In the States, I spent the 4th of July in Bloomington, Indiana, a small scenic city in the mid-western part of the United States. As the county seat of Monroe County, Bloomington hosted the county’s parade for the national event. It was my first time experiencing America’s Independence Day, and I was excited to see the parade and fireworks.
The 4th of July parade of Monroe County started with the band playing uplifting music to brighten the pre-parade atmosphere, as people piled up to find a good place to settle down. The crowd was buzzing with excitement, and the start of the ceremony was soon announced with the national anthem being played. Right after the band played “The Star-spangled banner,” the citizens of the United States pled allegiance, and then the parade began.
The parade was led by the local police and the fire department, which took care of the safety and security of the county folks. The rest of the parade was composed of other local organizations, such as theater groups, sports groups, non-profit organizations, veterans from war, and even restaurants and food trucks. It had a warm homey feeling, for I could feel the local community cheering on and coming together for the special day.
After the parade, people have a nice barbeque party with their friends and families. At night, there is a magnificent firework show, drawing the final curtains of the Independence Day with a large boom.
So for America’s Independence Day, I enjoyed a local parade, went to a barbeque party, and lastly celebrated it by watching the grand fireworks. On Aug. 15, Korea’s National Independence Day, I stayed home and watched TV.
Independence Day in Korea is just like any other holiday. People get a day off from work and rest or go out and play. However, there is no notable activity especially reserved for the special liberation day.
Of course, the President does give a commemoration speech, and some people spend a meaningful time on the holiday, such as holding gatherings for “comfort women” or visiting national memorials and museums. But even these meaningful activities are on a rather heavy and serious note, without much inclusion for joy or excitement.
The heavy atmosphere would largely be due to the unresolved historical conflicts and tragedies. The hurtful feelings and wounds of the dark Japanese Colonial era are still strongly engraved in people’s hearts.
I myself was enraged when I heard the news that Japan’s Prime Minister Abe did not articulate words of apology or admittance regarding the invasion during his statement on Aug. 15.
Another immense conflict that is yet to be solved would be the division between the North and the South. This year, the conflict intensified when a couple of landmines went off in South Korea’s part of the DMZ (demilitarized zone) and South Korea accused North Korea for having planted the mines. Now, the situation has heated up, and even talks of war are dangerously being discussed. Citizens of Korea who once thought they were living in a peaceful country are once again remembering that the war is still not over.
All these complex circumstances and historical contexts make it difficult for us to joyously celebrate Korea’s Independence Day. But as I have experienced a festive day full of smiles and excitement for the Independence Day in the United States, I cannot help but feel regretful that Koreans do not truly celebrate the special Liberation Day which only comes once a year. Regardless of what had happened or what might happen, these dark situations do not change the value and worth of Aug. 15. So I hope Koreans can come together as one on our National Independence Day to festively congratulate our nation’s independence, making it a very special and memorable day for everyone.