[OUTLOOK]Spies, reds and unjust chargesThe head of policy planning and coordination at the National Intelligence Service, a rank equal to that of a deputy minister, wields enormous power. He is in charge of all administrative affairs of the country’s intelligence agency, including budget and organization. On top of that, he has the authority to gather information from government agencies. He is the most powerful among the powerful in the intelligence service.
Recently the president appointed Suh Dong-man, a professor of North Korea studies who has been labeled a pro-North Korea leftist, to this position.
Reforms in the National Intelligence Service are fine, but is it not still our main source of intelligence on North Korea? The appointment of a leftist to the second-highest post at the intelligence office has left even the government party, not to mention the opposition, quarreling with the Blue House.
Is Mr. Suh indeed the North Korea-friendly leftist that people claim he is? Based on the two occasions I had a chance to meet him, I really could not say. For the last 10 days, I have been reading papers, articles and speeches by Mr. Suh, including his doctoral dissertation, and came to the conclusion that he is not.
Mr. Suh’s doctoral dissertation at Tokyo University is titled “The establishment of the socialist system in North Joseon (1945-61).” A formidable paper of 650 pages, the dissertation starts from the assumption that North Korean socialism is a strongly military-colored, one-man form.
The thesis states that North Korea’s socialism was formed into a one-man system from 1958 to 1961, and says that in the process, North Korea became a rigid society in which not even the slightest criticism was allowed. Mr. Suh criticized the rigid socialist system for driving the North Korean society into error after error in pursuit of outlandish economic goals, finally causing it to fall into a state in which not even the most basic economic statistics could be announced.
He blames the juche line centering on Kim Il Sung for undermining the dynamic power of North Korea and degrading it into a backward socialist country. In another paper, Mr. Suh laments that North Korea lost much of its historical past because it had strictly insisted that all historical accounts be centered on just one person, Kim Il Sung.
Is Mr. Suh pro-North Korea? A scholar who asserts that North Korea must progress into an open society by allowing debate and mutual criticism in its society, as Mr. Suh does, is a liberal reformist. He is a “sunshinist” who calls for reconciliation and cooperation between the North and the South, who believes that in order to persuade North Korea to open up, we must provide it with humanitarian and economic aid.
At the time of the naval skirmish last June when a North Korean ship intruded in South Korean waters, Mr. Suh commented in a column, “Although North Korea provided the cause [of the skirmish], both the North and the South should understand the fact that it was an accidental occurrence and understand each other’s position in regard to the hopes of reconciliation and cooperation between the two.”
Such comments, made when the majority of the South Koreans were feeling very indisposed to North Korea, probably triggered complaints that Mr. Suh was a pro-North Korea leftist.
Of course, Mr. Suh is a liberal scholar. He states that there is an incompatible discrepancy between the June 15 Joint Declaration, announced at the inter-Korean 2000 summit meeting, and the labeling of North Korea as the country’s “main enemy.”
But he also adds that even without the “main enemy” label, we should not neglect our preparations against the present military threat from the North. Mr. Suh supports the reunification plan of forming a federation but opposes a federation of one people, one nation.
In our society, a pro-North Korea leftist is usually called a “red.” The prerequisite for being a “red” depends on how one views the Korean War and the “juche” philosophy. Suh Dong-man describes the Korean War as a “miserably failed attempt by Kim Il Sung to forcibly reunify the country” and the “juche” ideology as the idolization of an individual that sprang from a victory in a factional fight. Is this man a leftist?
It was wrong of the president to bulldoze ahead with appointing progressive candidates as both the director and head of policy planning of the intelligence office, instead of offering a political compromise to the National Assembly.
I am not trying to make the point that because Mr. Suh is not a leftist he is the best man for the job. I am saying there is something very wrong with our society if we call a scholar with progressive tendencies a “red” without any evidence and take no responsibility afterward.
In the words of the painter Suh Se-ok to his son, “When one dog starts barking, all the other dogs in the neighborhood start barking. Only the first dog knows what he’s barking at. The others don’t have a clue. It’s the same with life and art.”
Someone wrongly accused Suh Dong-man of being a red, and pretty soon we ended up here. Our society is going to be the dogs with its indiscretion.
* The writer is executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Young-bin