[FOUNTAIN]The rottenness of a society too scared to speak

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[FOUNTAIN]The rottenness of a society too scared to speak

One day, without warning, the writer Han Soo-san was picked up and interrogated by the intelligence service because of his novel “The Street of Desire,” which was being serialized in the JoongAng Ilbo.
The issue, apparently, was a phrase in the novel that had been taken as an insult to a high-ranking official, and to the Park Chung Hee regime. Also interrogated, because he was an acquaintance of Mr. Han’s, was the poet Park Jeong-man. Mr. Park was tortured and killed.
A year later, Mr. Han wrote in “A Horseman Rides By” that torture “makes a man give up being a man and become a mere animal.” Tiring of the brutality in his homeland, Mr. Han had moved abroad. After returning to Korea, he wrote, “The easiest way to maintain power is to force the citizens into autism.”
Under military rule, many Koreans seemed to suffer from autism. Innocent citizens who made slips of the tongue while drinking were arrested for the most insignificant criticisms of the government. It was joked that violations of the National Security Law only took place under the influence. If a drunken passenger in a cab criticized the president, the driver would sometimes go straight to the police station. Koreans had stopped talking. It was a silent society, eerie, lonely and rotten.
Filmmaker Im Sang-su has described his recent movie “The President’s Last Bang,” based on the assassination of President Park, as “a eulogy for the people who died without knowing why they were being killed.” His film conjures up the countless souls who evaporated for no reason. But Korean society ― as represented by the court that ordered scenes cut out of his film ―has virtually branded Mr. Im an autistic child. The National Security Law might be of lower proof these days, but Koreans are still intoxicated by its influence.
The recent report on the abduction of former Korean Central Intelligence Agency director Kim Hyung-uk may or may not be credible, but it offers a chance to treat this lingering social autism by talking about the past. Of course, we needn’t believe everything about the story; the description of the body being disposed of in a grinder at a chicken farm, for instance, is more dramatic than a movie.
But the disposal of the body is not the most terrifying aspect of that account. According to the story, when President Park said, “I trusted Kim Hyung-uk, but he is a bad man,” his underlings promptly carried out the murder. A complaint by Mr. Park was interpreted as an order to kill. He complained about more than a few people.


by Chung Jae-suk

The writer is a deputy culture news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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