Korea's Potential for "NonKilling"
On Saturday at the KAIS Conference, Professor Glenn D. Paige, of the University of Hawaii and a director for the Center for Global Nonviolence, spoke on nonkilling.
At the outset of his talk, he posed this question: "Is a nonkilling society possible?"
First, he asked those of us who think that such a society is not possible to raise our hands. I raised mine along with about half of those present.
Then, he asked for a show of hand by those who believe that it is possible. The other half raised their hands.
Paige agrees with the latter. He hasn't always believed so, neither in his youth nor in his academic work, as this portrait of him on the Soka Gakkai International website makes clear:
Early in his life, Paige supported the use of military force. More than 50 years ago, as a 16-year-old newspaper boy, he took pride in delivering the news of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, "the act that ended the Pacific War." Then, several years later, while a student at Princeton University, he joined the army and fought in the Korean War. Eventually he returned to school, later going on to Harvard University and Northwestern University, writing his doctoral thesis on the reasons why the United States took part in the Korean War.According to the website, as Paige learned more about the bombing of Hiroshima, he began to reflect upon his views on the justification of war, and his doubts seem to have led him to a type of conversion:
One day, when he was pondering these questions, he felt a great energy suddenly arise from within him. A new conviction began to take hold: Human beings must never kill one another under any circumstances or for any reason.This is the classic, deep-pacifist view of nonviolence, one that I find attractive but cannot share, perhaps because I haven't had this sort of conversion experience. I won't go into all of that right now. Rather, I want to quote Paige's paper and note a couple of points.
First, concerning nonviolence in Korean culture, Paige related the following anecdote:
Meeting with revered teacher Ham Suk Hon in Seoul and respected historian Pak Si Hyong in Pyongyang, I asked each if there were any roots of nonviolence in Korea's cultural tradition. Both responded in exactly the same way. They referred to the peaceful nature of the Tan'gun 2333 B.C. foundation story and emphasized that Koreans have never been aggressors against their neighbors.While I don't deny the normative value of myth, we ought to keep in mind that the Dangun story is mythical and thus doesn't provide much of conclusive value for Korea's capacity for nonviolence. As for Koreans having never been aggressors against their neighbors, I've never quite understood the point of this observation. If it were even true, the fact would require explanation, and a possible answer might be that Korean states have always been too weak to attack their neighbors. But I doubt that this observation is true. To take but one example, consider how the ancient Korean kingdom of Shilla attacked the neighboring Korean kingdom of Goguryeo to unify the Korean peninsula in battles ranging over the years from 661 to 668. Koreans will point out that this was one Korean state attacking another Korean state. Point taken, but the inherent violence remains, so the larger, implicit point -- that Koreans are uniquely peaceful -- is contradicted.
Second, Paige argued that Korean experience in the 20th century has left Koreans uniquely qualified to work for peace in Northeast Asia:
Colonized by imperialist Japan, divided by the United States and Russia, and devastated by War that brought American and Chinese intervention, Koreans understand well the languages and lethality of the four cultures that have impacted upon them. Their knowledge is aysmmetrical. Generally, Koreans know more about Japan, the United States, Russia, and China than the interveners know about them.This is partly true but mostly incorrect. Koreans do generally know more about these other cultures than the other cultures know about Korea, but generally speaking, they still don't know much, and much of what they do know is refracted through the distorting lens of Korean assumptions that then project a colorful but exaggerated image of the other countries. And as for Koreans understanding well the languages of the four cultures that have intervened on the peninsula, all of us foreigners who teach in Korea know that this is not correct.
Consequently, I don't see that Korea has a unique ability to work for either a nonviolent society or a peaceful solution to the problems of Northeast Asia.