▶ ■ 삼일 운동 백주년 기념 경운 장학회 주최 제9회 영어 웅변대회 수상작
▶ 1st place Winner －William Chung
Here are the numbers for the March First Movement, also known as the Sam-Il Movement, and the Man-se Demonstration.
2,000,000 proud Koreans taking part in more than 1,500 demonstrations. And in that year, more than 7,000 Koreans were massacred by the brutal Japanese regime. Homes, schools, and churches were burnt down to the ground, while innocent people were gunned and stabbed until the streets were painted red. And if you look at the objective point of view from history, the March 1st Movement did not result in the liberation of Korea from Japan.
Do protests still have a place in modern society? Are they an actual effective tool to fight oppressive regimes or to make meaningful changes in history? Here, in the United States of America, four of the five biggest protests in American history have occurred in the past 4 years. The Women’s March, March for our Lives, and the March for Science all had over a million protesters throughout the nation, fighting for causes they believe in such as gun control, climate change, and protection of the LGBTQ community. I am not here to bring up today’s political climate and take either a conservative or a liberal side to the debate, but, again, from an objective point of view, those protests did not result in stricter gun control, carbon neutral policies, and instead transgender troops were banned from serving in the military. The biggest protests of American history did not result in the desired effect, of the crowd, and along with the convoluted and messy Occupy Wall Street movement almost a decade ago, it is hard not to be cynical in recent protests, no matter how large the number.
With current events in mind, what effect does the March First Movement have on us, Korean- Americans trying to form our own identity in this country? It stands as a symbol, both back in the revolution as we were clawing our way into taking Korea back, and now as we stand in modern society, a forked road in the direction of the entire world. The March First movement have created a unity of the Korean people that still runs today, resulting in a strong nationalistic identity for Koreans. If you doubt me, do you remember the outrage during the Olympics by Korean-Americans when NBC commentator Joshua Cooper Ramo stated that Japan was, “a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945, but every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural, technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation.” The March First movement stands for our hardship, our struggle, as we fought to reclaim our identity.
This was crucial in the face of a culture erasure movement by the Japanese government. Thousands of historical documents were burnt. The Korean language was prohibited to being taught in schools as they attempted to transition the people into Japanese. Landscapes were forever transformed, from non-native trees and plants being brought over to make the peninsula more like Japan, along with the demolition of Korean palaces such as Gyeonbokgung [경복궁]. All of these methods were argued to be justified because Japan believed that the Korean people were rightfully Japanese, and that we needed all the help we can get to reach our full potential.
The March First movement allowed the Korean people to dismiss that idea as pure lunacy, as we persevered under a strong, Korean identity. Japan later on eased up on their brutal regime, giving Koreans a fairer wage, lessening physical punishments such as caning and water torture, and overall treated its people in a “fair” way. Yet, we did not forget the March First movement, we did not forget Ryu Gwansun, who helped organize the movement, and was beaten to death while she chanted for Korea’s freedom. We did not forget about An Jung-Geun, laying his life on the line to fight for Korea’s independence. And even though the movement did not result in Korea’s liberation, it helped preserve the Korean identity and dignity for decades to come.
How can we apply this to today, as we march forward as Koreans in the United States? We can help preserve our identity by commemorating those who laid down their lives for the freedom we enjoy today. We can fight for what we believe in, just like those before us have, in peaceful protests to make our causes known. It may not result in radical changes overnight, but it gives us, the younger generation, identity and ideals to strive towards in our upcoming years. The March First movement may not have resulted in Korean liberation, but even a century later, it stands as a celebration of human rights and independence.
(12th Grade, Bergen County Academies, Hackensack, NJ)