Nonkilling Korea: From Cold-War Confrontation to Peaceful Coexistence


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Nonkilling Korea:
From Cold-War Confrontation to Peaceful Coexistence

Glenn D. Paige

Professor Emeritus of Political Science

University of Hawai'i


Center for Global Nonviolence

3653 Tantalus Drive

Honolulu, Hawai'i 96822-5033

Tel.: +1(808)536-7442

Fax: +1(808)524-8501




All soldiers and civilians who were killed, wounded, traumatized, separated, and persecuted in the origins, conduct, and aftermath of the Korean War (1950-53) – victims of 20th century inability to create a powerful theory and practice of nonkilling global political science; and


Korean political leaders President Kim Dae Jung and Chairman Kim Jong Il who during June 13-15, 2000, took first steps toward potentially transforming nonkilling Korean leadership for the 21st century world.

Special Address, International Conference in Commemoration of the 50th

Anniversary of the Korean War, "Fifty Years after the Korean War: From Cold-War Confrontation to Peaceful Coexistence," co-organized by The Korean Association of International Studies (KAIS) and the Korea Research Institute for Strategy (KRIS);

sponsored by the ROK Ministry of National Defense, Seoul, Korea, July 14-15, 2000.

Is a Nonkilling Korea Possible?

Is a nonkilling Korea possible? If not, why not? If yes, why?

But what is meant by a "nonkilling Korea"? For present purposes let it be Korea, people and peninsula, distinguished by the following characteristics:

First, there is no killing of Koreans by Koreans and no threats to kill;
Second, there is no killing of Koreans by foreigners – Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Russians, various UN contingents, or by any other people – and no threats to kill;
Third, there is no killing or threats to kill by Koreans of foreigners;
Fourth, there are no weapons for killing targeted by Koreans against each other, by foreigners against Koreans, and by Koreans against foreigners;
Fifth, there are no ideological doctrines – political, religious, military, economic, legal, customary, or academic – that provide permissions for Koreans to kill Koreans, for foreigners to kill Koreans, and for Koreans to kill foreigners; and
Sixth, there are no conditions of Korean society – political, economic, social, and cultural – or relationships between Koreans and foreigners that can only be maintained or changed by threat or use of killing force.
Is such a "nonkilling Korea" possible? If not, why not? If yes, why?


Of course there are many reasons to consider a nonkilling Korea to be, if not completely unthinkable, at least for the present highly improbable. In the year 2000, fifty-five years after armed foreign imposition of division, fifty years after the outbreak of the murderous, ultimately stalemated, war for reunification – the sons and daughters of Korea fearfully face each other in the armed forces of two militarized states – mobilized, indoctrinated, trained, equipped, and prepared to kill. Each are allied with deadly foreign forces: with the United States in the South; with China and Russia in the North. For Koreans who have been killed by each other and by intervening foreigners (in the 20th century by Japanese, Americans, Chinese, Russians, British, Turks, Australians, Canadians, French, Thais, Greeks, Dutch, Colombians, Ethiopians, Filipinos, Belgians/Luxembourgers, New Zealanders, and South Africans) – it is improbable readily to envision a Korean society without killing and threats to kill. Historically, killing is feared as the principal threat to the survival of the Korean people and nation, whether divided or united. Readiness to kill, alone or in concert with allies, has been considered the best guarantor of ultimate independent Korean existence.

Oddly enough, strategic planners in the four great powers who have massively impacted upon the people of Korea over the past century also fear victimized Korea – as well as manifestly or latently each other. The heirs of former colonial Imperial Japan, apprehensive about the possible threat of a retributive regime in Korea, whether divided or united, cautiously strengthen "Self-Defense Forces" to kill in future combat with Korea, China, Russia, and not unthinkably in some circles with the atom-bombing United States, now a military ally of Japan and the ROK.

