[Viewpoint] Korea’s reputation, honor at stake

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[Viewpoint] Korea’s reputation, honor at stake

Former President Roh Moo-hyun denied most of the allegations against him in answering the written questions put to him [by prosecutors] earlier this month.

I hope that he is telling the truth.

It is hard to believe that the president filled a bag with $1 million in cash and took the stash onto his presidential plane with the intent of giving the money to his son.

He would have done something if he had known his secretary had embezzled money from the Blue House. Even if Roh’s aides argued that the secretary took the money to make ends meet, it’s still difficult to believe the president of a country would just close his eyes and let it happen.

If the president was indeed involved, I think he would have been ashamed of his actions in front of his own son and his secretary. He couldn’t have had the command needed to lead as president.

Therefore, I really want to believe Roh was telling the truth when he wrote his response to the questions from the proescutors.

We can categorize scandals, accidents and criminals along two lines: those to be seen in underdeveloped nations and those seen in advanced countries.

When people get trampled to death stampeding out of a burning theater or sports arena, it’s usually something that happens in an underdeveloped country. And, I would argue, the same is true of serious corruption cases.

In advanced countries, it is rare that leaders are involved in scandals such as the one Roh now finds himself in.

It is a shame that foreigners who proudly use Korean-made quality mobile phones and TVs and drive Hyundai cars may have a different view of the country because of what is going on now.

The key value of a democratic country is constitutionalism.

But what will we do if honor and dignity fall by the wayside as we try to establish constitutionalism?

When United States President Richard Nixon resigned due to the Watergate scandal, it was regarded as only natural to punish him in accordance with criminal law. But his successor, Gerald Ford, ignored public sentiment and pardoned Nixon just 30 days after taking office.

That enraged the people, and they then insisted that Ford go to jail. They accused the new president of having made a deal with Nixon.

Ford knew that his decision would turn public opinion against him and that it would damage his political career seriously in the end. Nevertheless, he felt a strong sense of responsibility to take the United States out of the Watergate swamp.

And it did indeed damage his career. Ford became the only U.S president never to be democratically elected, serving a term of just 29 months. Some 30 years later, though, no one blames Ford anymore. In fact, he is rather highly regarded as the president who saved the United States from deep division.

The presidency is a country’s main post of power and honor.

Therefore, when the president is involved in a criminal case or a scandal, honor must be taken into account. Senator Hugh Scott said that Nixon’s fall from glory in itself was enough punishment.

I would likewise argue that former President Roh has already been punished as the sordid affairs surrounding him have been uncovered. He himself said that his honor and trust in his morality have dried up and asked the people to give up on him.

There is no need therefore for prosecutors to struggle to prove the charges against him.

In the absence of crucial evidence, we should simply admit his testimony. This is not to do him any favor as an individual; it is a way for the country to save face.

The former president, too, must seek seriously for the right way not to damage country’s honor further.

Prosecutors have decided to summon Roh. But they can interrogate him in his own house or in a neutral place, quietly. Parading him before cameras and making a big fuss won’t benefit anyone.

Even if he is summoned, the fact that he is a former president must be considered, and he must be treated accordingly.

We displayed strict constitutionalism when two former presidents, Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo, were convicted.

We have grown mature enough to go beyond constitutionalism and discern what is more honorable. We must be wise and prudent.

President Roh and his affairs must not divide the county.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-geuk
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