[FORUM]The present-day collaboratorsThere are those who claim that Korea’s history of the last 60 years has been a history of darkness. They say that this is because we didn’t scour the society for pro-Japanese collaborators, which they say prevented the establishment of a correct national spirit. These voices, often coming from within the ruling ranks, regard our history and our ancestors with contempt and ill will.
It is certainly shameful that we did not convict collaborators of their crimes after liberation. This is a disgrace in our history. But it does not mean that our past has been so hopeless as to merit such condemnation from today’s authorities. On the contrary, just 10 years ago, Korea was a model of a developing country. China’s Deng Xiaoping envied us, and Singapore, Malaysia and even communist Vietnam wanted to learn from our success.
Now, Korea has regressed to the plaintive state it was in during the 19th century, when it had to warily eye China’s every move. This was not the case even 10 years ago. During the decade that followed the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Korean tourists were strutting around the Great Wall and exploring the historical sites of Goguryeo in the Manchurian plains.
Where did such confidence come from? It came from the fact that we were richer than the Chinese, and that we had a formidable national defense based on our alliance with the United States. Korea had also succeeded in becoming a full-fledged democracy. Those 10 years were the best revenge Korea could have had on China for its centuries of interference with us. Those years have become a memory that will never be repeated in the future of Korea-China relations.
Who built the foundation for those 10 shining years? Those primarily responsible were the people who were born during the Japanese colonial period. Most of them were born between the 1910s and the 1930s. Mostly they are now retired or dead. They were born in a country that was stolen. What difficult, vicissitudinous lives they must have led. In their youth, most of them had some traces of pro-Japanese activity. It was a fate difficult to avoid. They had to survive under the brutal and crafty rule of the Japanese imperial forces for a long time ― more than 36 years. With the exception of independence fighters living outside the country, and those who were flagrant collaborators, the majority of Koreans living under Japanese colonial rule couldn’t help but be, passively, pro-Japa-nese.
These predecessors of ours rolled up their sleeves after liberation. Korea was poor and our military was weak, but they were determined never to be sneered at by China or Japan again. To overcome the national state of poverty, they worked hard. They prepared the ground for democracy to settle in Korea. Members of the generation that did all this are now about to be summoned out of their graves by less-than-qualified successors, who are preparing to dig up their life records and family registries.
If we were to point out the real pro-Japanese collaborators, they would be the members of the ruling class at the beginning of the 20th century. Oblivious to the movements of the Korean Peninsula’s neighboring powers, the ruling class was busy fighting amongst itself. The country was impoverished, and it owned no guns or cannons, yet these people were not concerned with accumulating national wealth and making the country stronger militarily. The original pro-Japanese sin was this folly, which led the Japanese to think little of us, and which fed their imperial ambitions.
Our leaders today seem obsessed with this business of seeking out pro-Japanese collaborators. To put themselves in a favorable light, as though they were messengers of justice, they will not hesitate to criticize our past and history whenever they feel it necessary. By the standards set forth by the governing party, no one in modern Korean history is innocent. Even the makers of the Korean miracle of overcoming centuries of poverty are being reduced to offenders. Most of our military leaders during the Korean War, who pushed back the invading North Koreans, are subjects of the recent pro-Japanese investigation.
The governing party should not consider itself safe from this weapon that it is brandishing. There are bound to be numerous revelations about, or confessions by, governing party legislators whose fathers, or grandfathers, were military police officers or police detectives during the colonial period.
Meanwhile, Japan will be racing toward the future. Japan is trying to drive a wedge into the somewhat loosened alliance betwen Korea and the United States, in order to keep the latter completely on its side. The axis of order in the region has now shifted to the Japan-U.S. alliance. From now on, even if the Japanese should stage military maneuvers on Tokto, the United States will remain neutral. With weak naval power, it will be difficult for us to cope with the situation. Japan is already looking down on us. We don’t have to look far to find today’s pro-Japanese collaborators. History is repeating itself.
* The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s deputy managing editor in charge of political news.
by Park Bo-gyun