea! Here's what a pizza really ought to cost:

I know it's Liberation Day and all, but get a load of what a pizza costs at a Domino's on Richmond Highway, northern Virginia, just up the street from where I used to live. None of this "W15,000 for a medium" bullshit. The price on the flyer, translated into Korean won, comes out almost exactly to W7,100. That's the proper cost for a large pizza.

Speaking of Liberation Day: one of my students in Ulsan asked, "I normally say that August 15 is Independence Day, but I've heard some people call it Liberation Day. Why do they say that?" I was a bit stumped myself. There's overlap, but there are also some nuanced differences between the concepts of liberation and independence. Liberation, on a national scale, doesn't automatically imply sovereign independence, for example: a people can be liberated from slavery, but find themselves within the context of a larger political system to which they must submit. There's also, somewhere in the shadows, the potential implication that "liberation" doesn't mean "self-liberation," i.e., one is liberated through the efforts of others (Hindus and Buddhists, with their philosophical view of what liberation means, might disagree). That said, a nation can be liberated, then the liberators can step back, more or less, and let the liberated citizens govern their own country as they see fit—independently.

Where does Korea, especially South Korea, fall in all this, given the confusing semantic tangle described above? I didn't have the heart to remind my student that Korea didn't liberate itself: Korea's liberation was but one effect of many that arose from the aftermath of World War 2 and the defeat by the Allies of the Empire of Japan. I don't know what sort of mythology modern Koreans engage in, these days, when they talk about liberation and the horrible Japanese occupation, but given the nature of the speeches normally given on this day—most of which don't thank America and the Allies for what they did—I'm guessing that Koreans want to convince themselves that they did indeed liberate themselves. Unfortunately, that's not the truth. Even a nation as vast and strong as China found itself at least partly under the Japanese boot in the 1930s and 40s. China lies to itself, saying the Japanese had already surrendered to Chinese forces even before the atomic bombs were dropped.* What garbage. Japan, too, is busy rewriting its own history, downplaying its role as an aggressor during World War 2, and trying to play itself up as a victim. This is why Koreans don't trust Japanese apologies: the consistent efforts by the Japanese (e.g., the textbook-publishing industry) to reinterpret history in a false manner.

But rewriting and interpretation are, perhaps, acts in which we all engage to a greater or lesser degree.** "History is written by the victors," the saying goes, but when the losers still exist and can concoct their own narratives, the battle for which narrative is the truest one is joined.

It's a massive, complicated question—one that makes my head hurt at times. I, of course, have my biases, but if I'm going to be honest, I must acknowledge that they are just that—biases. (And obviously, if I say I have biases, I'm not engaging in relativism. Admitting I have biases doesn't make me less biased.)

That said, Happy Liberation Day. And, hey, Korea: you're welcome.

*See "Iron and Silk," starring Mark Salzman, for one version of this myth.

**Cf. Iraqi outrage at the events portrayed in "American Sniper," a film I enjoyed but which apparently enraged many Iraqis who thought their country, their culture, and the wartime events within their borders had been depicted falsely and unfairly.


1 comment:

John (I'm not a robot) said...

Given the circumstances, Liberation day seems more apt. I smiled at the "you're welcome" gibe. This week as I told my Korean friends happy "Independence Day" I silently mouthed "you're welcome". It's all good. I love Korea. Bless their heart.