This book was published in Korea in 1947.
What I Want Our Nation to Be
I want our nation to be the most beautiful in the world. By this I do not mean the most powerful nation. Because I have felt the pain of being invaded by another nation, I do not want my nation to invade others. It is sufficient that our wealth makes our lives abundant; it is sufficient that our strength is able to prevent foreign invasions. The only thing that I desire in infinite quantity is the power of a noble culture. This is because the power of culture both makes us happy and gives happiness to others.
What humanity needs today is neither military force nor economic power. Although the more advanced science is, the better off we would be, the level of scientific progress achieved today so far is enough to enable the entire human race to live in comfort. The fundamental tragedy striking humanity today is that people lack justice, compassion, and love. If our minds and hearts could just overcome this problem, all 2 billion people of humankind would be able to live materially in comfort. Only culture can nurture this spirit of humankind.
I wish our country to be not one that imitates others, but rather the source, goal, and model of this new and advanced culture. And in that manner, I wish our country to both initiate and embody true world peace. I believe this is what our nation’s founder Dan-gun meant when he established the humanitarian ideal of "Hong-ik-in-gan" (seeking the well-being of all). Our peoples' talents, spirit, and past discipline, as well as our country's geographic location and other geographical advantages, are sufficient for us to accomplish this task, and furthermore, after experiencing the First and Second World Wars, humanity demands of us to undertake this mission. In addition, the historical timing of all this at a time when we are engaged in rebuilding our nation is more than appropriate for fulfilling this mission. Indeed, the days when our people will appear on the world stage as the main actors are just ahead of us.
What we need to do to accomplish this is to secure a political structure and a public education system that guarantees the freedom of thought in our country. This is the reason why I earlier emphasized a free nation and spoke about the importance of education. If our people are to fulfill the mission of building the highest culture, everyone of us should, in short, become a sage. Every Korean, wherever he or she may go, should enjoy the trust and welcome of others.
While we were oppressed, we developed a spirit based on hateful and resentful violence and struggle. But we are no longer under enemy rule; now is a time to give the hateful struggle and to dedicate ourselves to the building of unity. Just like a house divided cannot survive, a nation will not sustain itself if its people fight amongst themselves. Hatred and in-fighting are signs that the nation's last days are near. Our faces should radiate peacefulness. Our land should always be graced with gentle spring winds. This becomes possible when each person changes his or her own heart, and then this spirit can be maintained for eternity through education.
As we seek to become role models of the world with a noble culture, we should not fall into the trap of an egotistical individualism. We may seek freedom of the individual to the highest degree, but that ought not be the freedom just to fill one’s own belly, as brute beasts do. The freedom we seek is the freedom of our families, our neighbors, and our people to live in harmony. It is not the freedom to pluck a rose from a park, but to plant one. Our freedom is not to take away or take advantage of others, but to rejoice in ourselves in giving to our sisters and brothers. This is our traditional ideal of a gentleman and righteous man.
Therefore we are not lazy; we are earnest. A husband living with a wife he loves can't help but being earnest, because he wants to give without end. We are first to help out because we love our brothers, and recommend joyful opportunities to others because we love our sisters. This is the virtue of humanity and kindness that our ancestors loved.
Our country will in this way flourish and blossom; our cities and towns will overflow in peace and abundance. Our people, both men and women, will radiate peace from their faces and exude the fragrance of humanity from their bodies. A nation such as this cannot be unhappy even if it wanted to be unhappy, and cannot perish even if it wanted to perish. The well-being of a nation does not come from class wars, nor does the well-being of a person come from individualism. Class wars calls for endless retaliation; if I treat others egotistically, all others will strike back at me - this is gaining very little and giving away too much. The retaliation of the international community against Japan after the Second World War is an example of this.
This is the kind of country in which I believe we should live. Sisters and brothers! Wouldn't this be amazing? Wouldn't it be highly satisfying to bequeath this country to future generations? Jizi of Han Dynasty loved our nation, and Confucius wanted to visit our nation and called us a nation that loves benevolence. And we shall not stop there, but we will push forth until the rest of the world loves and respects our culture. I believe it will happen. We can make it happen especially with the power of education. If all of our young men and women have this passion, this will be far from impossible!
Earlier on in my life I dedicated myself to education; this is what I ultimately desired from education. As I age, I feel there is not enough time for me to dedicate myself to public education, and so I call on educators and students of the world to change their hearts and commit themselves to this task.