August 15 is Liberation Day in Korea, where it's known locally as Gwangbok-jeol (光復節, 광복절: light-healing-day*). President Park Geun-hye apparently gave a speech in which she laid out terms for getting along better with North Korea; commentators are describing her speech as "blasting" the North, but I don't see it that way. You don't have to speak in an incendiary manner to offend the oversensitive, easily angered North; I found Park's words to be fairly mild, but South Korean media, which often see things from the North's point of view, thought Park was being provocative.
Absent from the speech, as usual, was any mention of America and other nations' role in liberating the peninsula, which was released from Japanese subjugation at the end of World War II, in 1945. This is a shame, but I've gotten used to—as John McCrarey once described it—quietly saying You're welcome to the peninsula on this day. I strongly suspect that Korean children from the 1990s onward have been implicitly taught that Korea somehow liberated itself; the idea that Korea was liberated by a foreign power is meant to be quietly tucked away and not referred to publicly. Ideally, it should be shut out and forgotten.
A person I follow on Twitter recently tweeted a pic of a poem titled "Liberation is a Cruel Hoax." The poem reads in part:
and aspirations as one people.
We cry out for our unrequited liberation from our unacceptable fate.
It doesn't matter where we live. We are all exiles from our memory
of the Land of Morning Calm, once in one piece even under the
brute force of a savage neighbor.
So the poet seems to be saying, "Under the Japanese, at least, we were united," which is, I suppose, a reference to how the peninsula was split into North and South by other global powers. The poem expresses a wish for reunification. I agree that the North-South split is a bad and painful thing, but is the poet, perhaps by extension, wishing for a return to the bad old days of Japanese occupation? I'm no longer a cheerleader for reunification. Germany has made it work, sort of, but I don't think Koreans are psychologically in the same place as Germany. Koreans in general have a much more pronounced grievance culture that prevents them from moving forward in certain areas, and an inability to let go of the past doesn't bode well for any sort of future sociocultural progress.
I don't think of Liberation Day as an auspicious holiday for South Korea. The day is an uncomfortable reminder that Korea was liberated by foreign powers; it did not gain freedom on its own. That's a sore fact—one that Koreans these days try their damnedest to ignore, but in ignoring that fact, they simply turn it into the unspoken elephant in the room. If Koreans are, as I suspect, rewriting history to make it seem as if they somehow liberated themselves, then what separates Koreans, morally speaking, from Japanese textbook writers who have been whitewashing Japan's role in World War II?
Believe me, I love South Korea, and I want to see it happy and prosperous. But I also want to see it being honest about its past, and being grateful—just once a year—to the people who fought and died to help make current prosperity a reality, not a cruel hoax. It is indeed tragic that a South Korean-style economy and a South Korean-style political system are not regnant across the entire peninsula, but 50 million people have taken the reins of their country's fate and made their land into a global power; meanwhile, above the DMZ, 23 million people have chosen fatalism instead of throwing off the shackles of oppression. That's the fault of those people, not the fault of the powers that divided Korea into North and South.**
*Gwang is the Sino-Korean word for "light." Bok refers to healing or recovery, as in the verb hwaebok-hada, i.e., "to heal." The word jeol normally refers to a season (as in gyejeol, which refers to the four annual seasons), but can mean a particular measure of time—a period, a point, a day, etc.
**But if the Japanese occupation is any indication, North Koreans may be constitutionally incapable of throwing off the yoke of oppression and must instead wait passively for foreign intervention to liberate them. Self-liberation could be too much to expect.