Readers Write: Many heroes behind South Korea's rebirth; Is US gun lobby selling fear to sell guns?

Letters to the Editor for the July 1, 2013 weekly print magazine:

As a Peace Corps volunteer in Chuncheon in the 1960s, I watched my impoverished students work long hours to succeed. Nearly half a century has made the Korea of my memory unrecognizableMany hearts and hands have supported Korea’s rebirth.

US gun violence has decreased, but most Americans think the opposite. That's because good marketing from the gun lobby (in this case, fear of violence driving desire for protection) leads to a predictable increase in demand.

Behind South Korea’s rebirth

The May 20 cover story, “Seoul power,” is fitting recognition of the enormous progress made by South Korea in recent decades. Its prosperity comes with the challenges of heightened consumerism and fierce academic competition.

As a Peace Corps volunteer in Chuncheon in the 1960s, I watched my impoverished students work long hours to succeed. There were 60 middle school boys in each class – a sea of shaved heads. Most were wearing threadbare uniforms. Some were barefoot. A potbellied stove was our only heat in the harsh winter, and broken windows let snow blow right in. We often did physical exercises to accompany the English lessons, trying to fight the cold.

For several years the South Korean government has invited former Peace Corps volunteers to return as guests. Nearly half a century has made the Korea of my memory unrecognizable. My former school has heat, electricity, bathrooms, cafeteria, computer and science labs, and even an indoor swimming pool. The boys have crisp uniforms and trendy spiked hair. Classes are small; books and technology are everywhere. 

I missed seeing women in traditional dress and kimchi pots lined up in gardens, but South Korea has developed into a major power with its longstanding commitment to education. I recently attended a dinner in Washington, D.C., with the new president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye. She honored Peace Corps volunteers and veterans of the Korean War, among others. Many hearts and hands have supported Korea’s rebirth.

Ann Beckman Hymes

St. Michaels, Md.

Selling fear to sell guns?

The article “America’s disconnect on gun violence” in the May 20 issue points out that although gun violence has decreased, polls show Americans think it has increased and that this perception may be “partly responsible for the growth of gun ownership across the US in the past 20 years.” 

This brought to mind the old consumer marketing adage: Create a problem, and then offer a solution that can be met by your product. Good marketing (in this case, fear of violence driving desire for protection) leads to advertising for guns and a predictable increase in demand.

John Wertymer

Evanston, Ill.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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