[Viewpoint] Was Kim’s passing a coincidence?

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[Viewpoint] Was Kim’s passing a coincidence?

In the modern history of Korea, the biggest rivals in politics were Park Chung Hee and Kim Dae-jung. Of course, Syngman Rhee and Kim Gu were also rivals, but the period of their competition was too short and one of them disappeared from the stage too early for their rivalry to be seen in the same light. Park Chung Hee and Kim Young-sam could also be seen as rivals, but the latter was not a presidential candidate against Park and he was never abducted or imprisoned.

The two Kims competed against each other but they belonged to the same democratization forces. They competed over their regions, instead of ideologies.

Kim Dae-jung, Kim Young-sam and Chun Doo Hwan were more like fighters of common enemies rather than political rivals.

Since it is no longer possible for the president to hold power for a long time and because our country has democratized, it is very unlikely that we will ever again see such rivals as Park and Kim.

Was their time on stage mere coincidence? Were their passings just happenstance?

Park was assassinated on Oct. 26, 1979. On the same day 70 years before, Korean patriot Ahn Jung-geun shot Hirobumi Ito. Ito was a central figure in Japan’s modern administration of the Meiji era. He served as prime minister four times.

Serving as the first resident-general of Korea, he built a bridgehead for making Korea an annex to Imperial Japan. Upon his death, Japan gave him a state funeral.

By shooting Ito, Ahn wanted to tell the world about the Joseon Dynasty. Ten months after the shooting, the Joseon Dynasty disappeared. In hindsight, Ahn’s shot was like firing a volley for the dead Joseon.

Even though Park did not choose the date of his death, the fact that the date of his death coincided with Ahn’s shooting sends a message. Park probably wanted to say that - even though he was a dictator - it was not for his own interest that he worked. Instead, he would say he worked in order to develop the country for the people.

As he succeeded in developing the economy through his dictatorship, our economy made remarkable growth. This, in turn, led to the creation of a middle class. And, ironically, it was this creation that did Park in.

The middle class demanded democracy and, to achieve that, Park had to disappear.

After being shot by the director of the intelligence service, the president said his last words: “I’m O.K.” He was given a state funeral.

Kim Dae-jung died on Aug. 18, 2009. The day was the 33rd anniversary of North Korea’s “axe murder incident.” On that day in 1976, North Korean soldiers hacked to death two American military officers who trimmed a poplar tree in the Joint Security Area.

At the time Jimmy Carter, a U.S. presidential candidate, pledged to withdraw American troops from Korea. The incident tightened tensions nearly to the brink of war for the first time since the truce in 1953.

Kim Il Sung ordered the North Korean military to be ready for combat. The United States sailed its Midway class aircraft carrier to Korea’s sea and launched B-52 bombers.

South Korea and the United States decided that if North Korea provoked a war, they would take Kaesong and advance to the Yonbaek Plains. But North Korea backed down. Kim Il Sung lost face when he expressed regrets to the United Nations for the first time in 23 years.

Kim Dae-jung is thought of as the most accommodating South Korean leader toward North Korea during the half-century since the truce.

After becoming president, he did his best to reconcile with North Korea and in 2000 he became the first South Korean president to meet with North Korea’s leader.

There have been many ups and downs in inter-Korean relations, but tourism of Mount Kumgang and the Kaesong Industrial Complex remain as tangible evidence of Kim’s North Korea policy.

Why did the leader who was most supportive of reconciliation between two Koreas pass away on the anniversary of the day when the danger of war was at its peak? Of course, it can be seen as a pure coincidence. But doesn’t it send a message about reunification, just like Park dying on the day when Ahn assassinated the Japanese leader?

God took to heaven the leader for reconciliation between the South and the North on the anniversary of hatred probably because he wanted to send a message about war and peace. He probably wanted to say that we should not forget war in order to preserve peace, and we can enjoy peace only when we are courageous enough to counter a belligerent enemy’s provocations.


*The writer is an editorial writer and senior political news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin
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