Images back to 1917 from 2017


Lee Sun-ho / The Korea Times

At the dawn of the year 2017 it is intriguing to look back on the last century of human history to see how things have progressed since 1917, a typical common year of the snake, in contrast to 2017, the year of the rooster (the Lunar calendar again).

In 1917, the world was a much different place. In the midst of World War I, taking place were a pair of revolutions in Russia. The revolutions dismantled the Tsarist autocracy and led to the eventual rise of the Soviet Union. With the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II, the Russian Empire was replaced by a provisional government during the first revolution of February (March 8 in the Gregorian calendar instead of the older Julian one). The United States was the first government to recognize the new government of Russia. In the second revolution during October (Nov. 7 in the Gregorian calendar), the provisional government was removed and replaced with a Communist state, led by Bolsheviks headed by Vladimir Lenin who returned to Petrograd from Switzerland on April 3, identical to the Jeju massacre incident 31 years later in Korea.

The year of violent Russian upheavals coincided in 1917 with the births of four renowned world leaders of the 20th century. They were John F. Kennedy, president of the U.S. (born May 29), Ferdinand E. Marcos, president of the Philippines (born September 11), Park Chung-hee, president of South Korea (born Nov. 14), and Indira P. Gandhi, prime minister of India (born Nov. 19). Their ends were neither happy nor normal, since they were either assassinated or exiled.

In Korea, in addition to the birth of President Park, Chung Il-kwon, the so-called avatar of Park, a prime minister and famous Korean military commanding chief during the Korean War, was born on Nov. 21. Yun I-sang, a world-renowned composer who made his career in Germany was born on Sept. 17. Yoon Dong-ju, a young genius poet as well as a passionate independence fighter against Japanese colonial rule was born on Dec. 30.

August Rodin, the great French sculptor who created “The Thinker” died of frostbite in a back room in Paris on Nov. 17, while his legacy continues to be appreciated by fellow artists and those with untrained eyes. Mata Hari, the exotic Dutch dancer was arrested in Paris for spying for Germany on Feb. 13, and was finally executed by firing squad at Vincennes near Paris on Oct. 15.

The demise of Lee Joong-ha happened on Aug. 11. He was the chief negotiator of the Chosun Kingdom over the border dispute with the Qing dynasty claiming regions in Northeast China both in 1885 and 1887. He never conceded land claims to the powerful Qing authorities, despite armed threats against him during the negotiations. On Sept. 28, 2011, he was chosen as the third “Distinguished Diplomat of the Year” by the Ministry of Foreign affairs and Trade in Korea.

In America in 1917, the very first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded on June 4 to Laura E. Richards and Maud Howe Elliott. On July 7, the Lions Clubs International was founded, also in the U.S. In China, Sun Yat-sen and his supporters’ rump parliament established a military government and selected him as commander-in-chief on August 31. It is also amusing to note that Douglas S. MacArthur (who would later become a war hero in the Pacific), was a colonel in the American Rainbow Division and arrived in France on Dec. 7. In Korea, on December 2, Han Yong-woon a famous Buddhist philosopher and poet awoke Zen, a school of Mahayana Buddhism.

Without tracing the past, it is not possible to predict the future. The faces that have put the human world on its course are the faces history remembers. Nothing is a waste of time if we use significant past events and experiences of importance wisely aiming at a promising future in the paths ahead.

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