[FOUNTAIN]Watch How You Use 'Traitor'

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[FOUNTAIN]Watch How You Use 'Traitor'

"Before we pitched the net, a fish jumped into the net," said Midori Komatsu, who was the foreign affairs director at the Office of the Japanese Resident General in Korea, recollecting the eve of the Japanese annexation of Korea in August 1910. His remarks are sinking deep into our minds, and we again confirm that 91 years ago we surrendered our country to the Japanese colonial government due to our hopeless ineptitude. On Aug. 29, 1910, the imperial government of Japan promulgated that it had taken over the entire government and administration of Korea, and Wednesday was the anniversary of the national humiliation. In studying this history, let us find out who chased the fish - annexation - into the net. Choson, or Korea, suggested annexation to Japan first. Lee Ik-jik was a secret envoy of Prime Minister Lee Wan-yong.

Does this make Lee Wan-yong a traitor who stands out in thousands of years of history? The truth is not as simple as an elementary school textbook. "A Critical Biography of Lee Wan-yong," by Yun Deok-han, published in 1999, shows the complicated truth. "Until now, we have simply created an image of a betrayer of our country and joined in drubbing of the person."

First, we cannot say that Lee was a born Japanese sympathizer. He passed a government examination to become a public servant in 1882. During the "days of enlightenment" of Choson, he learned English at Yukyeong Gongwon, the nation's first language school. He served as a charge d'affaires to the United States for two years from 1888. With Yun Chi-ho and Yu Gil-jun, Lee, one of the very few Koreans who could speak English, first was known as pro-American. In 1894, he declined to take office as a charge d'affaires to Japan, citing mourning for his mother. Unlike Song Byeong-jun, a devoted member of a pro-Japanese group, Lee never learned to speak Japanese. Surprisingly, he was the founder of the Independence Club established in 1896.

In fact, Seo Jae-pil's Dongnip Sinmun (Independence Newspaper) never wrote a single line of criticism against Lee Wan-yong. Now, how should we interpret Lee, who has fallen from a foreign affairs expert with a broad scope to a traitor after the Eulsa Protectorate Treaty between Korea and Japan was signed? Maybe, he symbolizes our modern history, which we have ruined due to confusion and lack of ability.

Debates over pro-Japanese groups rise often in the political arena these days. And then they are easily forgotten. That is shameful. "Pro-Japanese group" is not an insult against others; it is a mirror reflecting us. Furthermore, isn't the net of history stretched in front of us? I am puzzled.

The writer is an editor of the JoongAng Ilbo publications.

by Cho Woo-suk

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