[EDITORIALS]Judge Choi strictlyFormer President Choi Kyu-hah died Sunday and a national funeral is being prepared. He has earned a complicated legacy.
As foreign minister and prime minister, Mr. Choi achieved a lot. He contributed to a summit meeting between South Korea and Japan and made efforts to enhance the Korea-U.S. alliance. Whenever there was an oil crisis, he rushed to the Middle East to get oil.
When serving as prime minister, he worked to improve people’s livelihoods and visited construction workers on weekends. He lived a humble life and was free from corruption.
But as leader of the country, Mr. Choi was not as good. After the Oct. 26, 1979, assassination of President Park Chung Hee, Mr. Choi was given the historic task of drawing up a democratic Constitution and immediately taking over the government.
South Korea had a similar experience in its past; In 1960, the Heo Jeong-led caretaker government relinquished political power to a newly elected administration only four months after the April Revolution.
President Choi did not commit himself to his task. Democratic forces asked for martial law to be lifted but he hesitated. As a result, the May 18 massacre occurred. President Choi planned to hand over government in 18 months, but the military gained power after the Dec. 12 coup d’etat. Why did he go against the flow of history?
He was in a very difficult situation. Democratic forces made hurried requests. As a former diplomat, Mr. Choi did not have a strong support base and people to help him, unlike three major politicians: Kim Dae-jung, Kim Young-sam and Kim Jong-pil.
The military planned the coup as if their lives depended on it and their force was too strong for President Choi to fight against. However, if he had been determined enough, the flow of history might have run in a different direction.
President Boris Yeltsin of Russia stepped on a tank to defy a coup. However, President Choi did not reveal much of the historical truth even after his retirement. He has been silent on what happened with the military for his entire life. He was said to have kept a diary about the Dec. 12 incident so his family should help in uncovering the truth.
The funeral for Mr. Choi must be conducted in a way that expresses respect for the former president, but historical evaluation of the leader should be strict. By that, living leaders may learn to be afraid of historical judgment.