[Viewpoint] Bury Roh in the empty void

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[Viewpoint] Bury Roh in the empty void

The climax of the five-year term of the Roh Moo-hyun administration came in the evening of May 29, 2004. Supporters wondered if it was a dream or reality as the poison of impeachment transformed into a glass of champagne, as they celebrated a landslide victory in the general elections.

The celebration for the winners at the Blue House was full of emotion. Around 20 “386 generation” ex-student activists, born in the 1960s and at college in the 1980s, stepped forward and sang “A March for My Loved One” and “Love, Honor and Name, Without Exception.” Some cried as the president sang along, too.

The song that Roh sang was “Empty Void” by pop singer Cho Yong-pil. “I miss too much to disregard it as a mere dream…/ A sad old story that has to be buried in the void…” Why did Roh sing that song? Today, Roh is about to disappear just like in the song. Now, it is the people’s turn to sing a song. Another Cho tune would be appropriate this time: “I Am Letting You Go Now.”

When President Roh built a big house in his hometown, many people frowned on him because it was so luxurious. However, I did not agree with them, because it was the first time in history that a Korean president had returned to his rural hometown to enjoy retirement. Considering that it was built in a rural area where land is cheap, I thought a former national leader could afford to live in a decent house.

In fact, construction of Roh’s residence in Bongha Village cost around the same as one high-class apartment in the Gangnam area in Seoul - around 2 billion won. It’s built on land four times the size of President Lee Myung-bak’s home in Gangnam, but the publicly disclosed land price was one-quarter of Lee’s plot of land.

Another reason I wanted to be generous to Roh about his mansion was my wish to see the first “presidential village” in Korea. In the United States, people can find some past president’s birthplace or memorial hall if they drive off of the interstate highways. One such place memorializes President John F. Kennedy in Boston on the East Coast. Harry S. Truman’s hometown is in Independence, Missouri in the Midwest. The presidential library of President George H.W. Bush is in Texas; the younger Bush’s will also be in Texas. Ronald Reagan’s library is in California.

Past presidents remain in the lives of the American people in this way, during life and after death. I wanted Bongha to be the first presidential village of Korea. I looked forward to seeing it become a village where the modest and untarnished president and his family led simple lives amid the support of local residents and tourists.

I also welcomed Roh’s retirement to the countryside in the hope that the people could forget the five years of his term in office more easily.

Roh Moo-hyun is a man of duplicity. He had wanted to be president for a long time, but when he actually realized this goal, he said, “I cannot perform the presidential duties.” He became a judge, a public attorney and president owing to the Constitution, yet he violated the Constitution. He abandoned the Democratic Party that made him president, and proposed a grand coalition with the Grand National Party that attacked him.

He dispatched troops to Iraq in keeping with the Korea-U.S. alliance, but he did not take action against anti-U.S. activists who attacked the statue of General MacArthur and beat up soldiers. He concluded a Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, but fired the police commissioner who stopped protest rallies staged by farmers. The five years of Roh’s term were like water made muddy by his duplicity. The mud started to settle when he went to Bongha Village, even though the country was roiled by violent candlelight vigils in summer last year.

The reason the stir created by Park Yeon-cha is unpleasant and bitter to me is because the sediments of duplicity are being stirred up again.

Stanford University in Palo Alto, California is one of the most American of universities. It is a wealthy university with a gallery of the sculptor Rodin on campus. It is where the power of U.S. capitalism and the drive and creativity of liberalism come together beneath the sunshine of the West Coast. It has a golf course, too.

Roh Moo-hyun said, “So what if I am anti-American?” during his campaign, and became president with the support of those who joined the anti-U.S. candlelight vigils held in memory of the two schoolgirls, Hyo-soon and Mi-sun, who were killed by a U.S. army vehicle.

The son of such a president studied at Stanford University, learning how to become a wealthy man. The president’s wife is said to have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from Park Yeon-cha without the knowledge of the president, some of which was sent to their son. The son even took part in investments with some other money he received from Park Yeon-cha through different channels. The president’s elder brother, whom the president called a weak countryside senior citizen, was a cunning capitalist broker. It is truly a drama of duplicity that I want to bury in an empty void.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin
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