Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Aftereffects of Propaganda

During the month of June, Catholics will be asked to pray for reconciliation and unification. This year, marking the 60th since the end of the Korean War, each diocese will set aside days to form a chain of prayer for the country.

A journalist of the Catholic Times recalls that during her first three years in grammar school, when the "Defense of the Country Month" came along, she often felt stressed because of the anti-Communist posters that seemed to be everywhere. She was too young to understand what happened during that war, she said, and being asked to draw pictures of North Korean soldiers captured by the South was difficult.

She had never seen a North Korean soldier, but in her drawings she remembers drawing dog-like teeth and horns coming out of their heads, making them look like monsters on a blood-red background. Her imagination or creativity, she said, had little to do with what was drawn; the pictures were similar to what the other students had drawn because of the intense anti-communist school programs. It was only later that she realized that those in the North had the same facial features as the Koreans in the South. The shock in learning this, she says, is still with her today.

At that time, rather than peace, it was confrontation that she and her classmates were being taught. The anti-communist programs have ceased but our understanding of the North, she says, has not changed very much. There are many who feel no need for unification and still harbor feelings of hostility toward the North. Those that feel this way would be considered the normal ones. Those that feel unification is a task for others to pursue would be large, since most Koreans have no interest in the unification project.

The Bishops National Reconciliation Committee has a number of different programs to help change this thinking: prayer meetings, symposiums, pilgrimages to the demilitarized areas, and the like. If, as Christians, we remember that the North Koreans are our brothers and sisters, our efforts are more likely to lay a solid foundation for reconciliation.

As Koreans, the bishop-president of the committee says we want to reconcile. As Christians, being brothers and sisters in Christ, we want to show magnanimity. And the journalist adds that like the times we made posters against the North, now is the time for making posters for reconciliation.

When we use propaganda to achieve a goal without a proper regard for the truth, the results often come back to haunt us. The efforts in the past to manipulate the thinking of the South toward the North may now be a stumbling block for many South Koreans who are finding it difficult to give up the old stereotypes of the past.