[FOUNTAIN]Light shades and dark in a strongmanFormer president Park Chung Hee has the two faces of Janus. You can find both light and shade in his face, from the peaks of accomplishments and glories to the valleys of disgrace and betrayals. One side of his face arouses admiration but the other side evokes disgust.
Uri Party Chairman Lee Bu-young recently attacked on the darker side of Mr. Park. His disclosure contained no news, but Mr. Lee seemed to have carefully timed his attack. He focused on Mr. Park’s youth, in the days before he became the strongman of the country.
In 1940, 23-year-old Park Chung Hee entered the Military Academy of Manchuria, which was a puppet nation of imperial Japan at the time. Graduating the first in his class, he received a gold watch from the Manchurian emperor and gave a valedictory speech. This scene was filmed and screened in theaters in Seoul. He transferred to the Japanese Military Academy and finished as third in his class. By 1944, he was in the Japanese Kwantung Army in Manchuria. He adopted a Japanese name, Masao Takaki.
After Korea was liberated from Japan, he joined the Liberation Army led by General Kim Hak-gyu. In 1946, he returned to Korea and helped set up South Korean armed forces. He joined the Joseon National Guard Academy, the predecessor of the Military Academy. When his older brother Sang-hee, a leftist, was shot and killed by the police, Sang-hee’s friends persuaded Mr. Park to join the South Korean Workers Party.
When military leftists were rounded up in 1948 after the Yeosu-Suncheon Rebellion, Mr. Park was arrested. At a court martial, he was sentenced to death. He pleaded with Baek Seon-yeob, the intelligence chief of the army headquarters, for help. In his memoir, Mr. Baek recalled that Major Park was the only one saved, on the justification that he had provided information on communists in the military.
Mr. Park has a history of collaboration with Japan, siding with the communists and betraying them again.
The former president’s light and glory was born from darkness. But we have to be careful not to ignore the glory because of the darkness.
The brighter side of Mr. Park should also be shared and taken pride in. At the same time, let’s not be blinded by his glory and paper over all his many faults.
by Chun Young-gi
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.