Seoul Fortress Wall
Seoul Fortress Wall (Photo credit: Park Jongwoo)

Resistence is futile!” So the Borg would have the USS Enterprise believe when they meet during their epic voyage on Star Trek. Their collective message transmitted to other cultures ahead of their encounter is unambigious: “We are the Borg. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile.

Worth asking what was the inspiration for the Borg. Was there any drawing from real history or just fanciful sci-fi? Yes, it is merely an invented story, but sometimes art does imitate life. See the ultimatem  from the Borg in the video below:

Consider the events which led to the colonialisation of Korea by Japan in 1910, and indeed earlier with the 1592 invasion of Korea by Japan. The encounter with the Borg had been anticipated ahead of time. They were a known threat, and their intent was clear.

Is it far too simplistic to suggest parallels between the Borg from Star Trek with Japanese intervention across north-east Asia including the Korean Peninsula? Worth noting today on 1 March which is a significant anniversary in Korea’s history.

The March 1st Movement was one of the earliest public displays of Korean resistance during the occupation of the Korean Empire by Japan. The name refers to an event that occurred at 2PM 1 March 1919.

33 nationalists, many of them students, convened at a restaurant in Seoul, and read the Korean Declaration of Independence that had been drawn up by the historian Choe Nam-seon. The nationalists initially planned to assemble at Tapgol Park located in Jongno district, but they chose a more private location out of fear that the gathering might turn into a riot. The leaders of the movement signed the document and sent a copy to the (Japanese) Governor General, with their compliments. This is what the document contained:

We herewith proclaim the independence of Korea and the liberty of the Korean people. This we proclaim to all the nations of the world in witness of human equality. This we proclaim to our descendents so that they may enjoy in perpetuity their inherent right to nationhood.

Inasmuch as this proclamation originates from our five-thousand-year history, inasmuch as it springs from the loyalty of twenty million people, inasmuch as it affirms our yearning for the advancement of everlasting liberty, inasmuch as it expresses our desire to take part in the global reform rooted in human conscience, it is the solemn will of heaven, the great tide of our age, and a just act necessary for the co-existence of all humankind. Therefore, no power in this world can obstruct or suppress it!

Today I went to Tapgol Park to watch the Independence celebrations. At a time of heightened tensions with both Japan and North Korea, it was unique experience as a foreigner to observe this celebration of the fruit of hope which grew from a purposeful resistance movement that most of those who started did not see it come to its completion.

The history of north-east Asia in many respects should be of more interest and more relevance to us, especially in school curriculum. This is particularly useful because of the added complexity of nationalism which clouds many of the facts. Understanding the influence of nationalism is just as important as how history unfolded. I remember from my schooling and university that French 18th Century revolutionary history was seen to be the turning point of the modern age. Asia mostly failed to get a mention, except as a brief footnote where it played into the European narrative.

The interesting thing is that outcome of revolutionary history in parts of Asia is now shaping what we understand as the Asian century. Yes, French revolutionary history continues to remain relevant, but more as a footnote that influenced the organisation of strategy and ideas for many of the latter revolutionary leaders. Let’s not forget the past in terms of what made Western thought what it is today. But neither let us be ignorant of a rich narrative available through an unexplored trove from cultures that remain relatively unknown to us.

The Borg does not win the day. Worth remembering at this time of involving a ‘clash of cultures’. Happy Independence Day, Korea! The question now is what will you decide to do with the future, especially the unresolved issue of a divided Peninsula?

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