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Legacy of world peace Choue left

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By Ramu Damodaran

"Oughtopia" was the name which Dr. Choue Young-seek, founder of Kyung Hee University whose birth centenary fell Nov. 22, coined for the idea of a "desirable and possible future political community for humankind," a community with its roots as much in the minds of humans as in the "firm cornerstone offered by the United Nations to usher in a Pax U.N."

In this harmonization of international relations between nations, and the many possibilities of them acting in concert provided by the United Nations, with what he often described as the "transcendental capacity" of the individual, Dr. Choue took Thomas More's original concept of "Utopia" further, premised in the belief that "kindness and good nature unite men more effectually and with greater strength than any agreements whatsoever since, thereby, the engagements of men's hearts become stronger than the bond and obligation of words."

Dr. Choue himself did not diminish the power of agreements or words, certainly in the late 20th century which were his most active years, in a period and on a planet vastly different from the early 16th century. And yet, times do not always change with time: the newspaper headlines of November 1921 could well have been carried today ― the world was recovering from a pandemic, two nations had entered into an agreement to limit the activities of a third, and one nation had accepted the territorial extension wrested by another.

Then, like today, politics was a curious blend of principle and pragmatism, and Dr. Choue was quick to realize that the only way the latter could be rendered subordinate to the former was to encode globally ― and humanly ― accepted principles with the sanction of the "bond and obligation of words."

It was this that led him, as an educator and to propose at a conference of the International Association of University Presidents in Costa Rica in 1981, the idea of an annual International Day of Peace. The Republic of Korea was yet to be a member of the United Nations and Costa Rica piloted the resolution formalizing Dr. Choue's proposal, which the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted, its text asserting, much in the spirit of Oughtopia, that "a peace based exclusively on the political and economic arrangements of governments could not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind."

Forty years later, that idea was to find a powerful reflection in President Moon Jae-in's address to the United Nations General Assembly this September where he spoke of the "coming of an era of global community" for which he requested the United Nations to "recommend a new set of rules and goals."

Were this process to occur, there would seem at least one area where inspiration could be sought from the legacy of Dr Choue, his concept of "democratization of school, democratization of thought, democratization of living," a concept which can expand today's global public good and diminish global public risk in areas that were less immediate in his time.

A community cannot survive, let alone thrive, on the political democracy of choice alone, even if this were possible on a global scale. "Democratization of school" can further a process already reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals, that of life-long learning, which extends opportunities for education beyond the places available in institutions of formal instruction to areas of individual inquiry and innovation, a vast tapestry of possibilities where occupational skills and creative talents can be nurtured, spurring an on the ground "intellectual solidarity of mankind." (There is symbolism of this in Dr. Choue's own life; when a fire destroyed the precursor to Kyung Hee University, he bought property at the foot of Mount Gohwang and studied architecture so that he himself could design the construction of the new building.)

"Democratization of thought" can address the tyranny of the many shrill fears and falsehoods on social media and the internet, letting truth vindicate itself, allowing us in that process, in the words of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the International Day of Peace this year, "to renew trust in one another ― and faith in facts and science." And "democratization of living" comprehends a whole host of disparities that afflict individual human lives, which a caring and responsible global community can with conscience and imagination tackle, climate change being compellingly emblematic of them.

But democratization is not just, of course, about the character of the community, it is equally a process that restores rights and responsibilities to each of the women and men who constitute it. Speaking at Kyung Hee University two years ago, former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested "individual citizens should change their lifestyle habits to curb rising temperatures," prudent counsel of personal responsibilities within a community, a truth so evocatively epitomized by Dr Choue in his lyrics to the lilting "Magnolia Blossom" song, "flowering together, falling together, you are an image of human life."

The beauty of that phrase, its intimation of the inevitability of interdependence, finds reflection in a Peace Day message by Kyung Hee University's current President Hahn Kyun-tae, where he speaks of "a global community founded on the common values of peace and mutual prosperity." Just a month ago, Professor Park Wook at the Department of Electronic Engineering at Kyung Hee and his research team developed a microscale intelligent robot, no larger than a particle of dust, promising many practical applications in the ocean or inside the human body, where conventional size robots are difficult to operate with a large surface area compared to its small volume. This property is useful in many ways, including drug delivery and the detection of oil spills in the sea.

If we were to think of the "global community" suggested by President Moon as the terrain where the individual, like the micro robot, can accomplish extraordinary achievements, we will vindicate the vision of one of the most remarkable thinkers of our perilous times, of "a world in possibility, holding the promise of caring for both material needs and the beauty of the human soul." Were we to fail, we would only move closer to the "sixth mass extinction" that Kyung Hee Chancellor Choue In-won, citing ecologists, warned about in a speech last year. Or, in a phrase less brutal but as true, like magnolia blossoms, simply fall together.

Ramu Damodaran served as the first director of the United Nations Academic Impact, an initiative linking universities around the world with the United Nations. He is the 2017-21 recipient of the J. Michael Adams Leadership and Service award, instituted by the International Association of University Presidents which Dr. Choue Young-seek co-founded in 1965.

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