The nuclear-armed United States, co-partitioner of Korea with the Soviet Union and wartime savior of the ROK, presently the world's leading military and economic superpower, fears and distrusts DPRK potential for lethality and employs fear of North Korea, whether called "rogue state" or something else, to strengthen its own ideological, organizational, technological, and economic capability to kill in Korea, in the Asia-Pacific region, and throughout the world. Nuclear-armed China, wartime savior of the DPRK – killer of Americans, Koreans, and UN forces – victim itself of horrendous killing and casualties – mindful of claims upon and potential threat from Taiwan, maintains a watchful readiness to kill in Korea to deter any peninsula-related threat to the PRC regime. Nuclear-armed Russia, heir to the co-partitioner Soviet Union, original sponsor of the DPRK anti-capitalist regime and principal wartime supplier of its lethal capability, maintains a vigilant awareness of the nuclear and other military capabilities of the United States and China as well as the present conventional and possible future nuclear capabilities of Japan.

There are other obstacles to a nonkilling Korea. Both Koreas as well as the four powers maintain the death penalty. (Although 73 states have completely abolished capital punishment – Appendix A.) Both Koreas impose mandatory conscription for military service and lack legal provisions for conscientious objection to killing. (Although 47 states accept it – Appendix B.) Both Koreas have big armies. (Although 27 countries have no army at all – Appendix C). Both Koreas have well established institutions for military, police, and intelligence lethal training; for the manufacture, import, and export of lethal weapons; for celebrating heroes and heroines of revolutionary and wartime violence; and for spiritual, educational, and cultural indoctrination of Koreans for readiness to kill as the highest form of patriotism; and for building and maintaining advantageous lethal alliances with external forces.

In short, it is difficult to see the two militarized Korean states and the four major intervening powers (three nuclear-armed) as readily accepting relationships among themselves based upon the principles of nonkilling, no threats to kill, no weapons to kill, and no ideological or material preparations to kill.


On the other hand, rooted in Korean culture, experience, and present creative potentials, there are grounds for taking seriously the possibility of realizing a nonkilling Korea that can provide unique leadership for nonviolent global transformation in the 21st century.

First of all must be noted the reverence for life expressed in the ancient creation story of the origin of the Korean people. Rather than associated with a battle of the gods, the Korean story has the son of God (Heavenly Creator) descend to earth on a mountain, unite with a bear-turned-woman, create the Korean people, and teach them to follow the principle of hongik ingan ("devotion to the welfare of humankind"). Echoes of this ancient ethical foundation can be seen in the March First Independence Declaration of 1919 and in the manifestos of numerous political parties that spontaneously emerged to proclaim Korea's aspirations following defeat of Japanese colonial rule in 1945.

Insight into the vital significance of the Korean creation story for the future of a nonkilling Korea is indebted to the privilege of instruction by two great teachers of Korean history and culture: by the respected religious leader Ham Sok Hon in Seoul and by the distinguished historian Professor Pak Si-hyong in Pyongyang. To both I asked the same question, "What are the roots of nonviolence in the Korean tradition?" Both answered spontaneously in exactly the same way: "They are found in the Tan'gun creation story of the Korean people." Both added, "The basically peaceful character of the Korean people throughout history is evidenced by the fact that they have never been aggressors against their neighbors – but have been the victims of aggression." At least two exceptions can be recalled: when Koreans were conscripted by Japan to kill in Asian imperial conquests; and when taken as allies of the United States to kill in Vietnam.

A second factor of enormous importance for confidence in the attainability of a nonkilling Korea is the theoretical and practical potential of purposive creative leadership in politics and in other sectors of society to bring about remarkable social changes in a relatively short period of time. The leadership lesson of divided Korea since 1945 has been that political leadership is not a passive puppet of socio-economic forces and other structural conditions, but can independently translate new societal values into significant social change (Paige 1966/1971 and 1977). This is how one homogeneous, traditional, and post-colonial Korea was transformed from the "top down" into two significantly different societies – one "socialist," one "capitalist" – in less than fifty years. Admittedly such leadership (some might prefer the term "coercive command") was exercised for change backed by the threat and use of domestic and foreign killing force. But the dramatic changes achieved by purposive leadership in divided Korea hold forth the promise that similar leadership initiatives exercised through nonviolent processes of problem-solving can bring about a unified Korea with uniquely significant nonkilling characteristics. Whereas creative violent leadership can divide, creative nonviolent leadership can unite. In the year 2000 -- with the unprecedented June meeting of President Kim Dae Jung and Chairman Kim Jong Il – a precedent is being set for independent, creative Korean political leadership initiatives to realize a united, killing-free Korea.

