[INSIGHT]Leave history to the experts

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[INSIGHT]Leave history to the experts

I once heard a story about Korean pilots in the Japanese Imperial Army who were chosen to join the kamikaze squad during the Pacific War. The pilots decided to flee secretly. “Why should we die for the Japanese war?” they said. Everyone agreed but one. “You go ahead. But if we all go, the Japanese are sure to say we fled because we were cowards. I’m going to stay behind to show that Koreans aren’t cowards.” Now, is this pilot who decided to fly in the suicide squad a pro-Japanese man or not?
Someone defined a pro-Japanese person as someone who has repeatedly performed pro-Japanese activities in contrast to someone who had engaged in pro-Japanese activity, say, once. Is such a criterion based on numbers correct? Even the patriotic poet Yun Dong-ju, who died while being used as a guinea pig in biological tests done by the Japanese, changed his Korean name for a Japanese one, yet no one criticizes him.
It is a difficult thing to judge a person by his or her acts in the past. This is all the more true when we are talking about lives lived during a period of time when the entire country had been invaded and the entire population was suffering. It is a dangerous thing to judge these lives by how many “blemishes” and “betrayals” there were.
Moreover, when these things are decided according to political interests, it is almost impossible to expect a fair judgement. For example, the government party is crying for the legacies of former President Park Chung Hee’s Yushin, or revitalizing reform, with which he attempted to prolong his dictatorial rule, to be thrown out, but a considerable number of the accusers once served Kim Jong-pil, who called himself the “main party for Yushin,” as prime minister. Why are these people, who were silent when Kim Jong-pil, the self-proclaimed “main party for Yushin,” was a partner in their political coalition, now clamoring against the Yushin? Before the Grand National Party leader Park Geun-hye shot to political stardom, investigations about alleged pro-Japanese collaborators included soldiers only above the rank of lieutenant colonel. Now, the government party wants the rank of the soldiers to be included in the investigations to be lowered to second lieutenant. Isn’t it obvious that they are after the late Park Chung Hee in an attempt to attack his daughter? At the beginning of the Roh Moo-hyun administration, Ms. Park was reportedly asked to be the minister of unification. Didn’t they know that she was the daughter of Park Chung Hee and the “first lady of the Yushin regime” at the time? If the criteria swing back and forth according to political calculations, how can we truly set our history right?
It is always hard to resist words such as “justice,” “freedom,” “people” and “integrity.” Everyone is reluctant to oppose anything that is proposed “for the sake of justice” or “in the name of the people.” It is the same with this effort to delve into the past. Who would object to a plan claiming to clarify the past and establish a correct patriotic spirit by getting rid of bad legacies?
But there have been many examples in history of how people have sought their own interests under the pretext of justice and freedom and driven society into further ruin. We have seen politicians who purged their rivals under the guise of “clean politics,” while lifting themselves up. These politicians claim to think of the people first but are really thinking of their political career first. Some 400 years ago, Yeogon of the Chinese Ming Dynasty was referring to such people when he wrote, “The evil of righteous opinion is great indeed.” To attack one’s enemies with “clean and righteous claims” is an old political tactic. Yeogon continued, “Righteous opinion is harsher than a prison sentence and it leaves no room for the accused to appeal.”
The attempt to set history right should not be such a “righteous opinion.” The powers of today control the history of the past, but history should not be used as a tool in political fights lest it lead to further distortion of the past. I would like to propose that we establish a strong Korean history research institute. It is true that our current research of history is insufficient in many ways. Incidentally, China is trying to steal the past of Goguryeo from us and Japan is constantly trying to distort our history. Yet, we only have 14 people in this country who can claim to be experts in the history of Goguryeo. We need to protect our history and teach it correctly while educating the people about a correct sense of history. In order to do these things, we need an authoritative research institute. How about leaving the task of unraveling the tangles of the past to such an institute as well? An authoritative institute would at all times research and investigate matters of pro-Japanese collaboration and dictatorships in our past and this would ensure that there would be no political strategies, retaliation or witch hunts involved here.
If the president is so interested in setting history right he should encourage the activities of such an institute and give it enthusiastic support, financial and otherwise. It is not for the president or the government party to stake their all on this task of clarifying history as they are doing right now. The president should instead stake his all in developing the country and making better lives for our people.
He should, in other words, do politics. While the government is occupied with the past, millions of people are crying today.

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

by Song Chin-hyok
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