[OUTLOOK]Casting the ‘collaboration’ stone

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[OUTLOOK]Casting the ‘collaboration’ stone

A few days ago, I was listening to the radio on my way home. A list of pro-Japanese collaborators that was said to have been prepared by a group of governing party legislators was announced. Included in the list were the names Koh Bong-gyeong and Min Yeong-mi. “What an ignoramus this announcer is,” I thought to myself.
Just to be sure, I checked the list on the Internet as soon as I got home. To my dejection, the two names were there. The reason I couldn’t believe these two names were included is because they are not real. “Koh Bong-gyeong” is an incorrect reading of Koh Hwang-gyeong. The list makers had mistaken the Chinese character of “hwang” for that of “bong.” Likewise, the name Min Yeong-mi should have been Min Yeong-hwui.
The biggest surprise was finding the rather un-Korean name of Kim Hwa Cheon Su. The list maker had again misread the Chinese characters for Kim Yeon-su. It is my opinion that those who are attempting to disclose pro-Japanese activities are doing something very dangerous. All the more shocking, they are being absolutely careless in their job of finding people and engraving “scarlet letters” on their chest.
The problem of setting history right and ridding ourselves of the vestiges of Japanese imperial rule is a tragedy modern Korean history carries. The fact that even 60 years after liberation we haven’t been able to set the record straight acts as an oppressive blanket over us. The issue of pro-Japanese collaboration is no doubt a historical task that we must go over and resolve some day. The problem with the recent efforts of the governing party legislators, however, is that they have a hidden political agenda and they are using seriously flawed methods.
First, this is an issue that should be dealt with by serious scholars who have taken much time to study the matter, not legislators who aren’t even able to distinguish the Chinese characters for “bong” and “hwang.” It was wrong from the start for legislators to step forward with this task, above all because their intentions weren’t pure.
This was a matter that should have been handled by the academic community from the beginning. The government would have done better to sit back and allow the non-governmental expert groups that are already actively carrying on research to continue their job.
Second, the recent movement to give historical censure to pro-Japanese collaborators is unfortunately becoming a movement to politically censure the collaborators’ descendants. The father of the governing party chairman was a petty officer in the Japanese imperial army, and the father of the opposition party leader was a lieutenant in the same army.
It is true that Koreans who served as officers in the Japanese army were guilty of collaborating with the imperial authorities. However, their “crimes” would not have become a social issue had their son and daughter not been the leaders of the governing party and the opposition.
There were numerous Koreans who served as officers in the Japanese army at the time. Why are we only censuring the fathers of legislators Shin Ki-nam and Park Geun-hye? This is why many believe this movement is a political ploy.
Third, judgments on history should be balanced. The social debate on pro-Japanese activities so far has been overly emotional and has lost a sense of fairness. For example, when President Roh recently met with the Japanese prime minister, he vowed not to mention the prickly past between the two countries during his term. If the president had vowed not to mention the colonial past between Korea and Japan, he should not have started the search for pro-Japanese collaborators.
The history between Korea and Japan and the issue of pro-Japanese collaboration are inseparable. This is all the more reason why many are skeptical of the governing party’s efforts to search out collaborators.
Finally, we must always take into consideration the special characteristic of the Japanese colonial period. This was not a short invasion like that of France, which lasted only four years. This was a colonial rule that lasted almost half a century. Ultimately, there aren’t many Korean households who can claim to be absolutely free from any pro-Japanese past.
Kim Gu, who went to Manchuria and China to fight the Japanese, once remarked, “At the time, everyone in the country was a pro-Japanese collaborator.” His words, however, are unfair in that they do not acknowledge the sufferings of the numerous nationalist patriots who preferred to remain in Korea to continue their own fight. For us to act superior and censure the people of the past is to abuse our luck of having been born later.
Korea is going through some pretty tough times. We really don’t have the time and energy to engage in such fruitless warring among ourselves. The war must stop here. Perhaps Jesus was predicting our situation today when he said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.”

* The writer is a professor of political science at Konkuk University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Shin Bok-ryong
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