[INSIGHT]Smears are ideological shackles

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[INSIGHT]Smears are ideological shackles

It was a very hot summer in 1950 when Korean War broke out. Children in the villages rushed to the riverside as they had for generations. Sometimes roe deer came down from the mountains and rambled up and down the long, broad, sandy shoreline. The river was clear and deep. When the boys and girls arrived at the riverside, they heard a shot. More than 10 persons were there blindfolded, with their hands tied to logs. Soldiers were aiming rifles at them from a prone position. One soldier, who looked like the squad leader, came up to the villagers and administered a coup de grace with a pistol. My youngest uncle was one of them ?a shocking remembrance of my childhood. It could have been out of an old war film.

There was a converted communist group called bodoyeonmaeng before the Korean War. It was a group of former communists who had renounced that political affiliation. The police made leftists write renunciation letters as an example to others, and each district police station kept an eye on the returnees. When the war broke out, the police killed all the members of the groups out of fear that they were a fifth column. That was the so called "bodoyeonmaeng incident." My youngest uncle, who was killed when he was less than half my current age, was one of the members of the group. In my hometown, there is a shabby grave with no stone at the edge of my family graveyard, put there according to my grandfather's will. He ordered that disgraced offspring should not be buried with the family. His first son died as a small rural landowner, the second son died as a local government official, his third son went North during the war and his youngest son was murdered by the police. What did my grandfather feel? Ours was a sorrowful family history because of ideology, struggle and the war. Who should cast stones at whom?

The Millennium Democratic Party's presidential nominee, Roh Moo-hyun, was under attack for having a "communist father-in-law" during his party's primary elections. The Monthly Chosun magazine's June issue carried a special report on him. The report, 27 pages in all, has testimony from bereaved families who claim that their relatives were victims of a slaughter by pro-communists led by Mr. Roh's father-in-law under the title, "A true record of a leftist incident." The main point of the article was that his father-in-law was not a blind, passive leftist but an active communist and a judge who made life-or-death decisions about villagers. Those quoted in the article say they have no doubt that Mr. Roh's wife knew about her father's activities and are furious that a man who wants to be the president of his country visited the butcher's grave without a word of apology to the bereaved families.

I cannot even remember my youngest uncle's face, and Mr. Roh has some justification for saying, "He is only the father of my lovely wife, and I have never thought about it any further." He had never met his father-in-law. He has repeatedly said that he speaks for the ordinary people, and his father-in-law's history was well-known. Under such circumstances, I wonder why he had no words of condolence for the bereaved families in the village when he visited his father-in-law's grave after he was nominated. Leaving aside whether the victim's family members are correct in their assertions or not, Mr. Roh should have said something comforting to them, the victims of history. It is not too late even now. He should not use the excuse that he doesn't even know his father-in-law's face. There is no difference in the regret and sadness of any bereaved family. Persons who can comfort others with tolerance and forgiveness could be the real leaders in this era of struggle and confrontation. Mr. Roh missed one good opportunity, but he could visit the village again.

I am uneasy about Mr. Roh's populist views on the economy and the press. I am among those who wish that Mr. Roh would develop as a mature leader emphasizing both reform and conservation of our traditional values. But I do not think we should smear his policies and thinking by saying that he is responsible for the actions of his father-in-law.

Reports like that of the Monthly Chosun that try to give us a complete look at a nominee do serve a purpose. But if the expose was meant to be something that would bury a politician alive -- playing on fears of "reds under the bed" -- that is absolutely unacceptable. In the future there could be more such campaigns trying to link his political ideology and activities somehow with the alleged actions of a man whom he has never met. If our society does not stop this kind of McCarthyism, we will not be able to escape the shackles of stale ideology. We are not living in 1950 but in 2002.


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The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kwon Young-bin

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