Illustration by Shenuka Corea

Pesonal Essay: Between

I realized all my years of reading books, watching the news and listening to my father had not prepared me to know what my opinion really was.

Feb 18, 2018

I have always appreciated my father’s unwithering affection for his community and family, but that day he was one in a row of policemen with clubs on their waists and shields in their hands, and I was standing in front of and against him. My position was at the head of the oppositional lines, and behind me were hundreds of chanting civilians with headbands and pickets. On July 12, 2016, in front of Millennium Hilton Hotel in Seoul, South Korea, I was in a protest against the celebration of the 62nd anniversary of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.
The Hotel was chosen as the venue by the Japanese army. It was unclear as to why the Japanese army was hosting the event in a foreign country as it was not an event that was celebrated annually in Korea. The Japanese Self-Defense Forces is an outdated, colonized term for the Japanese army created around the time of World War II. It was created to fight against the Allied Countries and the Axis Power as well as to colonize Korea and, for a brief period of time, the Philippines.
I was among those who would not accept the event. The possibility of the remilitarization of Japan evokes memories of persecution for many Koreans. Furthermore, if a war broke out between North and South Korea or if North Korea provoked fire, then the Japanese army would have the right to defend South Korea. But in the process, the Japanese army can possess certain privileges and the South Korean government itself will not be able to have the upper hand in deciding military actions. By hosting the event in another country, even though the event is ceremonial, the hosts of the ceremony are bringing certain memories back. Thereby, the ceremony is embedded with a political message.
I was reassured by the activists devoted to preserving the dignity of the victims of imperialism. I spoke in front of the whole crowd and promised, as a young member, to never forget the painful past of my nation. With cameras flashing and the audience applauding, I was proud that I belonged to this group.
A moment later, a voice boomed over the loudspeaker from where I was standing.
“You dogs of the government! You traitors! You’re selling out your country!”
A group of demonstrators was swearing and throwing trash and lighters towards the policemen, who had been ordered to guard the entrance of the hotel. Some protesters even ripped apart the national flag of Japan and assaulted an officer who was trying to prevent them from doing so.
As these images were unveiled before my eyes, I could not help but think of my father, a police officer who could so easily have been in the same predicament. Was he, as these protesters called, a dog? Or was he, as he claimed, a civil servant who has worked for the well-being of citizens? I struggled to grab the loudspeaker and tell them to stop, only to be thwarted by a wave of people.
As I looked around, the place seemed unfamiliar. The sense of pride and belonging was all gone. I was lost.
When I returned home, I saw my father waiting at the front door. For the first time in my life, he yelled at me. His face red with anger, he told me that certain actions should not be taken and that it was dangerous to have a political opinion prematurely. For the first time in my life, I shouted back at him; I had a cause that I shared and wished to protect.
However, I was also the one who had deviated from the protesters. It was then that I realized all my years of reading books, watching the news and listening to my father had not prepared me to know what my opinion really was. I stood still at the door with my thoughts wired discordantly. Where was I supposed to stand? Did I even need to take a stance?
A few weeks later, I was at the head of the lines, facing hundreds of policemen again. Tension was amplified by sustained silence before it was broken by a voice over the loudspeaker.
"Protest in peace, not violence." Trembling but adamant, the voice went on. "Standing for something does not mean standing against the other."
The voice was neither that of the media, nor of the people around me, nor of my father. It was my voice. It was not a spontaneous outburst, but rather the product of wisdom accumulated by having considered multiple sides of the issue.
The protests, although they did not confirm to my personal values, led me to develop my ideals independently from my father and my society. I was dedicated to protecting a cause, but I also witnessed its potential to deteriorate. After all, it is impossible to agree with everyone or everything – even with people I adore and ideas I have trusted for life. Sometimes, I may doubt myself and feel disoriented in a world of clashing interests. Certainly, I may not have solutions for everything, but I am not lost either. I am searching for the middle ground in between.
Mingu Cho is contributing writer. Email him at
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