[INSIGHT]Sunshine and shadows

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[INSIGHT]Sunshine and shadows

On June 16, 1944, when German forces were reeling from the Allied D-Day invasion, a Frenchman faced a firing squad in the middle of a field in Lyon, France. Marc Bloch, a resistance leader in Lyon and a historian, died here, shouting, “Vive la France!” A Jew and father of six children, he joined the French Army at age 53 to protect his homeland. After France surrendered to the Nazis and anti-Semitic pressures increased, he became a resistance leader in the Lyon area after trying and failing to move his family to the United States. After his death, his colleagues collected and published his written musings on history under the title “The Historian’s Craft.”
The book was not filled with resentment over losing his country and criticism of cowards even though it was recorded by a resistance activist and historian. He wrote the book to correct prejudices and misunderstandings about the study of history. History is neither a list of things that happened in the past nor a hobby to show off erudition. He wrote, “What history intends to grasp is the people behind the visible landscape, tools or machines, or behind the seemingly cold documents or institutions that at first glance appear unrelated to those who made them.”
Marc Bloch saw history as a task of seeing the broad connections in human activity and believed that historians should submerge their individuality. History is not to be judged but to be understood. He asked historians not to try to define the present through the past or gloss over the past from the perspective of the present. “Combining research on the extinct and research on the living is the study of history,” he wrote.
Our country also had many resistance fighters. They risked their lives and suffered countless hardships during the Japanese occupation or as democratic fighters during the military dictatorships here. Now they have seized power and are trying to establish a correct patriotic spirit and national identity by clarifying the past. It sounds wonderful at first, but the clarification of the past led by those in power is the very domination of the past by the present that the resistance historian Marc Bloch opposed. It is a nationalistic and totalitarian method of seizing history that those activists were themselves opposing when the Japanese did it.
The Japanese rewriting of Korean history, the National Charter of Education, national ethics, the Yusin “reforms” and Chun Doo Hwan’s “just society”: Were resistance and struggle against these wrong histories not independence and democratic movements? We see that when political power tries to control history, it allows things like China’s distortion of Goguryeo history.
A poet named Lim Jong-gook died 10 years ago, but he had dedicated most of his life to researching pro-Japanese collaboration. Beginning with his book “On Pro-Japanese Literature,” he then wrote “The Japanese Colonial Invasion,” “Pro-Japanese Collaborators” and “A Collection of Pro-Japanese Theses.” Objectively describing pro-Japanese activities of artists and journalists who made remarkable contributions, Mr. Lim described in detail why and how they cooperated with the Japanese. These accusations were a wonder and a shock to post-liberation generations. He clung to this job for his whole life without yielding to poverty and threats. Since then, many young people have taken the same path. Many experts have appeared and material has been accumulated. These people are engaged in lonely work in narrow circumstances.
But the government or lawmakers should not take the lead. They should leave the task of clarifying the past to this group of experts and watch the results quietly while funding them.
History or the past cannot be erased or tidied up. To survive, people may have collaborated with Japan or flattered the military dictatorships. But history should not be a task of cleaning up the past emotionally but recording it objectively. The main actors of the task should be historians, not politicians. The Financial Times said in an article on Aug. 3 titled “The Use and Misuse of History” that President Roh Moo-hyun’s proposal for cleaning up the past came from narrow political interests. It recommended that he repeal the proposal or frankly look back on the painful but exemplary process of Korea’s transformation into a modern industrial country. When the past is illuminated, it becomes history, and when it is shadowed, it becomes myth.

* The writer is the executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kwon Young-bin
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