[OUTLOOK]A proper probe into the pastWhen I was young, there were two pro-Japanese figures that adults used to talk about with the most resentment: the “kenpei gocho” and the “oni keibu.” The former is the Japanese word for a non-commissioned officer of the military police. The latter is a Japanese term that means “demon policemen.” Koreans during the Japanese colonial occupation feared the non-commissioned military police officers, who had jurisdiction over the political activity of civilians as well, and the low-echelon policemen, who were very “apt” at interrogating suspected political offenders.
The “kenpei gocho” displayed their fierce survival instinct during the chaotic process of establishing our military after liberation and the Korean War. Kim Chang-ryong, who joined the army and rose to lieutenant general in charge of the Counter Intelligence Corps, had been a “kenpei gocho.” Kim Jong-won, who was called “the tiger of Mount Baekdu” for his military achievements as a regimental commander chasing communist guerillas, also had been a “kenpei gocho.”
Kim Chang-ryong enjoyed almost absolute power, arresting numerous people as political “criminals” for the Syngman Rhee administration until he was assassinated by Colonel Heo Tae-yeong. Kim Jong-won resigned from the army, taking responsibility for the massacre of civilians in Geochang in 1951, but he later went on to become the chief of the security police.
“Oni keibu” originally referred to a single individual, Choi Seok-hyeon, who showed amazing skills in arresting Lee Yuk-sa, the poet and independence fighter. It became a term for all skilled Japanese policemen in general. These, too, survived strongly after the liberation. Noh Deok-sul, a notorious policeman during the Japanese occupation, became the chief investigator for the capital city‘s police headquarters and played a major role in covertly weakening the Special Commission on Anti-patriotic Activities formed after the liberation. Another former “oni keibu,” Lee Ik-heung, was a favorite of President Syngman Rhee and was appointed minister of home affairs later on.
The governing party and the opposition are arguing whether to launch an investigation into pro-Japanese activities again. The biggest point of dispute is the governing party’s proposal to include all those who served as second lieutenants in the Japanese Army in the probe. The opposition claims this proposal is aimed at including the late President Park Chung Hee in the category of pro-Japanese to damage the reputation of his daughter, Grand National Party leader Park Geun-hye. The biggest problem is not that it includes second lieutenants of the Japanese Army in the investigation but that it excludes all other professions that were of as much significance during the Japanese occupation.
If second lieutenants are to be included in the investigation, the “kenpei gocho” and “oni keibu,” who were even guiltier of pro-Japanese activities, should be included as well.
The governing party should explain why it is not lowering the rank of the Japanese police, while it is lowering the rank of the military from lieutenant colonel to second lieutenant, for those to be investigated under its proposal. It seems that the party doesn’t really care what happens to this country. So long as it is to their partisan interest, they are willing to stir up the past and perform a biased rite of exorcism. This investigation is something that no one wants to support right now. Yet neither is it something that anyone wants to look like they are opposing. Therefore, if we are to do it, let’s at least do it right.
Since we are on the subject of pro-Japanese figures, let me mention that we should also be more careful and fair about the attitude we hold toward independence fighters. Leftist independence fighters are still independence fighters, and communists who fought against the Japanese should still be considered independence fighters. We could even say that the bandits in those days who fought with the Japanese police who were chasing them were fighting against the imperial forces. But no matter how we stretch the logic here, we cannot call spies who refused to give up their anti-social activities because they were supposedly “resisting against an undemocratic government” into democracy fighters.
The same goes for the dispute over who should be eligible to be designated descendants of independence fighters. In order to qualify, the candidates must at least be direct descendants and those registered in the same hojeok, or family register. To designate a married grandniece who is registered in a different hojeok as a descendant is going too far even in a country with too few surviving des-cendants of independence fighters.
*The writer is a novelist. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Moon-youl