[Outlook]Remembering our father
We have forgotten our founding father, the man who helped give birth to our democracy and its market economy. That is shameful.
In September, 1945, Lieutenant General John R. Hodge, who had served at Okinawa, landed at Incheon and entered Seoul as the military governor of South Korea. At that time, the Soviet military had occupied Pyongyang.
At the same time Dr. Robert Oliver met Syngman Rhee, who was still in the United States. The American scholar believed that Korea was under the influence of the Soviet Union and had to cooperate with it and establish a government with the communists. The doctor advised Rhee that it would be dangerous for him to advocate building an independent government.
After a silence, Rhee said that the doctor must be aware that he had devoted his entire life to the independence movement. He would not give up his country to the Soviet Union just to maintain his prestige. Millions of Koreans were waiting for him and he would not lie to them when he said he was coming home to build an independent country. He also added that superpowers would do whatever they felt like and would not listen to him. Korea was not the only country that was facing hardships and, he said, the United States would endure an even harsher agony than other countries because it was the only country that could block the Soviet Union’s ambitions. He said he would face the reality as it was and would warn people about it. That’s what Oliver says in his book “The Man Behind the Myth.”
Oliver was fascinated by Rhee, at the time a lonely independent activist in his 70s, and his undaunted prose. From that moment Oliver became Rhee’s friend and partner, as well as serving as his political advisor.
On Sept. 23, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly decided that Korea would hold an election under supervision of the United Nations, in order to establish an independent government. On May 10, 1948, even though, officially, it was still designated only as the U.S. zone, Korea had its first election and 200 members of parliament were chosen. They later selected Rhee as their president.
Twelve years later, the April Revolution broke out and the founding father of Korea was marked down in history as wrong. Pastor Kim In-seo, who was also an independent activist, published a book to defend Rhee.
The book listed what Kim believed to be Rhee’s four major achievements. He was devoted to the independence movement his entire life, he established the Republic of Korea, he defeated the enemy in the Korean War and he signed the Korea-U.S. Mutual Defense Agreement.
The book also credited him with eight other good deeds. Thanks to Rhee, democracy was introduced to Korea, education progressed and the country recovered from the war with extraordinary speed.
However, the book also lists five major misdeeds by the former president. First, Rhee held a disputed presidential election in March 15, 1960. Second, senior members of the military under Rhee’s rule committed corrupt acts. Third, a military battalion massacred some 500 innocent people in Geochang county, South Gyeongsang province. Fourth, many officials under his rule were corrupt. Last, Rhee’s release of anti-communist prisoners of war was also cited as a major misdeed.
Both the achievements and misdeeds of the president are precious assets for the future of the state.
Since 1934, when former U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt established the National Archives and Records Administration, the agency has been supervising 12 archives in local areas and the 12 presidential libraries.
The memorials for United States presidents are run separately from the libraries. After a former president dies, his achievements are evaluated and the country decides whether to set up a memorial. Only three memorial halls have been built for former presidents -- those for Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Back to our country, next year is the 60th anniversary of the establishment our republic and it is planned to unveil some memorials. The Kim Dae-jung Presidential Library has been opened. Following that, President Roh Moo-hyun and former President Kim Dae-jung are deliberating about or already working on libraries in their hometowns.
It is a good thing that building presidential libraries has become a new custom.
But we have forgotten our founding father, the man who helped give birth to democracy and its market economy and thus created today’s Korea. Building a memorial for Park Chung Hee, who modernized our country, has not progressed either.
Korean presidents, while in office, have not suggested building a memorial for Rhee. That is shameful. The presidential hopefuls should pledge themselves to this project during their election campaigns.
*The writer is a senior editorial advisor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Nyong-bin