[Viewpoint]Shine light on shady parts of regimeDuring the peak of the boom of “reevaluating Park Chung Hee” in 1997, I was leading a team in charge of a JoongAng Ilbo series called “The History of the Park Chung Hee Era.” The chief editor at the time told me, “A journalist who was a victim of the Yushin period became a ‘fan’ of Park Chung Hee after investigating that period. I wonder how you will rate him when you complete the series.”
Having spent my late teens and early 20s in the 1970s, I disagreed with him initially. However, by the time the series was over at the end of the year, the team concluded Park Chung Hee was the “only president about whose achievements and faults we can genuinely evaluate.” While interviewing former Blue House secretaries and aides, there were two things I found hard to believe. Upon learning of the death of Park Chung Hee in the morning after the assassination, Park Geun-hye’s first reaction reportedly was, “Is the DMZ all right?”
Wouldn’t it be normal for a daughter to burst into tears or ask who killed her father? I wondered whether those who had been close to the former president were trying to extend his legend onto his daughter as well. My suspicion was somewhat resolved when Ms. Park was terrorized last May. She said, “I am all right,” “Don’t overreact,” and “How is the election in the Daejeon area?” She had probably been trained by her father to look at the world through the eyes of a president.
One of the more absurd comments I heard from President Park’s former aides was that Ms. Park was dreaming of becoming a president someday. At the time, Ms. Park was not even near the political circle. She became politically active in 1998 through a by-election. Nine years later, she is the second-most popular primary candidate today.
Ms. Park started her role as a first lady in her early 20s when a bullet struck and killed her mother during an assassination attempt against the president. In her latter 20s, she lost her father, too. She devoted the next decade or so to restoring her father’s honor.
In 1998, she published a collection of diary entries titled, “Suffering Is my Friend, Truth Is my Beacon.” She wrote, “If I have one dream and hope, it is to correct the distortion on my father and have history appraise him properly.”
She grew out of that burden in her 40s. A Jan. 6, 1991 entry reads, “Finally, I came to think how I, as an individual, should live my life and what I should do for progress.” Recently, Ms. Park changed her signature hairstyle that reminded us of her mother, Yuk Yeong-su.
If Ms. Park is determined to become a politician, it is absurd that she considers the acquittal decision by the Committee for Reestablishment of the People’s Revolutionary Party case and the release of the list of judges related to the emergency measures as “political attacks” against her.
She might feel suspicious and discontented about the media now that she has announced her candidacy for the presidency. However, if she aspires to become a president, she should take a clear stand on such historical cases and ask for opinions from the citizens.
“How fearful can power be? It can kill an innocent man, and it can leave a scar on the family forever,” she wrote in her diary on Nov. 3, 1989.
Eight innocent lives were lost as a result of the fabricated case of the Committee for Reestablishment of the People’s Revolutionary Party.
They were heads of families and good sons to their parents. The government executed them only 18 hours after the court ordered a death sentence against them.
The families had been wretched and heartbroken for the last 30 years. Having shed so many tears in private, Ms. Park would understand the details of their pain and suffering more than anyone else.
Since she joined the presidential race, she has had no way to avoid a historical reevaluation of her father.
Some even compare Park Chung Hee with the likes of Sejong the Great of Joseon and Admiral Yi Sun-shin.
She had lamented on Feb. 7, 1990, “I worked so hard to remove the distortions against my father, only to face a new distortion,” but now those days are over.
Now is the best time to address the shady parts of Park Chung Hee’s Yushin regime. Ms. Park should not hesitate to wipe away the tears shed by the surviving families and pay a condolence visit to the graves of the victims.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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