[Viewpoint] An open letter from DJDear Citizens,
I woke up very early this morning. It has been a month since former President Roh Moo-hyun died, and last night, the monsoon rains poured down in the southern regions. It rained on a certain rock in Gyeongsang, washing away a bloody stain left by a sorrowful soul.
I was reminded of Roh’s ruminations on death and life, on a “piece of nature,” and suddenly, I felt like writing something. I am proud of my record as the leader of this country. I became president of Korea, made an inter-Korean summit possible and won the Nobel Peace Prize. However, I’d like to write about another aspect.
I walked the path of struggle and opposition because I believed that’s where the truth lies. However, as I look back, I realize that the path I took was not mainstream, which gives me pause. After all, the mainstream makes history. In the 1960s and 1970s, I opposed the late President Park Chung Hee.
I was against the construction of the Seoul-Busan Expressway and the establishment of the Homeland Reserve Forces. Now I have to ask myself, how could we have accomplished economic development without the Seoul-Busan Expressway, and how could we have defended ourselves from armed insurgents from the North if it weren’t for the Homeland Reserve Forces?
Park was an autocratic leader. On the other side of the river, I was fighting for democracy. I was persecuted, and even kidnapped. For a very long time, I argued that justice was on my side.
However, I cannot say that anymore. Park’s dictatorship was not an autocracy for his personal prosperity, but government intended to develop the nation. The time was not right for democracy and instead the country pursued development-oriented absolute rule, an agenda that saved Koreans from poverty and chaos.
I was the arrogant one who did not embrace history. When I became president, I advocated the second founding of the nation. A nation can only be founded once, and pursuing the second founding was arrogant and disrespectful to my predecessors. From Syngman Rhee and Park to Kim Young-sam, presidents before me continued to work within the context of historical development. I tried to break from this post-Korean War tradition and connect myself directly to the Provisional Government in Shanghai during Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea.
But now I realize that whether you are on the right or the left, the legitimacy of a nation cannot be changed. In the U.S., it doesn’t matter if Republicans or Democrats are in power; the legitimacy of the U.S. was established by its founding fathers.
I admit, I also told lies. During the general election campaign in 1971, the car I was riding in was hit by a truck, and the accident left me injured. Based on witness accounts, it was a simple traffic accident. However, I denounced the Park administration for attempting to have me killed. In my acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2000, I included the accident as one example of the dictatorship trying to assassinate me.
And after being elected president, I promised to establish a memorial for President Park, but I backed off when some civic groups protested.
I was rash and naive. A few days after the inter-Korean summit meeting, I said war would never again erupt on the Korean Peninsula. But two years later, Pyongyang broke the Geneva Agreement to freeze its nuclear program and recklessly pursued nuclear development. North Korea is now threatening the South with the possibility of war.
They say when you meet a Communist, you should look at the feet under the table. But I only looked at the hands. The late Roh, whom I had called one half of myself, failed to look at the feet, as well. For that, I am largely responsible.
Lastly, I failed to please the public when I was in charge. Former heads of states in other countries can play inspirational roles. Former U.S. President George H. W. Bush skydived on his 85th birthday. Former President Jimmy Carter builds houses for the poor, and former Vice President Al Gore is devoted to environmental causes.
They are not only stylish but also modest men. The incumbent may be competent, or not, but these former heads of state do not attack the president in office.
What legacy have I left?
This is a confession of an old man who was president on the daybreak of discord and confusion.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin