A nation liberated, 43 years in the clink, a fateful climbAug. 15, 1945
After 35 years of colonization, Korea on this date was liberated from Japan. Earlier in the year, Japan had refused to follow the Potsdam Declaration from the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union that demanded surrender. The United States then bombed Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9. Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender on radio. This date became a Korean national holiday.
Aug. 15, 1995
Half a century after the nation’s liberation, Kim Seon-myeong was released from prison after 43 years and 10 months. Jailed as a 26-year-old North Korean soldier, Mr. Kim refused to swing to the right, stubbornly retaining his leftist views. He paid for this by being confined to a tiny cell. When he walked out of the Daejeon prison on this date he was 70 years old. Mr. Kim’s term as a political prisoner exceeded Nelson Mandela’s 27 years in a South African prison.
Mr. Kim was not originally from the North, but from Gyeonggi province in South Korea. As a 15-year-old, he became infatuated with communism and headed north, joining its army after the Korean War broke out.
In 1951, he was caught by United Nations forces. He was first sentenced to death, but that was reduced to lifetime imprisonment. To get out of prison, he had only to sign a paper stating that his pro-communist views had changed. Mr. Kim said he was subjected to torture while in prison. “But my faith was stronger than the fear of death.”
Aug. 17, 1975
Jang Jun-ha was one of the few intellectuals under Park Chung Hee’s military regime with the courage to break the silence. Born in 1918 under Japanese colonial rule, Mr. Jang fought for independence in his youth. After Korea’s liberation in 1945, Mr. Jang founded a magazine, Sasanggye, in 1953 in which activists had the freedom to voice criticism of Syngman Rhee’s ambitions for dictatorship. After Mr. Rhee’s exile in 1960, Mr. Jang opened another war against the Park Chung Hee regime, a long and winding road. In 1974, Mr. Jang dared to pen a letter to Mr. Park in which he pointed out the absurdities of his terror politics. No wonder Mr. Jang was high on the regime’s blacklist.
One other thing that Mr. Jang loved besides democracy was mountain climbing. On this date, he was invited by acquaintances to climb a mountain in Pocheon, Gyeonggi province. He never returned home, but was found dead on Yaksa Peak.
The police said Mr. Jang had lost his footing and fell. Strangely, his body was found with no broken bones. The autopsy did find a trace of a sharp needle piercing the back of Mr. Jang’s right ear, along with another on the back.
Mr. Jang’s family and friends were convinced there had been monkey business on the mountain after seeing bruises under both armpits, indicating that somebody had dragged the body. The truth behind the death was buried in silence by the regime.
Last year, the Presidential Truth Commission on Suspicious Death tried unearthing the truth, but the investigation foundered after witnesses rejected every accusation. Mr. Jang’s death remains a mystery.
by Chun Su-jin