As is the case in many countries when the time to exercise our democratic right comes around, there has been a renewed passion to the slander and general mud slinging occurring in and around Seoul. What marks Korean elections of particular interest is that the character assassination continues to be framed in all the finest trappings of the McCarthy era; for in Korea, the Reds continue to lie under the bed.
Indeed both parties have made claims that the other is in league with the devil, Beelzebub here taking the corporeal form of Kim Jung-un. Any sign that an individual might be straying from the tacitly agreed upon rhetoric marking North Korea as the almighty evil is swiftly and with great vehemence punished by the opposition as being "Pro-North Korean", "Unpatriotic" and simply "Communist/Socialist".
Now, this is fine, it is predictable and it offers a sense of comfort to those who may have got the wrong impression regarding South Korean 'progressiveness'. Bottom line: Nothing is changing, we are firmly entangled in the Cold War and we like it here. What is worrying, however, is the effect that the continued use of this kind of anachronistic Cold War ideologue has on the ability for people to speak without fear, in particular, for the intellectual community to develop an alternative discourse to the polemic profundity of what really should be a bi-gone era.
At a recent special lecturer given by a high profile Korean political scientist/historian in Australia, it was stated that there continues to exist numerous "Forbidden fields" in South Korean academia. That is, topics and areas of scholarship that are unable to be approached by South Korean scholars because of the political divide most saliently manifest in the border that runs between the two Koreas. Intellectual debate, research and plain curiosity is, in a word, closed. For those brave souls, according to the Professor, who do venture into considering, for example, the significance of the South Korean and American massacres of civilians during the Korean War, they can enjoy a future at Lotteria- the Korean equivalent of McDonald's. For society is neither prepared, nor willing to entertain such 'radical' and reactionary attempts to cause civil unrest and bring down the whole anti-communist system upon which South Korea was built and, disappointingly, continues to be maintained.
And so it was, as I listened to this scholar deride the politics and society of the South Korean nation that I was struck by the fact that he too was firmly grounded, in both his language and his cognitive process, in the 1950s. Spitting with great passion about the strength of the American supported Right, he was committed to seeing that a balance was brought to history and society on the peninsula. Sadly, he was to face the same fate that awaits those in Korean politics who try to break away from the hive- complete failure and mild disdain from his peers.
The fact is you cannot argue that it is wrong to recycle Cold War theory, while employing it your self to make your argument. If you want to play a new game, then you have to make new rules to do so. That is not to say that it is wise to disregard over one hundred years of neatly organizing people according to the Even-idiots-can-do-it political spectrum, simply that it might be useful to acknowledge the complexities that exist in the socio-political world and work accordingly. If nothing else comes of it, at least South Korean politicians will be armed with something more imaginative with which to destroy their opponent's reputations.