On March 4, I withdrew my candidacy when it became abundantly clear that the current political and business environment would impede me — an outsider — from carrying out the mission of this ministry.
Never having had a serious interest in politics, I was a bit naive in making my initial decision. Change-resistant forces in the political and bureaucratic circles and certain business spheres naturally raised objections to my candidacy, mostly on the basis of my nationality and presumed lack of allegiance. A vitriolic response I can only liken to a witch hunt took off on the Internet and even in some mainstream media outlets. I was slandered. Some, for example, theorized that I was a spy. Family was considered fair game: My wife was accused of being associated with a brothel.
My emotions in the wake of this bizarre experience were much as you can imagine. But the lesson I take from it concerns the value of nationalism in a world increasingly driven by the transnational flow of people, capital and ideas — a world in which the immigrant is increasingly not a person without a country but a person with two countries or more.
My life as an immigrant in the United States began at age 14. The product of the proverbial “broken home,” I struggled in those early years with economic hardship, language barriers and cultural issues. But like so many other immigrants, I was determined to pursue the American dream.
Thanks to the kindness and guidance of a few individuals, my journey took flight: I got a great college education, started my own business and sold it for more than $1 billion, succeeded at a global corporation, taught at the University of Maryland and even led the iconic Bell Labs. I became one of the owners of the Washington Wizards and Capitals. And I served on the boards of corporations, nonprofits, universities and government agencies — including the external advisory board of the Central Intelligence Agency, a request that I was proud to accept but that turned out to be grist for the rumor mill after my nomination to lead South Korea’s new ministry.
Most important of all to a child of divorced parents, I was blessed with a stable and loving family.
My love for the United States is deep and strong, and I will be eternally grateful for its blessings. That is why I committed myself to serving this country when and where I could, including as an officer in the U.S. Navy for seven years. But I’ve always loved the country of my birth too, and witnessing its economic miracle over recent decades filled me with pride in my Korean heritage. So I was receptive to President Park’s call.