[Outlook]No backseat drivers, please

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[Outlook]No backseat drivers, please

In a column for the March 29th issue of the JoongAng Daily, I called Former President Kim Dae-jung an outstanding figure in Korean history. From the perspective of historical philosophy, Kim is almost the only person who is as important as President Park Chung Hee.
The rugged history of Korea has not allowed heroes to appear easily. For instance, Kim Gu was recorded as a great person by failing in real politics. Park Chung Hee generated the people’s energy, started industrialization and made astonishing achievements, but due to his despotic rule he did not remain in the spotlight of history.
It would be wonderful if Kim Dae-jung, who is a great statesman and Park’s former political rival, makes a historical achievement and then ends his career on a high note -- thus rewriting Korea’s unfortunate history. However, Kim’s recent moves and remarks are depressing. His backseat driving for leading politicians goes against his promise not to intervene in politics. This is more than failing to keep one’s promise. Kim repeats obvious and sly political remarks to restructure the political arena.
Kim admits that these moves are inappropriate for a former president. He knows that he is being unreasonable. It is true that the ruling circle’s pathetic situation draws him into the center of politics again, but his obsession with the Sunshine Policy, more than any other factor, seems to encourage Kim to act unreasonably.
As a statesman, he is worried that the Sunshine Policy, his life’s work, could be abolished depending on the result of the December presidential election. To prevent this, he is trying to create a political force that supports his policy.
Kim’s attempt is misguided. It is true that there is no way besides reconciliation and co-existence for South and North Korea to manage a crisis on the Korean Peninsula and prepare for reunification, as Kim says. A war or absorbing the North cannot be rational alternatives. In principle, the Sunshine Policy is very persuasive.
However, problems occur when a policy turns into a closed dogma. Arrogance that does not care about changes tends to fail in reality. A nuclear armed North Korea cracks the presuppositions of the Sunshine Policy.
But in terms of his view on North Korea, Kim worships the existing policy but lacks an ability to adjust in accordance with reality. Unlike Kim, the current participatory administration does not have a clear vision or the ability to handle a crisis well, so it passively follows Kim’s lead.
Any administrations to come will not change the flow of peaceful co-existence with North Korea. The measures for reconciliation and co-existence must be a Sunshine Policy that can be adjusted or modified.
Another problem lies in that Kim’s tinkering allows certain political factions to misuse Korean issues for their benefit.
An important plan for the entire country becomes less important than a strategy to assume power. This political effect of Kim’s unreasonable acts is clearly revealed. Kim can no longer justify his backseat driving. This is the final legacy of the politics of the three Kims, which is based on regionalism and has long oppressed Korean society.
A backseat driver sometimes finds roads and knows how to drive better because he is unattached to interests, allowing him to look at the entire situation more cool-headedly. Kim, who is power hungry, is not unattached to the situation, or an objective observer.
He once said, “I would rather die temporarily and live infinitely, than live temporarily but die infinitely.” He went against his own philosophy when he supported his second son becoming a politician even though many reasonable people desperately asked him not to.
Even Machiavelli could learn a lesson from Kim’s recent courageous and sly moves. His acts prove that Kim is taking the road to short-term fame at the expense of going down in history.

*The writer is a professor of philosophy at Hanshin University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Yoon Pyung-joong
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