[VIEWPOINT]The blame game can backfireThe main victims of the government’s efforts to uncover the country’s hidden history, have, so far, been leading members of the ruling party.
They are being held up to scrutiny for the errors of their parents. They face harsh public questioning. Although many say it is not a matter of guilt by association, once somebody becomes a subject of criticism, the damage to them as a politician can be enormous.
“Correcting” the past with political witch hunts has to be ended and the job turned over to historians.
Some may argue that North Korea got rid of all Japanese collaborators, but the South did not. They may say that the South can only stand tall if it, too, rids the country of the collaborators.
But North Korea did not only get rid of pro-Japanese citizens, it also went after opponents of Japan. They liquidated members of the South Korean Workers’ Party who led left-wing independence movements under Japan’s imperial rule, the pro-Chinese faction who fought against the Japanese with Communist leader Mao Tse-tung, and even those who were involved in the national liberation movement in the Soviet Union. They were liquidated because they were obstacles to establishing the Kim Il-sung regime.
However, the governing Uri Party is rushing the pursuit of those who collaborated with Japan and seeking to expand the campaign. In the words of former Uri Party chairman, Shin Ki-nam, “All weeds need to be pulled out ― without exception.”
Such an effort needs to based on truth.
There are people who passed government exams and were appointed heads of local government under Japanese rule. Yoon Kil-joong was the magistrate of Gangjin and Muan during the colonial period. He used his power wisely, though he was limited in what he could do. He played an important role in creating the basis of the constitution after liberation. However, he declined to be an Assembly member, atoning for the fact that he served as a Japanese official.
Lee Hang-nyung was also a magistrate. He too declined to become a post-liberation government official because he supported Japan. He temporarily took on the position of vice minister of education right after the April 19, 1960 student uprising, but then chose to devote himself to writing and teaching younger scholars.
General Lee Jong-chan, who was called “a genuine soldier,” graduated from the Japanese Military Academy and participated in the Pacific War in Southeast Asia. His grandfather Lee Ha-young, who was one of five traitors who helped turn the nation over to Japan, was awarded the title of viscount by the Japanese imperial court. The general’s father was also titled and served as an aide to the last emperor of the Joseon Dynasty with the blessing of Japan.
However, Lee Jong-chan declined the title of viscount and the privileges that came with it when his father died. He came back to Korea from Japan after liberation and spent three years rehabilitating himself.
After the government was established in South Korea, he joined the military with the recommendation of then-Vice President Lee Shi-young and became a commissioned officer late in life.
General Lee became the chairman of the chiefs-of-staff during the Korean War. When President Syngman Rhee proclaimed martial law and ordered the mobilization of troops for political purposes, he refused the order and was forced from active service.
In the turbulent times after the 1960 student uprising, he commanded the military as the minister of defense under acting-President Huh Jung and ensured the transfer of power to civilian government.
Former President Park Chung Hee was an officer in Japan’s Manchurian Army and enlisted in the Independence Army after liberation. When he returned to Korea, he went to his hometown to be a teacher because he, too, wanted some time for self-reflection. Belatedly, he enrolled in the Korean Military Academy at the persuasion of a former comrade in the Japanese army. Mr. Park then endured the humiliation of taking orders from his juniors.
These cases tell us that we cannot draw a straight line and condemn only those on one side of it. There were people who became officers or agents for the Japanese police, betraying the nation and harshly suppressing fellow citizens. But there were also people who were promoted to high-ranking official or military posts, yet who constantly agonized over the role they had to play.
The reason human rights should be respected is because although people make mistakes, they should have a chance to rehabilitate themselves. Such a generous and tolerant system should be an inherent part of the identity of the Republic of Korea.
Great harm was done by movements organized during China’s Cultural Revolution. Crowds were mobilized to suppress and humiliate so-called anti-revolutionaries under the guise of setting history straight. Politically tainted movements can bring about frightening results, such as strengthening the monopoly on power of certain groups, getting rid of talented people, obstructing the unity of the people and setting back national development and the economy.
We need to learn a lesson from China’s Cultural Revolution, which put that country back 10 years.
* The writer is a member of the Committee of the Northeast Asia Economic Forum. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Jong-chan