In his essay “Dare Call It Treason,” Eric Foner criticizes the “American tradition” of suppressing the right to “free expression” when the country is engaged in war and crises. Foner argues that although the “freedom of speech and the right to dissent” are truly American traditions, these rights are suspended and those who engage in such acts are disgraced as traitorous. On the contrary, individuals who remain silent and do not discuss or oppose the faults of their country must be termed as traitors. Countries that accept freedom of speech to be a fundamental right, should allow the citizens to express their opinions on sensitive issues and if these opinions are worthy, they should be considered seriously and accepted by the general public.
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Besides being an important fundamental human right that grants the “absolute right to express one’s views”, free speech serves the purpose of safeguarding “the rational mind and its literary, intellectual and scientific products” (Garmong, 2004). If a citizen of any country speaks against the policies or actions of the country, especially when the nation is engaged in war, it appears to others as treason because it is assumed that the person is favoring the enemy country. When America is engaged in war, it does not speak against war. While both the countries, Japan and Korea, lay great emphasis on freedom being the primary right of citizens, free speech concerning a sensitive issue is criticized heavily and termed as treason.
If a Korean speaks well of Japan, the act is termed treason. In order to understand the reason for this mindset, it is first necessary to explore the historical background of two nations, for instance, the historical era of Japan’s colonial rule in Korea. The Japanese have been very cruel to the Koreans, similar to the Nazis. They have engaged in horrific atrocities on the people of Korea and have conducted inhuman experiments on them. One of the very famous experiments which the Koreans were forced into by the Japanese is the “Maruta”, in which people were made to stand in the open, in severe winters, without any clothing, with mercury levels dipping as low as negative forty degrees.
These experiments were conducted to gauge and record the plight of humans under extreme conditions of weather. It is due to the appalling memories of these and other such barbaric atrocities during the colonial rule, that the Koreans have an antipathy towards Japan, even after gaining independence. As a result, even after fifty years of independence from the Japanese rule, it is a common trend among Koreans to consider anyone speaking for Japan, a traitor. Additionally, there is an ongoing dispute between Korea and Japan for the possession of the ‘Dokdo’ Island for the past fifty-four years. This island falls under the administration of Korea and it annoys Koreans when the Japanese insist that the island is a part of the Japanese nation. As such, the Koreans do not like any person to speak in favor of Japan, terming the person as a traitor.
This brings us to investigate the actual meaning of the word ‘traitor’. The term ‘traitor’ is the opposite in meaning to the term ‘patriot’. In “Dare Call It Treason”, Foner describes the “self-proclaimed patriots” as people who “not only seek to determine the boundaries of acceptable speech about the present but rewrite history to create a more politically useful past.” (Foner 595) According to Foner, a patriot is someone who pretends to agree with the government in order to evade the truth. But does such an attribute actually mean that such a person is a true patriot?
A true real patriot of any nation should have the courage and intelligence to speak about the activities of the government and inform the public whether these activities would prove productive or counterproductive for the country. Free speech policies actually function to enhance and improve a country so that when speaking the truth people do not “fear the fate of Galileo” or “that of Socrates” both of whom were “persecuted for daring to assert scientific truths” and “for offending the state” respectively (Garmong, 2004). Free speech policies function to gain diverse opinions on different issues so that the best opinion and decision prevail.
Thus, people who do not have the courage to speak the truth regarding sensitive issues cannot be called true patriots; rather they are traitors who are allowing the country to progress in the wrong direction, towards destruction. If the involvement of a country in war is harmful to the country, it is the duty of sensible patriotic citizens to stand up and voice their opinion and assert that “war is not the way out!” People who are sincerely concerned about the country will have the courage and will to raise their voices against what will harm the nation.
In the same vein, Americans who oppose the government and criticize it for certain actions are also true patriots of the country. They stand by what they to be correct and express themselves by virtue of their freedom of speech. Similarly, in Korea too, the younger generation of Koreans believes that they should now get over the tragic history and must make a fresh beginning by acknowledging the merits of the Japanese society, rather than focusing on past events. Japan has a unique culture and tradition and has gained fame in various domains including music, fashion, movies, food, etc. Even in the field of education, the Japanese enjoy fame, with some of their universities ranked among the hundred best universities in the world. Koreans can concentrate on these attributes of the Japanese and can gain immense knowledge from them which will enable them to develop such special attributes like the Japanese.
Japan is in close proximity to Korea with regard to geographical distance but is distanced with regard to compatibility and companionship. Young, dynamic, and open-minded Koreans have realized that it is now time to move on towards a better future and accept the fact that Japan is way ahead of the Koreans in terms of development and growth and therefore it is important to learn some crucial lessons from them. But sadly, this young and dynamic lot of Koreans is severely criticized by some members of the Korean society instead of being regarded as patriots who speak for the wellbeing and enhancement of the Korean society, by initiating a positive change.