A fractured dream that still pains us
The renowned liberation fighter Park Yong-man threw himself into the movement opposing creeping Japanese imperialism. He was imprisoned in 1895 for his activism, and it was there that he met Syngman Rhee. Park found a kindred spirit in Rhee, and the men became sworn brothers. In 1905, Park completed his prison sentence and left Asia for the United States, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Rhee and get a Western education.
He enrolled at the University of Nebraska in 1908 and majored in political science, with a minor in military studies. During his summer break in 1910, Park founded a school that would provide military training to young Korean men. More than 80 percent of the Korean students in the area attended the school.
In addition, he brilliantly performed as an editor in chief for the Shinhan Minbo newspaper and wrote several books calling for Koreans train to as soldiers to fight the Japanese.
His ambition was to stand up against the Japanese imperialists by building up an army of young soldiers. Park obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1912 and met Rhee again at his military school’s commencement ceremony. Thirteen students graduated in that first class.
They resolved to move to Hawaii and coordinate the Korean independence movement from there with the support of Korean-Americans living in the state.
Although Park and Rhee shared the same patriotic enthusiasm, their approaches to the independence movement differed widely. Rhee insisted on the importance of diplomacy, while Park thought the only solution was armed struggle.
Park founded the Korean Military Corps and an affiliated military academy on a farm in Honolulu in 1913. There, he trained 124 Korean residents who became soldiers in the name of the Korean Empire.
Rhee, however, thought the idea of challenging Japan’s military might was nothing more than a pipe dream. Their disagreements on the matter led to a split within the Korean-American community in Hawaii and a falling out between the two sworn brothers.
Two days after the violence of the March 1 Independence Movement in 1919, Park founded a paramilitary group consisting of 350 members in Honolulu and pledged to redouble his efforts for an armed struggle with Japan.
In April of the same year, Rhee founded the First Korean Congress in Philadelphia and adopted a statement sent to the U.S. government, giving an impetus to the new independence movement through diplomatic means with the United States.
The conflicting leadership styles of these two old friends influence us to this day, and not in a good way. The country is still eager to meet a leader who will sacrifice his own interests for the sake of the greater good.
The writer is the dean of the school of liberal arts at Kyung Hee University..
By Huh Dong-hyun