[VIEWPOINT]The ‘three Kims’ should stay retiredWhen I was a primary school student, I heard my parents mention such names as Kim Dae-jung, Kim Young-sam and Kim Jong-pil at the dinner table. More than 30 years have passed, and I still hear people mentioning their names. On my way home, I contemplated the phenomenon and realized that, from my primary school days until now, my life has never been free from the names of those three Kims. Except for dictators such as North Korea’s Kim Il Sung, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Col. Quadafi of Libya, there has been no precedence to me.
Was it because of the personalities and abilities of the three Kims? It could be, but the main reason that made it possible was Park Chung Hee’s rule.
Nowadays, there are hot debates on Mr. Park’s presidency as well as recent books. Scholars who admire the late President Park’s achievements energetically publish books about him. There are also many books in praise of Kim Dae-jung’s work. However, I think we need more time to make a historical evaluation of their achievements.
When I was a university student, I hated former President Park. I regarded him as “a dictator who was shot dead by his own security chief.” However, my thoughts have changed as I have gotten older and traveled around the world.
I started to realize that if it were not for the five-year economic development plan, the Seoul-Busan Expressway, the establishment of Posco and things like the Saemaul Undong, or New Community Movement, with the slogan “Let’s live better,” the establishment of free trade zones, green belts around urban areas and afforestation projects, the Republic of Korea we see now could be a completely different country.
Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam vehemently objected to the economic development plans of Mr. Park. I don’t think it is necessary at the moment to criticize them for their past deeds.
On the opposite side of the “Economic Miracle of Park Chung Hee,” there clearly existed political oppression, the tears of female workers who worked at sweatshops, human rights violations, sighs from squatters whose huts were pulled down and the breakdown and resistance of intellectuals and university students.
At that time, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam were the hope and light for the future. Therefore, their opposition to the economic development was a meaningful part of our history. In retrospect, Park Chung Hee, Kim Dae-jung, Kim Young-sam and Kim Jong-pil were giants who contributed to the modern history of South Korea by playing their own roles.
Deng Xiaoping once described Mao Zedong as someone “who had both merits and demerits, but there were more merits than demerits.”
It occurred to me, however, that my earlier evaluation of the three Kims might be mistaken when I heard about their recent behavior. On Oct. 29, Kim Dae-jung visited Mokpo, his political home base, after eight years. During his visit, he wrote, in calligraphy, “No Honam, No Nation.” Honam means the Jeolla provinces. On that day, however, Mr. Kim said, “I will do everything except participate in politics.” However, no one doubts that his visit to Mokpo itself was a signal he is resuming politics.
It seems that Kim Young-sam and Kim Jong-pil could not bear it, so they met with each other. They said President Roh Moo-hyun seemed to be “out of his mind.” There is almost no one who says Mr. Roh is doing right. At private gatherings, people even make degrading insults about Mr. Roh. However, it is not usual to hear former presidents talk about the state of mind of the incumbent president.
Together with the three Kims, Lee Hoi-chang, former chairman of the Grand National Party, is also making a political move. I hear there are people begging Mr. Lee to come back. Hearing such news makes me feel suffocated. If things go this way, there is no guarantee that Mr. Roh, who is only 60, will not return to politics after his retirement from the presidency.
It is a blessing that many former presidents of the country are still alive. Nothing else can demonstrate the significance of a peaceful transfer of power and the continuity of a nation. However, if the former presidents who should wait for their judgment by history jump into actual politics, then it is a disaster.
I beg the three Kims: Please let Honam, Yongnam and Chungcheong free, and keep your hands off politics. Do you want to be recorded in history as criminals?
*The writer is the city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chong-hyuk
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?