[Viewpoint] Let Roh’s death end discord

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[Viewpoint] Let Roh’s death end discord

Last Saturday after former President Roh Moo-hyun died, his supporters trying to set up a mourning altar in front of Seoul City Hall scuffled with police. Mourners with chrysanthemums were lining up to pay tribute, and the police encircled the crowd.

One of the organizers was distributing black ribbons that read “Condolences.” As he approached and offered me a ribbon, I was beset by complicated thoughts.

How should I interpret the death of President Roh? Should I be wearing the ribbon of condolence?

I was touched with compassion and was heartbroken by his death. I felt I understood his pain.

But was he right to choose death?

Even if I could comprehend his decision as an individual to take his own life, it was wrong of him to make such a choice as a leader of the nation.

I turned down the ribbon.

The Roh supporter looked at me with reproachful eyes and asked, “Are you a member of the New Right?” Sadly, it seems Roh’s death is again picking on old scabs.

The death of any man is a sad and pitiful event. Roh’s tragic fate must have been especially heartbreaking to those who supported him. Many young men in black suits visited the mourning altar.

No one has the right to obstruct their grief. The police cannot and should not stop the tears of the mourners. The overly prickly response of the police to the mourning altar on the day of Roh’s death has backfired.

I hope the mourners would be able to cry their full and clear their minds. I wish the tears will wash clean their hearts and bring peace to the country.

Although I understand how Roh had felt, I don’t think his decision was right.

We all experience dead ends in our life. We might be tempted to escape all the suffering by choosing death.

However, we usually say, “I cannot die even if I want to.” We suppress the temptation because of our parents, spouse, children, the job, responsibility or even love.

As a national leader he should have considered the effect of his suicide.

You might argue that a man ready to kill himself cannot afford to think further. However, during his presidency, such spontaneity had been his weakness.

Why did he not think of how solemn it is to be a president and what he represented?

What if he had written, “I end my life because I cannot keep the presidential honor but I hope the nation will transcend division and go a new way with my death?”

Korea already has the disgraceful record of the highest suicide rate in the world. When even someone who had been the president of the country ends his life this way, the impact is bound to be tremendous.

While death to an individual ends everything, his death as a former president should be interpreted differently. It is tragic and heartbreaking, but as a public figure, his act was not appropriate. The funeral procedure should reflect this point.

The prosecutors rebuked him as a criminal [suspect] during his investigation, but immediately after his death, all investigations were closed. While the jurisdiction is no longer valid with the death of the concerned party, it does not change the crime [he is accused of].

I am not suggesting harassing the late president.

We need to find out the truth and make sure whether the prosecutors were not unreasonable. The prosecutors virtually admitted how political they are, making an excuse of struggling politically, and swayed by public sentiment.

The presidential guards should have anticipated the possibility and should have used all appropriate security measures. It is a shame that we are living in a country where a retired president is not guarded properly. It was indeed a tragic event, but it is a separate matter that a country has to defend its position as a nation.

The late President Roh had admired Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln was reelected in the last days of the American Civil War, which left the United States completely devastated.

On April 14, 1865, only six weeks after his second inauguration, he was assassinated at Ford’s Theater near the White House. All Americans, both in the Union and the Confederacy, mourned his death.

In his reelection address, one of his most celebrated speeches, he called for forgiveness and tolerance. He said:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

When President Lincoln was killed, people pondered the meaning of the address and thought that he might have anticipated his fate and left his last words to Americans.

The meaning of death depends on how those left behind accept the death, not the one who died.

The death of President Roh will have different meanings depending on us.

I would like to propose that his death mean the end of Korea’s division.

It is time to get over the hatred.

His death puts an end to discord that lasted for ten years. Those who loved him, especially, have a duty to make his death meaningful.

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

by Moon Chang-keuk
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