The Korean Bell, Jim Moran and the Legend of Kim Yu-Sin

This is a long and incoherent story but it’s worth writing about.

On Sunday, there was a ceremony at the Meadowlark Gardens in Vienna to “break ground” for the Korean Bell Garden which has been the subject of a multi-year fundraising campaign by the Korean American Cultural Committee and its indefatigable chairwoman Chun Elmejjad-Yi, with significant support from the Korean Embassy.

It was 100 degrees outside and the various dignitiaries were shuffled over to a tent to make speeches and pose for photos from the Korean press. Another day in the life of a politician.

But then things got interesting.

In the middle of the ceremony, Congressman Jim Moran showed up. He didn’t repeat the usual niceties. Instead, he spoke directly about the lack of democracy and human rights in half of the Korean peninsula, which had led recently to the killing of 46 innocent sailors for the ROK. Suddenly, the reporters started taking actual notes. Because Jim was actually taking a symbolic moment and linking it up to real issues for the U.S. and our allies.

I had a chance to speak next. Besides standing 100% behind the comments of Jim, I talked about my own visits to Korea and my personal connection to the cause of Korean unification.

In 1996, when I became engaged to my wife Sharon, her family (which is Korean) had no idea how to process an American son-in-law. So they gave me a Korean name.

My Korean name is “Kim Yu-Sin” (Kim Yoo Sheen). That’s not any ordinary name. It’s the name of a famous hero in Korean history, the chief general of the Silla kingdom in 8th century A.D. that conquered the neighboring kingdoms of Koryo and Paekche and unified the Korean people — think George Washington without his Presidency.

Under the leadership of the “Silla dynasty,” the Korean people would be unified for the next several hundred years. Indeed, the Silla emperors created much of today’s Korean culture, language and traditions — including the “Korean bell” which was the focal point of the traditional Silla village.

The Silla kingdom was based in Gyeong-ju, near my wife’s birthplace of Taegu in southern Korea. Koreans from the southern hills speak their own dialect and have their own sense of identity, much like American Southerners. Incidentally, a lot of them now live in places like Fairfax, Burke and Centreville. God Bless America.

Kim Yu-Sin is the patron saint of Korean unification and Silla identity. Incidentally, hisburial site in Gyeong-ju, where I’ve had my photo taken, is near the famed “Emmele” bell — perhaps the only surviving bell from the Silla era. It’s massive in size (nearly 40 feet tall) and still standing in its original location, I think. The national museum of Korean History sits next to it.

Anyway, I say all this to make a larger point — that unification of the Korean people is an historic destiny. Making that occur in a democratic framework should be the goal of U.S. policy in East Asia.

And you don’t need a Korean name to know that.

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