[VIEWPOINT]The Overlooked Leader in Our MidstWhenever I read editorials on politics in Korean newspapers and magazines, I ask myself, who is conservative and counter-revolutionary? If you're reading this, I'll tell you straight off, I am. I do not have a high-ranking position, political power or money. But I do not deny that I am a conservative.
I do not understand why there is still controversy over building a memorial for former President Park Chung Hee. Everybody praises his achievements. Even the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, has expressed a strong interest in the late President Park. Anyhow, the memorial itself is a small matter. Mr. Park already stands firm as a monument in the people's hearts.
What I regret about former President Park is only that the revolution he brought to Korea should have happened earlier. On May 16, 1961, when Mr. Park staged his military coup dubbed "5.16," Japan was already at a stage of industrial transition, moving from basic industries such as textiles into more technology-intensive industries. As Japan was a little further ahead than Korea, it sold Korea its low-tech industries, thus prompting a widening technology gap between Korea and Japan. Perhaps this could have been averted if Mr. Park had come to power sooner. The gap, and Korea's dependence on Japan, is still visible now and was a major factor behind the Korean economic crisis. Even though Korea has become a leader in the semiconductor and information technology industries, I am still skeptical about whether we can catch up.
I have paid attention to Kim Jong-pil, now honorary president of the United Liberal Democrats, and who masterminded the May 16 coup, because of my positive evaluation of the military putsch. Though the political situation has changed, I still see Mr. Kim as a man of great caliber who has not yet had the chance to see his ideas come to fruition. His advanced years may be a drawback (Mr. Kim is now in his mid-70s), but is there anybody who has as much dignity, culture, vision and experience as Mr. Kim? I do not think so.
Why are we so busy denouncing political leaders? People always talk about atoning and punishing past sins and faults. But isn't it a reality that there is a dearth of truly great leaders right now? Isn't it true that politics is just a gaggle of mediocre men with no outstanding talents? The power struggle has brought forward no truly distinguished leader.
Actually, the first and only time I saw Mr. Kim was at a distance at a university commencement a couple of decades ago. I am just saying we need to evaluate what Mr. Kim has accomplished as a public figure. A former president, Kim Young-sam, once said: "Kim Jong-pil is a person who always put our country first." I hope people who criticize Mr. Kim reflect a while upon the truth of this statement. Who are the progressive leftists and forces of conscience? They are the ones who were hurt and bruised fighting for democracy. Korean society compensated them for their battles with political power. The civilian government of Kim Young-sam and the people's government of Kim Dae-jung were born from that social approval, and one thing to note is that they were helped in their victories by members of the old establishment. So to argue that the old establishment's help has limited the fruition of real democracy is a joke.
What does reform mean in Korea? Reform means moving from authoritarian economic development to an open economy based on market principles. The democracy fighters, now self-styled neo-liberal leaders, cannot claim a monopoly on how to create a free market economy, and if they do, they should be laughed at.
The Korean people must take a new look at a man from the old guard. He can be trusted with important assignments. We must try to be free from stereotyped evaluations of political figures, and we should not just write off support for figures from the past by saying that it must simply be nostalgia.
The writer is a political commentator based in the United States.
by Kim Sang-ki