Since the Korean War, tensions between the two Koreas have been charged by South Koreans’ views on the North. Shortly after the war, as the governments in Seoul and Pyongyang were wary of each other, South Koreans regarded the communist country as their biggest foe. But that social climate was dramatically transformed last year, when Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea, met with his counterpart in the North, Kim Jong Un.
As Moon made great strides in restoring the inter-Korean relationship, most South Koreans saw North Koreans as brethren again, anticipating Kim’s trip to Seoul and reunification. But while the world welcomed peace in the Korean Peninsula and the summits in 2018, quite a few baby boomers and a smattering of right-wingers were outraged. What made them oppose these meetings between the two leaders?
Since the Korean War, South Korea has loathed communism. After the war, schools in the South started to teach anti-communist views. Political strongmen encouraged this, taking advantage of anti-communist sentiment to distract the public from their autocracy and kleptocracy.
Campaigns against the hermit kingdom were rife: Police awarded children when they collected leaflets promoting communism from North Korea and reported their discoveries to them; posters displaying hostility against the rogue state could be easily found in every town until as recently as the 1980s. With such government-led ideological education, baby boomers, mainly supporters of the old guard, have been indoctrinated with anti-communist ideology since childhood.
The dictators who ruled South Korea for many years suppressed those who sympathized with the North or obtained books related to communism, pressuring the public into standing against communism and pro-North Korea figures, as well as stigmatizing them as people who would collaborate with Pyongyang to bring down the South Korean government. Such anti-communist propaganda brainwashed citizens, leading them to regard North Korea as their own country’s biggest enemy, one that threatened national security. As a result, many baby boomers stuck to their anti-communist views even when the two Koreas were about to put aside their differences.
Many baby boomers stuck to their anti-communist views even when the two Koreas were about to put aside their differences
That’s why they were against the June 15 North-South Joint Declaration of 2000, a landmark agreement between the two Koreas. They seethed with anger at citizens who wooed Kim Jong Il, the then-leader of the Pyongyang regime and the late father of the current leader, Kim Jong Un, claiming that the Seoul authorities would hand over power to the Northern strongman.
Last year saw much of the same attitude. Right-wing baby boomers blasted the Moon Jae-in administration simply because Moon met with his North Korean counterpart. They also welcomed the failure to reach an agreement in Hanoi earlier this year, demonizing Moon for kowtowing to the basket case that South Korea has to fight against.
They have urged the government to take a hard line on North Korea, asserting that it is the only way to handle the conflicts with the Stalinist state – virtually topple the North Korean regime, as Moon’s right-leaning predecessors have done.
But by doing so, it seems they are overlooking the fact that aggressive stances toward North Korea in the past have ignited tensions across the peninsula, even prompting the world to shudder at the possibility of an outbreak of war. The anti-communist ideology does nothing to help resolve the conflict.