Column: Recognizing Similarities
Published: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Updated: Friday, November 1, 2013 12:11
This year, I made a shift in my Heights journalism experience from photography to writing. I used to have a fear of writing something in perfect English because of my imperfect tri-linguistics. This year, I finally fully enjoy writing more than photography, which I got tired of recently. The shift was possible when I found a similarity (media of information) and a difference (depth of expression).
I need to add to what I talked about last week—the significance of understanding differences. From last Sunday’s homily, I realized that recognizing similarities should occur prior to understanding differences. As we tend to forget about what’s on our doorstep, we exclusively focus on finding differences most of the time. This tendency extends in international relations.
In the beginning of the Cold War in 1945, ideological differences divided the Korean peninsula in half. Since then, both Koreas have forgotten that they are the same people, both ethically and ethnically. The strong recognition of political differences has been solidified for far too long—the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) has remained the heaviest military border in the world, even after the end of the Cold War. Of course, the existing military tension comes from the empirical diplomatic patterns of Pyongyang against Seoul and the rest of the world. I’m not denying the validity of the dominant realism of international relations—what I’m suggesting is to recount the unity before the political split.
South Koreans should remember that the North Koreans, including the notorious leaders in Pyongyang, are the people South Koreans will have to embrace in the near future. Used to the long division, two Koreas gave up a belief that their foundations in shared blood could lead to peace once again. Instead, the Koreas have only focused on finding and eliminating the differences without accepting the fundamental. A reason for the failure of the Sunshine policy comes from the wrong approach that attempts to eliminate poverty by giving out cash in the hopes that this would end the hostility. The policy only bought Pyongyang bullets and nuclear warheads, however.
In my last article, I wrote about how the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Ford Fraker, told a story of how President George W. Bush and King Abdullah, who was unhappy with negotiations then, built an instant personal bond over mutual family values and religious beliefs, despite the differences we think of when we consider these countries. The mutual national interests perhaps played a major role to even open up a one-on-one conversation. Nonetheless, the point is that recognizing similarities leads to a smoother understanding of differences.
Sometimes, we need to temporarily eliminate a key variable—realism—to see the other versions of a political equation. For example, in approaching the Israel-Palestine conflict, Americans should, for a moment, forget about their ties with the AIPAC and Tel Aviv to see the common ground of Arab Muslims, Jewish Israelis, Palestinians, Christians, and eventually Americans. We might share more moral values and national interests than we used to think.
One of my reasons for studying politics is to think of practical solutions for political disputes among nations. Realism is a dominant, plausible model in explaining political phenomena around the world. I have an impression, however, that the current international thinking is limited to just explaining the situations, rather than drawing solutions.
Well, the scholars would know my point. The vicious cycle of realism is that this realization gets buried within the cycle by a fear of breaking the rule and a fear of failure. Someone strong needs to take a step though. If not, what’s the point of watching CNN and reading WSJ, knowing that nothing will change?