[Viewpoint] The true spirit of reconciliationSyngman Rhee and Kim Gu had the same political ideas but pursued different paths. Their shared histories in the anti-Japanese independence movement were solemn and inspiring. And while they were split over how to found the nation, they were partners for a long time and managed to form a united front.
Rhee and Kim were both right-wing nationalists. After liberation from Japanese colonial rule, Korea was in the middle of a confrontation between the right and the left.
The division climaxed four months after liberation over the matter of trusteeship, which had been agreed upon at the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers involving the United States, Britain and the former Soviet Union in December 1945.
Rhee and Kim were furious and opposed any trusteeship over Korea. Kim referred to the opposition against trusteeship as “the second independence movement” and urged the nation to stage protests. The communists and the leftists were against trusteeship initially, but later supported the foreign overseers because of orders from the Soviet Union.
Both Rhee and Kim were anti-communists. Rhee was especially firm on his stance, denouncing the communist ideas of abolishing private property and eliminating capitalists and intellectuals. Kim completely shunned communist influence over the provisional government he had led. He despised communism, which denied the legacy of Korea and praised ideology.
Rhee became the first president of the Republic of Korea, but not because he was endorsed by the United States. Instead, his insight and leadership helped him attain the presidency.
In February 1946, the Provisional People’s Committee for North Korea was formed. North Korea under the leadership of Kim Il Sung began to function as a satellite nation of the Soviet Union from that point on. It was technically an independent government.
The division of the country was initiated by the North. Rhee saw through Stalin’s intention to impose communism on the South as well. He decided that establishing an independent government in the South was inevitable.
Yet, the United States turned away from Rhee. John Hodge, the military governor of South Korea under the United States Army Military Government in Korea attempted to politically ostracize him and supported the left-right collaboration of Yeo Un-hyeong and Kim Gyu-sik. However, the left-right united front was disrupted due to a complicated internal struggle and a fight over political hegemony. The United States had no choice but to sponsor Rhee’s government as the Cold War began to intensify.
Kim Gu stuck with the idea of forming a unified government. He opposed both independent governments in the South and the North. He went to Pyongyang with Kim Gyu-sik in April 1948.
The reality, however, was bitter. Kim Il Sung exploited the noble intentions of Kim Gu and used the negotiation as a means to exploit the division in the South. Kim Gu’s idealism was futile. Nevertheless, he chose not to take part in the government. If his faction from the provisional government had run in the May 10, 1948 election, they might have had a considerable share of power.
But history is full of twists and turns.
In the end, Rhee and Kim Gu went their separate ways. Kim was assassinated by loyalists from the Rhee administration. Rhee eventually turned to dictatorial rule in later years and was exiled after the April 19 Student Revolution.
The more Koreans yearned for democratization, the more obvious Rhee’s faults seemed. Many of the industrialists turned against him as well. However, he drafted a framework for the country, helped create the Korea-U.S. alliance and saved the country from communism. His choices became a foundation for prosperity and development of the country. But his accomplishments have been forgotten.
Amid the chaos, pro-Pyongyang leftists advocated a crooked perspective that the Republic of Korea was born forlorn and misshapen. Their target was Syngman Rhee, and they cleverly amplified the confrontation between Rhee and Kim Gu. They fanned the ideological discord and highlighted Kim’s opposition to separate governments in the North and South. They buried Kim’s criticism of the leftists’ support of trusteeship and ignored his anti-communism background. The third-rate leftists were not upset about Kim Il Sung’s derision of Kim Gu.
Kim Gu and Syngman Rhee called each other brothers. We have to reconcile the two and highlight their accomplishments and collaboration in Korea’s history.
It is truly regrettable that Kim did not take a part in the founding of the nation. However, his spirit of independence and unification was embraced in the Constitution.
Kim’s theory of a cultural nation is a prophecy for Korea’s future. Kim and Rhee’s historical reconciliation and coexistence presented a grand beginning for social integration.
It is also presents a challenge for the Lee Myung-bak administration to take on.
*The writer is the executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Bo-gyoon