[Viewpoint]Seeing through colonial eyesNapoleon Bonaparte was born on the Mediterranean island of Corsica in 1769. Corsica was under French rule at the time.
Napoleon’s father, Carlo Bonaparte, was involved in the independence movement, but when the Corsicans were defeated, he embraced colonial rule. He was treated as nobility by the French governor. The mighty French rule had a grave influence on young Napoleon.
At age 10, Napoleon went to France with his father. The Corsican boy spent lonely days at a French school. He wished to speak French freely, but he could not hide his Corsican accent. He cried from time to time and read history books by himself. At age 15, he was admitted to the Ecole Royale Militaire, the heart of colonial France.
He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the French Army and passionately devoted himself to the revolution. The Corsican boy who cried alone in his dormitory room in Paris became the emperor of France and led the development of his country and of history.
Lee Kuan Yew was born on the small island of Singapore in Southeast Asia in 1923. Singapore was a British colony at the time. Lee was born to a wealthy family of Chinese heritage. To the young Lee, Great Britain was the center of the world, and his dream was to become an English gentleman. Lee Kuan Yew spoke better English than Chinese, and he gained admission to the prestigious Raffles College, the oldest university in Singapore established by the colonial government. However, Japanese forces occupied Singapore in early 1942, and his world perspective was shaken. British forces crumbled under Japan’s bold and swift attacks. Great Britain also collapsed in the mind of Lee Kuan Yew.
After World War II ended, Lee, now a young man, started to contemplate the future of his country. He decided to go to London, the heart of the country that colonized his homeland. He studied law at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge and became a lawyer.
Instead of becoming a noble Englishman, he chose to become the reformer of Singapore. Thanks to his leadership, Singapore became what former British High Commissioner to Singapore, Philip Moore, called the most amazing city-state since Athens.
Park Chung Hee was born to a poor farming family in Gumi, North Gyeongsang in 1917. Imperial Japan was the center of the world to him. He graduated from a teachers college and went on to teach at an elementary school. However, he gave up his teaching career and pursued the life of a soldier.
In 1944, he joined the Imperial Military Academy. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant and served in Manchuria. He was an officer serving the Emperor of Japan when Korea was under colonial rule. After independence in 1945, he served as an Army officer for the Republic of Korea. And he later went on to become president and governed for 17 years.
Countless people have grown up under oppressive colonial rule in the history of mankind.
Colonial governments were the undeniable and unchallenged centers of their worlds. Of course, there are people who chose to resist. Syng-man Rhee and Kim Gu fought against colonial rule. However, most chose to adapt to the circumstances, and there were revolutionaries among them. They jumped into the hearts of the colonizers, reinvented themselves and reformed their fatherlands. Just like a snake that feeds on the dead body of its mother, they hid their loneliness and anger and absorbed the nutrients of the colonial rulers. And they used the nutrients for the homeland and for history.
The biographical dictionary of Japanese collaborators is to be published in August 2009. It contains 4,700 entries, including former president Park Chung Hee. The 36 years under Japanese colonial rule meant the loss of the nation, and it is important to leave a record of the Japanese collaborators as a lesson for our descendents.
If you were to live in a colonized country, you probably would have had no choice but to adapt to the colonial authorities. This is understandable. However, understanding their situation and leaving a record are two separate matters. A country with spirit and soul should hand down such a record to the next generation.
However, we should also remember the agony of the souls hidden under the scarlet letters of “Japanese collaborators.” There have been people who embraced colonial rule not for their own interests but for the interests of their homelands and history.
History is ironic, indeed. If Napoleon remained in Corsica and chose to become a farmer, would France be the same? If Lee Kuan Yew had rejected Great Britain and led an ordinary life in Singapore, would Singapore have become what it is today? If Park Chung Hee had turned down the Japanese Military Academy and continued to teach at the elementary school, what would Korea be like today?
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin