[Viewpoint] Will none of them be missed?On Nov. 5, 1945, Kim Gu left Chongqing, China and stopped over at Shanghai with fellow leaders of the Provisional Government on the way to the recently liberated Korea. Shanghai was the government-in-exile’s first home 13 years earlier, after which it moved to Hangzhou in 1932, Zhenjiang in 1935, Changsha in 1937, Guangzhou, Liuzhou and Qijiang in 1938 and then to Chongqing in 1940 to avoid imperial Japanese troops. When Kim was told that the Korean population in Shanghai had grown drastically since the provisional government had moved to Hangzhou, he said, “Yet only a dozen people firmly defended the spirit of independence and refused to become Japanese minions.”
Indeed, not many ordinary Koreans could stay loyal to the Joseon state under the madness of the Japanese terror. Not many ordinary men dared to dream about an independent Korea at a time when day-to-day survival was not guaranteed and the country had been abandoned by world history for nearly 40 years. While Kim Gu understood all Koreans’ agony, there was one man he could not forgive. In his diary, “Baekbeom Ilji,” he wrote, “I asked the Chinese authorities to hang the traitor Ahn Jun-saeng, but the execution was not carried out.”
Who was Ahn Jun-saeng? He was the second son of Ahn Jung-geun, Korea’s most respected and celebrated independence fighter. On Oct. 15, 1939, Ahn Jun-saeng visited Bomun Temple in Jangchungdan Park, Seoul. The temple was built to honor Hirobumi Ito, the Japanese resident general of Korea assassinated by Ahn’s father. He burned incense at the altar dedicated to Ito, pledged to atone for his father’s sin and promised devoted service for Japan. The next day, he met with Bunkichi Ito, president of the Japanese Mining Corporation and Hirobumi Ito’s second son, and made an apology in person. The photo from that meeting was featured in the Oct. 18 issue of the colonial government newspaper Maeil Sinbo, with the title, “Brothers forever resolve a 30-year-old score.”
Before the Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, Ahn Jun-saeng was known to have been involved in the independence movement. However, he yielded to the tempting offers of education and housing from the Japanese colonial government when Korea could do little for him. Ahn was used by Japan. Kim Gu could not forgive this “dog born to a tiger,” but I personally do not agree with the idea of branding him as a Japanese collaborator. He was a victim who could not endure his fate because he was a son of Ahn Jung-geun. The nation is at fault, as it could not even take good care of the son of the great patriot.
Fortunately, the list of Japanese collaborators compiled by a leftist group does not contain Ahn Jun-saeng. However, they do not share my reasoning for excluding his name, since many who collaborated less than Ahn did were included on the list. Most notably, former president Park Chung Hee was labeled as a Japanese collaborator just because he had been an officer of the Japanese imperial army in Manchuria.
Jang Ji-yeon, who had written a famous editorial denouncing the Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty of 1905, was included on the disgraceful list for a few pieces of Japanese-friendly writing. In contrast, Yeo Un-hyeong, a leftist leader who had written an article encouraging students to volunteer as soldiers, was left off of the list for some reason.
I am not sure who gains from such a biased process. Who among the citizens of Korea benefits from labeling these writers, who did what they had to in order to survive colonial rule and save their younger colleagues, as collaborators? It would be better for such a list not even to exist.
After the American Revolutionary War, President George Washington and Secretary of the Continental Congress Charles Thomson agreed not to write memoirs. They knew for sure that the citizens would feel disillusioned to learn how many times the glorious cause of independence almost ran aground because of the greed of individual leaders. Americans would have been greatly disappointed if Washington and Thomson had written petty accusations based on distorted values.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hoon-beom