[FOUNTAIN]War criminal, general, but still a Korean“Wash away all my guilt, from my sin cleanse me. For I know my offense; my sin is always before me. True, I was born guilty, a sinner, even as my mother conceived me.”
At the gallows in a prison in the Philippines on Sept. 26, 1946, Lieutenant General Hong Sa-ik, 57, of the Southern Army of imperial Japan asked the clergyman present to read Psalm 51. He was sentenced to death by the court as a war criminal for his actions in World War II.
Mr. Hong wanted to listen to the psalm before his death, but not because of his war crimes. Facing death, he wanted to expiate his pro-Japanese behavior. He did not choose to side with Japan. To him, it was destiny, an original sin he was born with. To turn back from the road of sins, he had gone too far.
At age 16, Mr. Hong entered the Joseon kingdom’s military academy, which King Gojong established to nurture the future leaders of the self-reliant national defense. In 1909, a year before the Japanese annexation of Korea, the military academy was shut down by Japan, which had already established de facto rule in Korea. At the order of King Gojong, Mr. Hong transferred to the Central Military Youth Academy of Japan. He took Crown Prince Yeongchinwang, the third son of King Gojong and a fellow classmate, under his wing.
After the annexation of Korea by Japan, some Korean students there wanted to join the resistance movement, but Mr. Hong persuaded them to stay, learn and find a better chance to fight in the future. They should accumulate experience in the field and seize a chance later. Among those classmates was Lee Cheung-cheon; after the uprising in Korea that began on March 1, 1919, he fled to Manchuria and became the commander of the resistance movement there.
The two friends communicated secretly even after Mr. Hong became a Japanese military officer. But he rejected Mr. Lee’s invitation to switch sides. Later, after becoming a general officer, he still refused to change his name to a Japanese one, a campaign pushed by the Japanese government.
Mr. Hong is included in a list of Korean collaborators, but he kept his national identity. When branding someone a criminal, we need to be careful.
The fact-finding investigation that is coming should be accompanied by an understanding of inner character.
by Chun Young-gi
The writer is deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.