Correct the Record, Then Build a Hall

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Correct the Record, Then Build a Hall

Some time ago I watched a late night television discussion program on the controversial suggestion to build a memorial hall honoring former president Park Chung-hee, whose administration ran from 1961 to 1979.

A professor on the panel said, "President Park is known as a clean leader, but it is not true. After his death, hundreds of millions of won were found in the Blue House safe, and there is firm evidence that he deposited a substantial amount of money in a Swiss bank in his confidant''s name."

I think that statement defames the late president. We cannot definitely say that the money found in the late president''s office safe was accumulated irregularly. The president has a number of funds sources at his disposal, such as the intelligence fund, and the expediency fund. Unlike other Asian leaders who were ousted in the past decades, President Park is free from corruption scandals. The money found in his office safe was a very modest amount and its presence is understandable in view of the president''s responsibility for state affairs. Moreover, even though there was speculation about secret accounts in Swiss banks, no such accounts have been found so far.

Since President Park''s assassination, many people have mourned the lack of his single-minded dedication to his fatherland. In contrast, there are many people who assert that his death provided an opportunity to promote democracy and human rights.

Evaluations of Mr. Park contrast dramatically, because for 18 years he wielded immense power as he pursued his goals by coordinating, integrating and even repressing groups with clashing interests.

Of course, academic study and criticism is of our history is needed, and some parts of his rule, especially the 1961 coup and the 1972 constitutional revisions which has been criticized to have been aimed at making him president for life are open to honest debate. But it is also true that some people attempt to evaluate him based on wrong information and misunderstanding.

The controversy over the construction of the Park Chung-hee Memorial Hall falls into that category. During the general elections in April, President Kim Dae-jung and other politicians proposed a memorial hall to commemorate Mr. Park''s achievements in Korea''s economic development. The proposal is controversial, and the government''s political will is uncertain. Because of this uncertainty, I would like to suggest a few points in favor of the proposal for a Park Chung-hee Memorial Hall.

First, as the honorary chairman of the Memorial Hall Promotion Committee, President Kim Dae-jung must dispel doubts that his support of the project during the election campaign was mere political rhetoric.

Second, the Memorial Society should convey a clear position to the Seoul city government, which plans to build a Park Chung-hee Memorial Library. The city says that the library project has no connection with the controversial memorial hall project, but this assertion was designed only to mute public criticism. If the Blue House and the city do not work closely together, it is likely that a library will be built and stimulate even more controversy.

Third, the construction of a memorial hall is not urgent. The presence or absence of a hall will not make any difference in Mr. Park''s achievements. What is more important is first, to find a way to build a memorial hall without government help and second, to inform the public of the facts about Mr. Park''s accomplishments.

Instead of being obsessed with a memorial hall, the Memorial Society should embark on the work of eliminating wide-spread misunderstanding and prejudices about Mr. Park and make efforts to let the public know about his real face. Only then will the public voluntarily participate, and the memorial hall that results will be the one we all desire.

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