The coronavirus crisis has spread to economic, political and ethic crises. I would like to hear about the historical significance of this corona crisis compared to the various historical events you have experienced in your life. What was the most symbolic scene for you in this crisis?
I’ve had a pretty calm life. The biggest upheaval I’ve lived through was the Vietnam War and the cultural breakdown it involved. That crisis was very different from the present one, since the War was wrong, could have been avoided, and should have been ended as quickly as possible. So my generation had a clear task: to protest and to refuse military conscription. Actually, one of the worst things about the war was that very few middle-class men were actually conscripted: excuses were easy to get, so the burden of the war fell heavily on working class and minority men. Of all the people I know in the world, I know only two people who actually were drafted. And as a woman I was exempt at that time. So in terms of personal risk we were insulated by class, and had all the greater duty to protest. But it was an upheaval in the whole culture: young people protested against the “military-industrial complex” that kept the war going, and older generations tended to blame young people for their acts of dissent. Parents didn’t speak to children and children had contempt for the values of their parents. Meanwhile both Vietnamese and Americans were dying unnecessarily. Today we know that the war was a mistake and that we were lied to by the military. Our present crisis is utterly different because it is not caused by lies and laziness, although sometimes truthful data are not as easily available as they should be. And it is not splitting society. We are all in it together, and I see a remarkable community spirit all around me, in the way that different social groups have been in solidarity, and addressing one another’s needs. To me the most symbolic thing is our city’s slogan “Together Apart,” which has a TV commercial showing about a hundred faces of Chicagoans of different ages and races, each in a little box: meaning, we are together, supporting one another, precisely by agreeing to be apart, each in our separate box. Another symbolic thing for me is the lakeshore. My apartment looks over the beautiful lakeshore and the parkland and running/biking path along it, one of our great pleasures. And yet as I look out nobody is there. I would love to be out there (though luckily I have both a great treadmill and a recumbent bike, and lots of weights.) Everyone is obeying the mayor’s order. Believe me, there was no such image of unity during the Vietnam war.
Read more at Kyunghyang Shinmun