[INSIGHT]The ghost of Park Chung Hee

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[INSIGHT]The ghost of Park Chung Hee

In his autobiography “To Live as a True Human Being,” Cardinal Stephen Kim recalled a train ride he took with then-President Park Chung Hee to Jinhae in April 1972.
During the train ride, President Park would constantly turn to his chief of staff to convey his ideas and worries about the countryside. “Where is that place? How come there aren’t any trees there?” Or he would point out to Cardinal Kim, “Look at the river banks over there, sir. Our land needs care and development,” or, “They shouldn’t have lopped trees like that.”
The president even drew four major rivers of Korea to explain to the cardinal his plans for development through the next few decades. Cardinal Kim wrote that he felt Mr. Park was a true patriot who loved every blade of grass and stump of tree in this country but that he was also a man who had to do everything himself. The cardinal felt a presentiment that President Park would not relinquish his rule for a long time.
The reason Cardinal Kim’s recollection comes to my mind these days is because the Roh Moo-hyun government has declared war on Park Chung Hee. The Roh administration is pursuing an investigation into the alleged pro-Japanese activities of President Park during the colonial period. President Roh describes our situation as being at the crossroads of “either going back to the dictatorial past of the Yusin era, or revitalizing reforms era, or moving forward to the future.” He even said he was ashamed to have studied law under the constitution that Mr. Park revised.
The governing Uri Party emphasizes abolishing remnants of the Yusin dictatorship, calling Park Geun-hye, the leader of the opposition Grand National Party, “the daughter of the Yusin dictatorship” and “first lady of the Yusin regime.”
The reason the government and the governing party are attacking Park Chung Hee is no doubt because of Park Geun-hye. Had Ms. Park merely remained the leader of the opposition party, without the potential to rise as a strong presidential candidate in the next election, they would not have declared war on the ghost of her father. For that reason, the government’s war seems more of a political move than the holy movement of setting history right that it claims to be.
Political strategy or not, the government and the Uri Party seems to have picked the wrong fight. What they are attacking are the dictatorial aspects and the long rule of Park Chung Hee. But the administration’s claim that it is better than the Park regime because Mr. Roh is not a dictator and Park Chung Hee was one, is rather weak. Will Mr. Roh win over Mr. Park by claiming, “Although President Park relied on intelligence organs and the Yusin dictatorship, I don’t rely on dictatorship”?
The reason this claim rings hollow is because nobody is arguing that Park Chung Hee’s dictatorship was a good thing. The government is picking a fight where there is none. The June 10 democracy movement, the new Constitution, the Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung administrations and the launch of the Roh Moo-hyun administration are all a verdict on the Park dictatorship.
What’s left to pick on could be whether President Park was a patriotic man. At least according to Cardinal Kim’s account, lack of patriotism was one vice that Mr. Park didn’t have. These days, his achievements in industrialization and nation-building, his devotion, passion and expertise in state affairs are reevaluated, and the voices calling for learning from him are on the rise.
If the Roh government truly wants to win over the ghost of Park Chung Hee, it must compete with these positive aspects of the late president. However, victory seems very unlikely for the Roh administration in its present situation. Can the Roh government claim that it has the leadership, long-term vision and determination that Mr. Park had? This is one fight they should not have picked.
Political competition between political parties is nothing new. In every political society, there is competition to criticize and run down the other side.
However, it was a mistake of strategy for the living administration to attack a dead president in order to run down his daughter. The present condition of our society makes many yearn for Park Chung Hee.
Our present economic hardships make us think of the leader who built our economy in the past. The apprehension that nobody knows where our country is headed brings to mind the strong leadership we once had. Manifest chaos and social tensions make us yearn for the strong leader type.
In short, to create a situation where people yearn for the Park Chung Hee-style leadership and then to attack Mr. Park is not a smart political move on part of the Roh administration.
If the governing party wants to go after Park Geun-hye it should aim at Park Geun-hye herself. To attack her with a “weak point” that is not a weak point will only result in a political advantage for Ms. Park ― much in the same way Park Chung Hee “helped” Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung turn into revered freedom fighters with his oppression.
If the present administration wants to win the war with the ghost of Park Chung Hee, it must concentrate on “doing better” than the late president. It should work to make the public say, “Gee, Roh Moo-hyun is doing better than Park Chung Hee.”
If the nation continues to drift because the Roh administration fails to provide a credible economic policy, and continues to be incompetent and indulge in favoritism, the people will only grow to more and more miss the leadership of Park Chung Hee while forgetting about his dictatorship.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Song Chin-hyok
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