Stuart Thorson is Donald P. and Margaret Curry Gregg Professor at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. Hyunjin Seo is assistant professor in the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas.
It has now been over a week since the announcement of Kim Jong Il’s death. We learned the news in Seoul and observed shocked but calm South Koreans diligently following events.
The sense of calmness in Seoul reflects that there appears to be an orderly transition of power within North Korea. Of course, no one knows for sure what exactly is going on and what is going to happen in North Korea. That said, we hope, once an appropriate period of mourning is concluded, that steps toward positive engagement in such areas as humanitarian food assistance and nuclear talks that were underway at the time of Kim’s death will continue to move forward.
However, hope is not enough. We must recognize that even in places such as North Korea the future doesn’t simply happen. Rather, the future there as elsewhere is, to a significant degree, the result of a complex interplay of ideas and action. U.S. history provides a clear demonstration that among the most powerful of those ideas are notions of widely available education and open scientific inquiry. One need look only to the actions associated with U.S. support for these ideas in the countries of Western Europe following the Second World War. Or perhaps even more relevantly, consider programs such as the U.S. State Department funded Minnesota Project which developed sustained medical, engineering, and agricultural support to a South Korea suffering from the consequences of the Korean Conflict. Or the Fulbright Program which has served to help in the transformation of higher education throughout much of the world.