A third factor of immense significance is found in the capabilities of the creative, skilled, hard-working, and adaptive Korean people to engage in nonkilling transformation of Korean society and its relations with the world. Dramatic evidence of their extraordinarily strong and resilient human potential for change can be seen by comparing two sets of panoramic photographs: the first set, showing the utterly devastated wartime cities of Pyongyang (mainly from U.S. air bombardment) and Seoul; the second set, showing the reconstructed cities today. Koreans in both South and North rebuilt and carried forward in new directions all the institutions of society: political, economic, social, and cultural. One example is the remarkable development of education in both societies, so characteristic of Korean respect for learning. When mutually understood and combined, achievements in education and in other sectors of society unquestionably constitute an extraordinary force of potential citizen competence to build and maintain for future generations a pioneering, united, killing-free Korea that is faithful to the genius of Korean culture and becomes a model for global emulation.

A fourth factor favorable for Korea-led nonkilling transformation is the existence of nonkilling cultural elements in all four of the principal powers that have hitherto impacted violently upon Korean society (Paige 1984). Assuredly Korea has suffered from American, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese readiness to kill. But realistic hope for a nonkilling future lies in combining Korea's assertion of its own nonkilling potential with discovery of nonkilling elements in the United States, Russia, China, and Japan – and then working cooperatively with them to create a powerful ethical force for mutually beneficial liberation from lethality.

However much violated in practice, virtually all faiths and philosophies contain injunctions not to kill. For example, the first precept of Buddhism is "to abstain from taking life." Christianity, Judaism, and Islam share the Biblical Commandment "Thou shalt not kill" (Exod: 30:13). In Confucianism, where morality among rulers prevails, no death penalty will be needed (Fung 1952: 60). In Taoism, when humans live simply, spontaneously, in harmony with nature "although there might exist weapons for war, no one will drill with them" (Fung 1952: 190). In secular humanist socialism, when workers in hostile countries refuse to support killing each other, wars will cease (True 1995: 49). The law of nonkilling is the predominant law of human life; otherwise humanity long ago would have extinguished itself.

Practical expressions of nonkilling ethical principle can be found in the histories and contemporary life of all four Korea-intervening powers. Brief notice can be taken of some. The United States has an alternative nonkilling tradition coming down over 300 years since colonial times expressed in resistance against armed revolution, against extermination of indigenous peoples, against slavery, against civil war, against imperialist expansion, against foreign interventions, against international wars, against military conscription, against military taxes, against nuclear weapons, against the death penalty, and against many proviolent aspects of American political, economic, social and cultural life. There is a nonkilling America as well as a violent one (Lynd and Lynd 1995). Korea can purposively evoke it.

In the Russian tradition, nonkilling elements can be found that periodically reassert themselves despite centuries of repression. They include pacifist religious sects and peasant communities that take seriously Christ's teachings of love and nonviolence, courageously refusing to kill. Among them are Mennonites, Molokans, Doukhobors and Tolstoyans (Brock 1972: 407-50; 540). On the night of June 28-29, 1895, seven thousand Doukhobors in three villages simultaneously burned their weapons to resist military conscription, bequeathing a globally historic example of nonkilling disarmament (Tarasoff 1995). The powerful literary voice of Tolstoy (1828-1910) continues to echo in the Russian tradition – calling for an end to religious-patriotic complicity in killing by the violent state, in war, conscription, capital punishment, and enforcement of economic injustice (Tolstoy 1974). In post-Soviet Russia there is a resurgence of interest in the ethical and sociopolitical relevance of nonviolence (Apressyan 1996). There is a nonviolent Russia as well as a violent one. Koreans can reach out to it and engage it in mutually beneficial nonkilling social transformation.

