[Viewpoint] The heart of collaborationThe “Pro-Japanese Biographical Dictionary” published by the Institute for Research in Collaborationist Activities is causing a heated debate. The dictionary includes 4,389 figures. Critics attack the book for having impure intentions. They claim it is attempting to damage the identity of Korea by emphasizing the pro-Japanese actions of forces with vested rights after liberation, including former President Park Chung Hee.
However, the value of the dictionary must not be denied, even if it includes such intentions. The flaws of the dictionary are a different problem from its fundamental value of existence. If it includes partially false information, it can be held responsible through the law. If some left-wing figures are left out, the book’s authority would be damaged. The tendencies of those who created the book and why pro-North Korean people were left out and only pro-Japanese included are also secondary issues.
Of course, many of the motives harbored by pro-Japanese people are understandable. Thirty-five years of Japanese rule was a long time. There was a lot of resistance from the people of Korea at the beginning of colonial rule, but the situation changed after 20 years or so. It became hard to resist Japanese rule and many people had to accept it if they wanted to stay alive. This is why people became judges, paid national defense contributions and praised Japanese imperialism.
Critics will probably bring up France. France charged around 120,000 people with treason because they collaborated with the Nazis during Germany’s occupation of France in World War II. But the comparison is unfair. The Nazis were in power for four years and two months. Japan had power in Korea for more than 35 years. If Nazi rule had continued for 20 to 30 years, the manner of condemnation in France would have been different, too.
However, records are different from having a clear understanding of something. It is like forgiving but not forgetting. The list of collaborators might not have been necessary if all the people of Korea had been submissive for 35 years. Some were not. More than a few people left their families in danger and poverty to join independence movements in Manchuria and Shanghai. The collaboration list is necessary, at least to remember these people. If not, there would be no justice in the world.
President Park is a major figure who should be included on the list. The book states that he sent a letter written in his own blood to enter the Manchurian military academy. Park, a 23-year-old elementary school teacher, knew that entrance qualifications included an age limit of 18 years old or younger, and asked for preferential treatment. He said the letter was “a strong resolution to serve my country to the death with a mind and spirit that will not be shameful as a Japanese person.”
Park graduated from the Japanese military academy in Manchuria and became a second lieutenant. What kind of a place was Manchuria? It was a place that contained the blood of anti-Japan fighters and the soul of Korean independence activist Ahn Jung-geun. Park went to such a place not as an independence fighter, but as an officer of the Japanese occupiers. He even wrote a letter in his own blood to get there. If he were not included in the dictionary when a letter was written in his own blood, people would be confused.
However, just as understanding something and recording it are not necessarily the same side of a coin, we should also differentiate between recording and evaluation, too. A historical evaluation is based on a person’s entire life. Just because the life of a person includes pro-Japanese actions does not mean a person’s entire life was pro-Japanese. A pro-Japanese action is different from a pro-Japanese life. Park may have pursued some pro-Japanese activities, but he was a patriot for contributing to the founding of the nation, modernization and the development of the press. The national anthem composed by Ahn Eak-tai and poetry written by Seo Jeong-ju are not damaged just because the two people were pro-Japanese at times.
The homeland of Napoleon Bonaparte, Corsica, was a French colony, and Napoleon’s father was involved with independence activists. However, Napoleon went to the heart of France to become an officer and emperor. The homeland of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore, was a British colony. However, Lee Kuan Yew went to the heart of Britain to become a solicitor before becoming the city-state’s first prime minister.
President Park Chung Hee also went to the heart of Japan, the mother country of the colony he lived in. And the modernization process he spearheaded in Korea allowed this country to catch up with its former colonial ruler. Does this make Park pro-Japanese or a person who beat Japan?
What would Park say about the pro-Japanese dictionary if he were alive today? Would he not say, “My name must not be left out”?
Park did not try to hide his past. Even when he became the highest authority in Korea in 1961, he tried to meet his teacher from the Japanese military academy. After he became president, he appointed Manchurian military academy alumni. After living like this, would Park have avoided the pro-Japanese dictionary?
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin
More in Columns
A new epicenter of social conflict
Lessons from a president
Tales of Chairman Lee
Chinese way of tackling challenges
Time to step up climate action