[VIewpoint] Revisionist thoughts on liberation

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[VIewpoint] Revisionist thoughts on liberation

In August 1945 the Korean Peninsula was shrouded in uncertainty. History’s first atomic bombs had been dropped, destroying two cities in neighboring Japan; and since the former Soviet Union had declared war against Japan, it subsequently got a free ride as one of the victors at the end of World War II.

On Aug. 15, the Japanese emperor surrendered to the Allies, but the United States and the Soviet Union drew the disarmament line for Japanese forces across the Korean Peninsula, dividing the country in two. The Cold War structure, known as the Yalta System, took shape as the two superpowers helped bring down Japan and Germany. With this in mind, we need to note that Liberation Day on Aug. 15 has intentionally, or habitually, ignored two facts over the last 60 years. The first is that we didn’t achieve the liberation of the Korean Peninsula by our own efforts. The second is that liberation did not bring about independence immediately.

Moreover, some theories reveal a level of ignorance about the international circumstances and the power structure of the time. Some argue that Korea would have attained much more in the post-World War II negotiations if Japan’s surrender to the Allies had been delayed by one week. Or they claim that Korea could have formed a unified government if the left-right alliance or the South-North negotiation had worked.

In short, these theories shy away from taking responsibility for the political and social disorder. Who, or which group, on the Korean Peninsula could have stood against the United States and the Soviet Union when the country was little prepared for independence after its sudden liberation?

Stalin had openly revealed his ambitious plan to sponsor Kim Il Sung to establish a separate government in the North, so any hypothetical analysis of history cannot avoid the criticism of being self-deceiving.

Those who highlight “division” rather than focusing on the “founding of a country” when studying the nation’s liberation and restoration of sovereignty make a folly of ignoring international political analysis in the study of the Korean Peninsula.

The blind spot of the division-oriented historical perspective is not just the emphasis on unification. Another problematic theory is that division meant war, and therefore, the Korean War that Kim Il Sung started was a domestic issue that was an inevitable step ahead of unification.

What we need to be wary of the most is a historical perspective that considers the founding of the Republic of Korea an unfortunate part of history that should never have happened. Some teachers shamelessly present their students with the theory that the Republic of Korea is a temporary and arbitrary system, an interim setup on the way to a unified government.

What we need now is a more aggressive interpretation of history, one that associates the liberation of Aug. 15 not with division but with the founding of the nation. It is about time the next generation of the founding fathers who established the Republic of Korea under challenging domestic and international circumstances stood up proudly for our country.

It is not appropriate to say that former President Syngman Rhee’s choice of liberal democracy and market economy was an inevitable direction.

Considering the various circumstances, it is more convincing to say the founding fathers overcame a seemingly hopeless situation and miraculously established the Republic of Korea and went on to build a liberal democratic nation.

It has been 60 years since the country was liberated from Japanese colonial rule. Rhee deserves re-evaluation, as he set up a system for liberal democracy by coping with domestic and international obstacles and power struggles among political sects during the three years of the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union right after liberation.

Today’s Koreans have a duty to hand down to the next generation an authentic chronicle of the founding of the Republic of Korea based on unbiased research as well as objective analysis.


*The writer is a secretary general of Dr. Syngman Rhee Memorial Foundation and an adjunct professor at Korea University.


by Kim Il-ju
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