Monday, July 02, 2007

My Childhood Recollection of America

On the TV screen in the living room of the house where my family rented a room, a major news story from America broke out. The adults around me went bonkers, reacting to the news with utter astonishment and shock. Until then, I knew very little of America other than from watching "I Love Lucy" dubbed in Korean.

My grandfather could not stop raving about America with the newspaper spread open and his jaw practically on the floor. There must be a God and he must really love those Americans, he murmured over and over. This was coming from a man who had long abandoned religion.

For days and weeks since the news broke, the buzz only grew louder. Only in our dreams would we see something like this happen in Korea, my uncle lamented. The Korean people's respect and admiration for America took a quantum leap that day.

Care to guess what the news story was? No, it was not the moon landing.

It was president Richard Nixon's resignation on August 9th, 1974.

A young boy just a couple of years into academia, I could not make much sense out of it, but the adults' reaction around me was what made this historic event pronounced and memorable.

They expressed utter shock and bewilderment, not because of what you may think. To Koreans at the time, the idea that the head of a state would step down for a misdeed which did not involve dead bodies, and that a transition of power without a single gunshot fired would follow, was simply outside of the realm of possibility.

To put this into perspective, at the time when Watergate consumed the nation here, Korea lived under a military junta who ruled with an iron fist. Two years prior to Nixon's resignation, the Korean president had revised the Constitution to completely rig the electoral system as well as the legislative body, and to outlaw free speech.

Although most Americans may see Nixon's resignation as a low point in the nation's history, to most Koreans, on the day when Nixon walked out of the White House of his own volition to the helicopter as a private citizen, America stood tall.

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You may remember from your history class that even though the Constitution did not bar the sitting president from seeking a third term, George Washington declined to pursue reelection despite his enormous popularity after serving his two terms.

I am not sure if even Washington realized what a great precedent he was setting for the fledgling nation's future. The example he set became an unwritten law which endured for nearly 150 years, and nobody prior to Franklin Roosevelt sought to stay in office more than two full terms.

What Washington did, and the subsequent tradition of having every president relinquish power at the end of his last term are absolutely remarkable and unprecedented. In most parts of the world at the time of the birth of our nation, the peaceful transition of power only took place at the death of a king, but even that often faced bloody contention. You may point to England as an established democracy at the time, but the British have enjoyed the benefit of the constitutional monarchy which has stood as a symbol of continuity.

What I did not even imagine at the time was that just six years later, my family would arrive in America. Five years after that, I swore in as a new citizen of this great nation.

For that, I am deeply and eternally grateful.

22 Comments:

At July 02, 2007 5:42 AM, Blogger Amber said...

Thanks for sharing that David. It gives me a new reason to be grateful to be an American. I'm going to link to this. I love hearing the stories of others who were not born in America. One of the things I like about my church is that we have a number of people from a number of other countries and some of them have incredible stories. I'd much rather hear your story, and their stories than the typical "America is great" stuff. Sometimes I get frustrated with that, and with America itself because we've done some not-so-great things, but hearing from others like you helps me to appreciate why America is a great place to be.

 
At July 02, 2007 9:06 AM, Blogger Granny said...

The orderly transition of power has always been one of our strongest points and I hope it continues.

Nixon's was even more unusual in that his successor was a man who'd been elected to nothing except a long standing seat in the House. (Gerry Ford was one of the few Republican votes I've cast over the years, by the way).

What struck me even more than Nixon was the only presidential assassination to occur in my lifetime. The nation did not crumble.

 
At July 02, 2007 4:29 PM, Blogger San Nakji said...

Interesting words. Also, a nice little history lesson :) I only wish Korea had figured out peaceful transition of power sooner that she did...

 
At July 02, 2007 4:41 PM, Blogger rubyslipperlady said...

I am currently in two weeks of cultural training (in Canada) and we are talking about perspective. Thank you for your different perspective on our country. I think that staying open to other perspectives keeps us humble and available for growth and learning.

Thanks!

 
At July 02, 2007 6:01 PM, Blogger Silent Thunder said...

What a nice post! Thanks for sharing. It's so good to hear stories like yours. For all the errors and shortcomings of this nation, there sure is a lot of the good and admirable. I'm grateful that we enjoy fellow-citizenship with immigrants like yourself that provide a unique perspective of gratitude for the freedoms and opportunities of this land.

 
At July 02, 2007 6:56 PM, Blogger Mike Y said...

That is a great 4th for this week. Glad you did make it here.

 
At July 03, 2007 8:50 AM, Blogger Layla (aka Barbara) said...

Wow, this was really good. I actually read yesterday but didn't comment. I have nothing to add that hasn't been said, but I needed to be reminded of this. Thanks

 
At July 03, 2007 9:19 AM, Blogger Oricon Ailin said...

This was a lovely and heartfelt post, David. Thank you so much for sharing.

