[INSIGHT]Take a closer look at history

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[INSIGHT]Take a closer look at history

Right before and after World War II, Japanese intellectuals suffered from ideological controversy over their membership in the communist party. The Japanese intellectual community was harassed by controversy over their ideological color because of their affiliation with the Communist Party. Shunsuke Tsurumi, a Japanese philosopher who led the campaign to save the life of dissident poet Kim Ji-ha, came to propose a “joint study on conversion” in 1976.
The word “conversion” is an unpleasant term in that it means turning an individual’s thoughts into the direction that pleases judicial authorities. In terms of relations between an individual and political power, conversion means submission. But individuals also possess spontaneity. Therefore, it can also mean natural change, growth and maturity of thought or state of mind.
There were many intellectuals who converted from communism in Japan before and after World War II, but there isn’t enough data on them to study them. Another difficulty was that such a study should have been pursued from both ends of the ideological spectrum.
Some suggested that to overcome this difficulty, joint research on conversion should be carried out. Others argued that digging up the past was pointless. But Shunsuke Tsurumi’s proposal was that a joint study on conversion be conducted to escape from the hypocritical history of Japanese thought, to follow once again the conversion curve that his predecessors followed, and to avoid falling into the ideological labyrinth again through the conversion experience of the previous generations. Since then, three volumes of his vast study on conversion have been published.
I do not know Uri Party lawmaker Lee Chul-woo personally. All I know is that he was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the Central Region Chapter of the North Korean Workers’ Party, or the Patriotic Front for National Liberation. He was pardoned and had his civil rights restored and was elected as a lawmaker.
An opposition lawmaker accused him of joining North Korea’s Workers’ Party and of being a spy, roiling the National Assembly.
That left us in the middle of tiresome wrangling over ideological color again.
Why is this happening repeatedly? I think it is because of our dark history. We have lived through the dark period of Japanese occupation either being pro-Japan or anti-Japan; we went through the turbulent period of Korean War either being pro-North Korea or anti-North Korea; and from the 1980 uprising in Gwangju to the early 1990s as anti-dictatorship and pro-democracy fighters.
As such, many people have suffered wounds and frustrations, unable to be free from the shackles of the past. In this regard, we need a turning point through which we can clean up and overcome the problems of the past, both far and near.
In particular, I expect the “386 generation” activists who advocated the juche ideology of self-reliance, like lawmaker Lee Chul-woo, to write a confession of conversion at this opportunity.
The judiciary must have kept records on the Patriotic Front for National Liberation case. Now that he has been pardoned and reinstated, accusing Mr. Lee again is nothing but meaningless ideological contention. To avoid pointless controversy, I suggest that lawmaker Lee write a frank confession of his conversion.
By writing down the process of changes in his thoughts, he can review what was prevailing in his mind during the 1980s and 1990s. I suggest that he write a voluntary conversion so that he will never again repeat the same ideological mistakes that he made in the past.
The 386 generation has lived through the dark times of the 1980s and the 1990s. If they write about their conversion with a confessional attitude that will shed light on the era they went through, they can pass the dark tunnels of the past to re-emerge in a bright chapter of history.
Kwon In-sook, who had been sexually tortured, worked tenaciously to expose the atrocities of the autocratic regime. Moon Bu-sik, who had finished serving his longterm of imprisonment for setting the U.S. Cultural Center in Busan on fire, wrote a letter reproaching himself: “I was an arsonist. Although I had no intention of killing, I set fire to a place where there were people, taking a student’s life and injuring three people.”
Since the Kim Dae-jung administration, people who have contributed to the democracy movement have been vindicated and given material compensation. What is the significance of the money given to those who had to be confined in the long tunnel of dark ages? Can we consider today’s state of things as normal, when the past participation in the student movement and a stay in prison have become the basis for decoration and a special pass to enter into politics?
There is a book called “The National Association of University Student Representatives: The Myth of the Invincible,” compiled by former presidents of the association, which is made up of 386 generation members. As Moon Bu-sik pointed out in the book, isn’t it necessary for these people to reflect on whether they have hidden their shameful behavior in order to display their brilliant past records, instead of describing both the gratification and frustration, the passion and wounds, and the pride and despair that the Korean student movement had experienced?
Rather than recovering their honor in the name of the country or the National Assembly from the persecution that was afflicted upon them, they should make an effort to change the dark age to a new chapter in history through their voluntary conversion. “When the light of memory fades away by a moral preach that, under the guise of protecting the truth, drives all truth to meaningless conventionality, darkness will befall again,” wrote Hannah Arendt in her book “Men in Dark Times.”

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

by Kwon Young-bin
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