In China also, there is a tradition of nonviolence and peace bequeathed by ancient philosophers such as Mo Tzu (c. 468-c. 376 B.C.E.), a proponent of "universal love" and a rational critic of the economic and social costs of war and oppression (Fung 1952: 76-105). China's three main philosophical traditions – Buddhism (cultivating nonviolence in the self), Confucianism (promoting nonviolence in social relations), and Taoism (living nonviolently in nature) [Li 1996] – offer grounds for combination with Korea's own interpretations of these traditions for cooperative discovery and realization of nonkilling potentials. As for Chinese Communist thought, Mao Zedong's dictum that "politics comes out of the barrel of a gun" is widely quoted. However, in his May 1938 essay "On Protracted War," Mao gave another definition: "politics is war without bloodshed" [zhengzi shi buliuxue ti zhanzheng – Mao 1960: 469). This provides a point of discussion for exploration of possibilities for a new kind of "politics without killing" in China, in Korea, and the world. So does a 1981 article entitled "We should positively affirm nonviolence" in the Beijing journal World History: "The view that one-sidedly advocates violent revolution without regard to time, place, and situation, and deprecates nonviolent revolution is wrong in theory and harmful in practice" (Zhang 1981: 79).

Nonkilling cultural elements are discoverable also in Japan. According to Nakamura Hajime, "in the [Buddhist] Heian period (794-1192) capital punishment was not practiced for about three hundred and fifty years" (Nakamura 1967: 145). Among other outcroppings of nonkilling potential in Japanese culture are a nonviolent Shinto sect (Omotokyo) with its Universal Love and Brotherhood Association (Jinrui Aizen Kai); a nonkilling defensive martial art (Aikido) based on "love" created by Morihei Ueshiba, a converted martial arts master of killing; Buddhist anti-war movements (the Rissho Koseikai and the Soka Gakkai International); as well as Christian and socialist pacifist traditions (Bamba and Howes 1978). Post WWII revulsion against war can be seen in the Hiroshima-Nagasaki movements to abolish nuclear weapons, struggles to maintain a no-war Constitution, efforts to limit military expenditures, resistance to remilitarization, and efforts to remove United States military bases.

These glimpses of nonkilling aspects of the United States, Russia, China, and Japan offer promise of four power and civil society responsiveness to powerfully principled Korean nonkilling transformational initiatives.

A fifth source of confidence in the possibility of realizing a nonkilling society in Korea (as elsewhere) lies in the existence of prototypical components needed for such a society that have already emerged in various parts of the world. Reversing the 20th century process whereby modernizing states emulated the violent institutions and practices of "advanced" countries, Korea can become the 21st century world leader in creatively adapting the nonviolent achievements of global civilization to serve its needs. Korea can become the most advanced nonkilling country. Reciprocally Korea can contribute new knowledge, policies, and institutions to assist nonkilling transformation in other societies throughout the world.

Among aspects of nonkilling global experience available for study and possible adaptation are the following (Paige, Forthcoming, Chapter 2): (1) nonkilling human nature – most humans who have ever lived have never directly killed anyone, (2) nonkilling ethical proscriptions – found in virtually all religions and philosophical traditions, (3) nonviolent scientific discoveries – diverse findings from bio-neuroscience and anthropology even to political science that can assist nonkilling problem-solving, (4) nonkilling public policies – abolition of the death penalty [Appendix A], recognition of conscientious objection to military service [Appendix B], and countries without armies [Appendix C], (5) a nonkilling political party – The Fellowship Party in England, (6) nonviolent economic institutions – mutual funds, labor unions, and village development programs, (7) a nonviolent university with a Shanti Sena [Peace Brigade] instead of training for military service –Gandhigram Rural University in India, (8) training institutions for conflict resolution and nonviolent social change, (9) nonviolent security institutions – unarmed citizenry, police without firearms, and an association for unarmed civilian defense, (10) a research institution for study of the strategy and tactics of nonviolent political struggle and social defense – the Albert Einstein Institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts, (11) nonviolent problem-solving institutions – for demilitarization, economic change, human rights, and environmental sustainability, (12) nonviolent media of communication – newspapers, books, journals, and publishing houses, (13) nonviolent arts – music, poetry, novels, theater and films, (14) nonviolent popular movements for social change – Gandhian, Kingian, Buddhist, Christian, Green, eclectic, and pragmatic, (15) nonkilling historical precedents and traditions, and (16) courageous examples of nonkilling individuals, co-gender pairs, and groups in world history.

Building upon its own unique nonkilling inspiration and cultural capabilities, Korea can draw upon the nonkilling heritage of humankind to lead the world, as can any society with genius for learning from others.

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