I am glad you are here in this wonderful country. We may have many problems, but we are still a great nation full of great people. (Despite the many bad apples)

Hapy 4th of July to you, my friend.

 
At July 03, 2007 9:55 AM, Blogger Gretchen said...

I loved this story and it is amazing how peacful the leadership of America has been compared to many countries!
I had to link your blog to my site for the 4th. =)

 
At July 04, 2007 8:30 AM, Blogger Brian Buriff said...

Your perspectives never fail to be refreshing and insightful. Thankyou!

 
At July 04, 2007 10:03 AM, Blogger David Cho said...

Amber - thanks for the plug. I am not a big fan of nationalism either, but when we see good things we need to point them out just as we do with bad things.

granny - I agree about the assassination, and the country carried on. I lived through an assassination in Korea and it was not pretty.

SN - Agreed. I am glad that they have finally got this figured out.

 
At July 04, 2007 10:06 AM, Blogger David Cho said...

ruby - Welcome back. Long time no see. I will surely follow your journey on your new blog.

ST - Thanks.

Mike - Have a happy 4th as well.

Barbara - Thanks for the kind words.

Heather - thanks and a happy 4th.

Gretchen - thanks for the plug (blushing)

Brian - Thanks. I offer a lot of dull perspectives too.

 
At July 04, 2007 10:30 PM, Blogger Worried said...

Thank you for your comment on my blog, David. We are always glad to hear from you. "Working on hate crimes..." Of the many wrongs in our country that need to be addressed, legislation to curb hate crimes is an essential.

 
At July 06, 2007 3:02 PM, Anonymous Susanna said...

Congratulations, David. And an interesting perspective. It's very easy to be very critical of America and Americans, while forgetting some of the basic freedoms we enjoy on a daily basis that others don't. Thought-provoking post.

 
At July 07, 2007 8:08 PM, Blogger Momma Bear said...

What a great post and very interesting. I love to look back on time of when I was young which was a lot longer ago then when you were born.

I have missed all of you. I lost my old blog when Google took over. I have tried and tried to recover it. Have not been able to post for quite some time. Thanks to good old Brotha Buck, I'm back in business again.

I had a great 4th of July. Hope you did too.

I am contacting you through my new blog. You know me as Mz. Gig but I had to change to momma bear. I look forward to reading your blog and renewing our friendship.

 
At July 08, 2007 8:16 AM, Blogger L-girl said...

Very nice post, David.

"Although most Americans may see Nixon's resignation as a low point in the nation's history,"

For me it will always be one of the US's great and shining moments. It was reason for hope.

Ah, back when there was hope.

 
At July 08, 2007 9:16 AM, Blogger David Cho said...

Thank you Laura.

Its funny because I have not found a lot of Americans who agree with me on this.

Liberals think what Nixon did was so shameful that his resignation did nothing to redeem himself. It was a low moment, they say. Um, we are not talking about Nixon, aren't we. We are talking about America

Conservatives are still bitter about Nixon getting a raw deal, etc. Well now, do you want to talk about Clinton's impeachment and compare and contrast

Neither side is willing to put aside their partisan sunglasses and look at the big picture. It's strange and frustrating.

One person besides you has agreed with me. He is an American who went to high school in Germany. I think his parents were missionaries. He spoke of how shocked Germans were about America back in business as usual after Nixon's resignation.

His perspective was similar to mine in that he saw this from a foreign country.

 
At July 08, 2007 2:54 PM, Blogger L-girl said...

That is really interesting. Progressive people should see it as a victory, IMO. The system working.

My parents were in Paris at the time, on their first trip to Europe. My mother always tells the story of seeing the International Herald Tribune headline, they couldn't believe their eyes, then running around trying to find a cafe with a TV on. My father practically danced in the streets, I am told. :)

I was in summer camp, and they brought out a TV for us to watch - the only time in 5 years of camp that I saw a TV.

 
At July 08, 2007 3:40 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

Absolutely. The system worked.

I am also thinking about the unbroken string of elections held as scheduled through the Civil War when Lincoln had work hard to fend off a serious challenge from McClellan, and through World War II.

 
At July 09, 2007 7:58 AM, Blogger L-girl said...

I totally agree with you re those elections.

However, we must not let the appearance of elections fool us. The people who control the US now are very smart. They (probably) would not do something so blatant as suspend elections outright. That would raise alarm throughout the world.

Instead, they rig or falsify elections. So there is the appearance of elections - but in reality, not.

That's a big reason why I feel the system is no longer functioning as a democracy.

 
At July 09, 2007 10:56 AM, Blogger David Cho said...

The people who control the US now are very smart.

Only if they were as smart about running the country, but most people like to use their intelligence to benefit only themselves.

 
At July 19, 2007 7:54 PM, Blogger Friar Tuck said...

Interesting stuff. Seems you are on a history kick these days my friend!

 

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