On the 10th of March 2017, in South Korea, the Constitutional Court upheld the National Assembly’ decision to impeach President Park Guenhye over the huge political corruption scandal involving the president, her close friend, Choi Soon-sil, loyal aides, and some conglomerates including Samsung. During the weeks before the court ruling to favor the impeachment and after the ruling, the public have been divided severely into two groups: more than 70% of the people who want the President to step down immediately, and the other group mostly composed of the elderly in their sixties, seventies, and even eighties who are against the impeachment. Those who fall into the former group have held candlelight rallies on Saturdays in the Gwanghwamun Square and the latter group has demonstrated right next to candlelight rallies, which is called “Taegeukgi rally” because they always have Taegeukgi, the national flag of South Korea, with them when protesting.
In a democratic society, a wide range of voices can be heard, which is believed to be natural. These voices are based on various experiences, history, education, ethnicity, identity, and so on. Most of these elderly people are the generations who suffered from the Japanese colonialism, the Korean War, the resulting famine and poverty, and overcame these difficulties. They believe the former dictator Park Chung-hee should be given credit for tackling the miserable poverty. This might provide us with one lens through which I can see why they support the impeached President, who is the daughter of the dictator. I cannot say I can understand fully the workings of the psychology behind this blind faith for her, but still, it’s understandable considering the historical background.
What bothers me most, however, is that when those who are against the impeachment take to the streets for the rally, most of them carry with them not only ‘Taegeukgi’, South Korean national flags, but also American flags. AMERICAN FLAGS!!! How should I interpret this weird, incomprehensible unruliness? Is it because they love America? Or is it because they want America to help them with saving impeached, imprisoned Park like in the movie, “Saving Private Ryan”? What is the underlying motivation that mobilizes them into this ridiculous action? Is it a whole another kind of colonialism that dominates the mindset of the elderly, which stems from the historical background from the Japanese colonial rule to the Korean war and the current confrontation between the two Koreas?
Presumably, what is different from the almost forty years of Japanese colonialism is that the country dominating them has been changed to the US ever since Korea were liberated from the Japanese rule. Even so, I cannot understand why Park’s supporters get an American flag placed right beside the national flag. Is it an intentionally chosen behavior or unconscious one? Or a bit of both? What on earth do they want to prove or represent? I cannot understand why they are crazy about America, why they argue South Korea should not upset the country, and why criticizing the US is considered to be pro-North Korean and all these questions have confused and irritated me for so long. However, one thing for sure is that what my country has achieved within a relatively short period of time in terms of economic growth cannot be discussed without thinking of the US as one major contributor. Whether most of the Koreans like it or not, what this country takes up in Korean economy is so huge that it cannot be ignored. Given the strong influence that America has had on my country – although it hasn’t dominated Korea as Japan did during the colonial period, it might be obvious that this country is deemed as a favorable friend and solid ally in the elderly’s mind before they know it as Fanon argues the collective unconscious of black people has been formed in the framework of colonial history and colonial domination.
It needs to be analyzed whether the American flags on the rally site are the embodiment of such collective unconscious set against the historical backdrop of Korea’s phenomenal economic growth, where the US played a vital part, or an intentional message saying, “Hey, can you see our loyalty to your country? You are such a solid ally to our country, so please come and help us save our queen, the now-impeached President, who is in trouble.” For now, I just want to know where the lament and grief that I have about this seemingly irrational behavior done by these elderly people come from. Do these feelings just originate either from a simple frustration caused by anger towards them or from kind of empathy brought up by understanding that they cannot abandon the values firmly established in the history of strong colonial influences?