[Outlook]The shadows of temptation
Most of the presidents in Korea’s modern history came from hard-scrabble backgrounds. Predictably, when they became president, the whole family was easily overcome by the temptations offered by a dramatic rise in social status. They fell under the hypnosis of political power.
Even if the presidents tried to do the right thing themselves, the people surrounding them drove them into the same mesmerized state. Breaking the spell was the only way to keep themselves from falling into morally difficult situations. However, there have been a few cases in which memories of poverty and adversity paralyzed their ability to reason.
In 1939, the nine-year-old Chun Doo Hwan and his family left a remote mountainous farm village in Hapcheon, South Gyeongsang and migrated to Manchuria in order to escape the harsh conditions of the Japanese occupation. Already tormented by poverty, they were also subject to attacks by Chinese mounted bandits.
In October 1940, when the family’s youngest, Chun Kyung-hwan, was still a baby, the family was struck with a fever. Bandits attacked their village in China’s Jilin Province, reducing the place to ruins and causing all the villagers to flee. When they were in hiding, Kyung-hwan burst out crying.
His mother tried to stop the baby’s weeping, but he only sobbed more loudly. Someone held out a piece of string in the darkness, saying, “If this continues, we all might die. Take him by the throat with this string if he keeps crying.” The event stayed with young Doo Hwan as a terrifying memory.
President Chun Doo Hwan helped his youngest brother Kyung-hwan lead a successful social career. When he was the driving influence in the Office of Presidential Security in the 1970s, he helped his brother become a member of the presidential security team.
When Chun Doo Hwan exploded onto the political scene in the early 1980s, Kyung-hwan began to live a different life, serving diverse roles such as secretary general of the government-backed Saemaul (Community Development) Movement.
Consequently, Chun Kyung-hwan was punished as one of the major political figures in the Fifth Republic corruption scandal. His brother issued an official apology to the nation in November 1988 and went to exile in Baekdam Temple.
Roh Moo-hyun grew up in a small room with his brothers in Bongha Village. He wrote in his autobiography, “I had two trustworthy brothers. My oldest brother was the only university student in our village and the surrounding area. My second-oldest brother was quite good with his hands.”
After graduating from Busan Commercial High School, Roh Moo-hyun worked for a fish net company for a short period before quitting the job. He moved back to his hometown, Jinyeong. As his brother Roh Geon-pyeong was out of work, his family was in a time of great need.
Moo-hyun and his brother Geon-pyeong decided to build a dirt-walled house on a neighboring mountain together. They carried pieces of flat stones from the mountain and used them to floor the room. Moo-hyun started to prepare for the exceptionally rigorous Korean bar examination in the house. If he had not built the house with his brother, there would have been no Judge Roh Moo-hyun and later, no President Roh.
After coming to power, President Roh was deeply concerned about temptations luring his brother Geon-pyeong. He criticized Nam Sang-kook, the former president of Daewoo Construction and Engineering, for bribing Geon-pyeong so Nam would not be fired from his position. Nam ended up committing suicide by jumping into the Han River.
Geon-pyeong is now the central figure in a corruption scandal that greatly threatens to blemish the image of morality of the Roh administration. President Roh saw at a glance that the shadow of temptation approached his brother, but failed to prevent it.
Some might say it is impossible to control his grown-up brother. However, as the shadow became darker, he should have drawn a more pronounced boundary. The presidential office and relevant ministries should have kept a close watch on this matter.
The late legislator Yuk In-su was the brother-in-law of Park Chung Hee. Yuk told a story, “Soon after Park became powerful after the military revolution in 1961, his farming brother went to see him.
“The brother said to Park, ‘People told me that I must play a leading role in the country’s prosperity.’ Park saw that his brother risked succumbing to bribery. Park ordered the police to post a sentry in front of his brother’s house, as soon as his brother went back to the countryside.”
After Park’s death, there were no allegations of corruption.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin