2014 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Young adult second place
The Temptations of Totalitarianism

As an American teenager growing up in this time, the situation in Egypt is confusing to behold. Egyptians wanted Democracy like the West, so now they’ve got it. Why aren’t they happy? Democracy contains the ideals of freedom, independence, and autonomy; what is so bad about that? A lot more, however, goes into people’s decisions, conscious or unconscious, to support various political regimes than ideology. Because a regime includes good ideology, it is not necessarily more successful or easier in the eyes of the people of the country.

The trend of Egypt’s people back toward the older ways of strict, military control is confusing considering the fact that they spent all that effort creating a democracy. This trend relates specifically to Pyong-tae’s strange temptation to return to Om Sok-dae’s control over the class in “Our Twisted Hero.” If Pyong-tae’s long and grueling resistance had been fueled by his desire for reason and freedom, it makes no sense for him to feel the longing to return to the time under Sok-dae. He mentions that he “had abandoned freedom and the memory of rationality” when he submitted to Sok-dae, and he doesn’t gain those ideals back until a while after the revolution in the class (Yi 150). Similarly in the Egyptian situation, the citizens should have had more patience with the new regime if they had been fighting for it and its ideals in such a bloody revolution. In the end for both of these situations, however, the ideals were given up for good reason in the minds of the general population.

People abandon their democratic ideals in these cases often because the stricter, more totalitarian regimes are working better. Because the class is more successful and efficient under Sok-dae’s regime, the teacher and eventually Pyong-tae are both able to settle into it. After the “revolution,” Pyong-tae even misses the old ways, when the “class under Sok-dae was a model for the whole school,” because of the confusion and slow start to the democratic manner of the classroom (113). The same goes true for Egypt: under Morsi’s rule, times became even worse for Egyptian citizens than during the military control and even Mubarak’s presidency. Therefore, the military forced Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, a part of the democracy they had strived to create, to step down because life was more successful under military control. It’s not a fair system that Egyptians are living in, but as a whole, people believe things are going better and are more unified with the military governing.

Overthrowing a regime entrenched in its ways can be a difficult struggle, but if the end result is equally as difficult to deal with, it can seem like a complete waste of time. As the class deals with “the confusion and the exhaustion that comes with revolution,” Pyong-tae feels annoyed and a little disappointed at the loss of Sok-dae’s rule (179). Under Sok-dae, life was easy because Pyong-tae didn’t have to make many decisions on his own, he didn’t have to worry about the welfare of the class, and he only had to focus on his work toward making the group work. In this way, “the convenience and utility of Sok-dae’s order would come to mind” and tempt Pyong-tae (182). In Egypt, decisions are also easier under the military regime, even if freedom isn’t an option. The people in charge make the tough decisions, and the general population is saved the confusion of trying to find solutions to their problems through voting and campaigning. Life under the stricter regimes is easier in some ways because of the lack of democratic confusion, especially in a country foreign to democracy like Egypt.

It may seem at first that being tempted back toward the old ways of a totalitarian regime after struggling for democracy is a little absurd. Pyong-tae certainly doesn’t understand it himself and neither do his classmates in “Our Twisted Hero.” Giving up democratic ideals, however, is sometimes the easiest and most successful choice overall when people come from a totalitarian background. It takes a while after the switch for a country that has been so invested in one method of governing to gain ground using a different one. In the long run, however, a country can find much greater success and happiness under democracy; the people just have to hold off on the temptations of totalitarianism.