[VIEWPOINT]History is a can of worms

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[VIEWPOINT]History is a can of worms

Seeing the recent controversy over whether the lawmaker Kim Hee-sun’s ancestors were independence fighters or not, I could not help having mixed feelings.
I had expected that the results of digging up the past would make all of us look so ugly. Are we entitled to discuss national spirit if our late father was an independence fighter and disqualified if he was the head of a township during the Japanese occupation of Korea? Should the leadership of politicians and leaders in our society be undermined if their father’s collaboration with Japan, to whatever degree, is revealed by investigating his deeds during the colonial period?
Why should children suffer for what their parents did and be ashamed? Could we have chosen our parents when we were born? Wasn’t it by chance that some were born descendants of independence fighters and others were born descendants of betrayers? If they happened to be born descendants of independence fighters, this could be something to thank God for, but not to boast of before people.
Let’s take this discussion a step further. Is it such a serious crime for one’s ancestor to have been the head of a township during the Japanese occupation? Among those who had lived under the Japanese rule, how many on earth could have lived “without any shame when looking at the sky?” Couldn’t it have been that some were given chances to learn and become government officials while others were not and lived as common people? Wasn’t it that some could go abroad and be engaged in the independence movement but the majority of the people had to collaborate with Japan to survive?
It is certainly necessary to set history right. Wrongly described history should be set straight and described rightly. Overly beautified history should be corrected as well and shameful history should also be honestly described. We, then, can fairly criticize the historical distortions of Japan and China. And if there are any people who bear a grudge against the mistaken history of the past, their grudge should be settled. Just as the deceased father’s dishonor should not be handed down to his children, the betrayer’s huge lands, acquired by selling out his home country, should not be bequeathed to his children.
Despite this, the correction of history should not become the exposure of each individual’s past. In the past, our society suffered huge pain due to guilt by association against leftists. If it should undergo pain again now due to guilt by association against pro-Japanese collaborators, nothing could be more pathetic.
Why did it turn out this way? It was because the task of setting history right was not carried out for a pure cause but used by politicians as political tactics. Because their disclosure of the past is seen to hurt a particular person secretly, people raise questions one after another: “When your ancestors were no better than mine, why do you try to slander me?” In doing so, divulgers, defenders, and onlookers all become deplorable and dirty together.
Raking up every detail of the past is not the correction of history. We should be able to understand the “inevitability” of the situation at the time and let minor faults pass. Moreover, our country could make a transition from the past military dictatorships to democracy without resorting to bloody retaliation. The absence of bloody retaliation is a matter to be thankful for fortunate, not to be considered “a failure to set history right.”
But some suggest that not only the wrongdoings of pro-Japanese collaborators but those of leftists be revealed. If that is the case, rightists’ faults should be uncovered too. This is to say that we should divulge the entire unhappy history of fratricide in the Korean War. What in the world is the gain of doing so now in this situation?
Politicians should deeply reflect on their behavior and seek wise measures. They should give up any idea of using the correction of history as a political strategy and turn the “dirty” disclosure of the past to a “meaningful” correction of history. They should try to save our people from suffering through this tiresome pain of having to hear the news when personal histories are dug up.

* The writer is the head of Joy of Sharing, an NGO. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Suh Kyung-suk
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