Korean Hanok

So here’s the thing that gets me. Upon reflection of history and the destruction of war, one would suspect the major casualties to be loss of human life then  land or property and financial strain. What we don’t often consider is the long term damage caused by the destruction and loss of culture. Sure, I guess the national art museum cannot balance out with the loss of human life… but if we look a little back in time, it is a common tactic for the enemy to destroy the cultural identity and heritage of the country which it wishes to oppress. During the Japanese occupation of Korea, Koreans were not allowed to practice their own culture. Many of the old traditional arts and theatre practices such as Pansori were banned and Koreans are still trying to revive these old cultural treasures. Countless cities in Korea have lost all their original traditional architecture and only a few, like Gyeongju, still have some of the original Hanok houses.

During the Warsaw Uprising, the Germans, in an attempt to punish the Polish for their resistance, planned to destroy all buildings that held even the tiniest cultural significance to the Polish . After the war, the new communist Polish (under dear Joe’s guidance of course) battled to rebuild their treasures while the nationalistic emotions from the uprising were smothered by Stalin who labeled the uprising as illegal. Ironically the thing the Polish did at the start of the uprising was exactly the thing we would consider petty, they read poetry and went to the theatre. I guess it makes sense for Germany who wanted to make an example of the whole Warsaw incident. Let the Third Reich destroy you and everything you ever made or did or thought or dreamt. To detroy the legacy of a nation. Deliberately stripping a nation of its cultural heritage has the same long term trauma as a fire burning down a family house. It is the punishment for survivors and endures for generations.

It’s so ironic then, that we view those who document and practice our culture with such disdain. Our poets are only important once they have some international or commercial success. Our film directors are our pride once they’ve made a blockbuster in America, or won a prize in America, until then, he is just another unfortunate film school graduate whose parents couldn’t persuade him to study medicine instead. It’s no wonder that so many contemporary young artists’, work is so self-involved. We are suffering a loss of identity and trying to dig into our own angst to regain what we didn’t know we lost. Art is littered with half irrelevant references to someone else’s ideas. It seems our enemy knows our weakness better than we do.

Let’s not forget that culture is also a commodity, dear businessman, ironically funded in part, by the tourist trade. The very thing that helps keep many small countries afloat.

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