[Viewpoint] Progressives’ blindness on Cheonan“Puppets of America Provokes a Serious War in the Korean Peninsula” was the title of an article in L’Humanite, the newspaper of the French Communist Party, on June 26, 1950, the day after the Korean War broke out.
A day later, sociologist Raymond Aron contributed a completely opposing column in the conservative newspaper Le Figaro. “The North Korean army’s invasion of the South is the most significant incident since World War II,” he said.
As always, the French intellectuals were swayed by the left and supported L’Humanite. Even Jean-Paul Sartre, Aron’s friend and fellow resistance member during the Nazi occupation of France, thought that Aron’s claim of a North Korean invasion of the South was absurd. Albert Camus, the author of “The Stranger,” was one of the few supporters of Aron.
When later, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who had long been an ideological ally of Sartre, became a critic of Stalin after the Soviet’s military suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, he was harshly criticized by Sartre, who said the Soviet invasion was “progressive violence for the new future.”
Sartre argued that the “interpretation” of the invasion was more important than “facts.”
When the North Korea’s initiation of the war was confirmed as historical fact, Sartre came up with a theory that the U.S. had created a trap and encouraged Pyongyang to start the war.
Fed up with Sartre’s stubborn viewpoint, Merleau-Ponty ended his friendship with Sartre. Later, Sartre confessed that their friendship had been faulty.
Nevertheless, Sartre’s discord with Aron and Merleau-Ponty was not because of misguided faith in his friends. He was in misguided love with the dogma of self-righteousness. He loved the freedom of existence, but he embraced the Soviet doctrine and the North Korean Juche ideology.
It is truly ironic that the intellectual who wrote “The Road to Freedom” was not free from the yoke of ideology.
Sartre’s obstinacy can be found among us. The South Korean intellectuals who detested and resisted the military autocracy of the South are ridiculously generous to the dictatorship in the North.
They romanticize the North Korea’s aggression as “a war for unification.”
They changed the facts to support their interpretation just as Sartre pursued his unreasonable arguments.
It is not much different today, as this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. The joint investigation team of the civilian and military experts clearly proved that the sinking of the Cheonan was caused by a terror attack by North Korea with the use of scientific and objective evidence to exclude any reasonable doubt.
Suddenly, those who had called North Korea’s involvement “fictional” and poured out various fantasies such as claiming the sinking was the result of a collision or internal explosion are now censuring the government and the military and demanding an apology for incompetence and the staging of a military tribunal.
The intellectuals are supposed to be serious and cold-headed, but they shamelessly changed their arguments overnight.
Of course, the government and the military are largely responsible for the tragedy. Apology, resignation and a military tribunal might not be enough.
However, no matter how they are accountable, their responsibility cannot be greater than that of the offender, but these critics are not condemning Pyongyang at all.
North Korea continued with nuclear experiments during the decade of the “Sunshine Policy,” but the progressive intellectuals sheltered Pyongyang instead of criticizing.
As if it is a taboo subject or an error-free doctrine, they always keep their mouths shut when it comes to North Korea. The crooked intellects cannot be called “progressive.”
Their defense for Pyongyang during this serious security crisis is very similar to Sartre’s hypothesis to absolve North Korean aggression.
The motivation is clear. It is because of the misguided love. It is the same blind love that Sartre had for dogma. Subjective mind without an objective and universal view is obstinacy.
It always surprises us when renowned intellectuals and outstanding thinkers are blinded by the illusion of dogma and making unreasonable arguments just as Merleau-Ponty was shocked at Sartre’s stubbornness.
“Even a fool is good at scolding others, but even a wise man cannot realize his own fault easily,” said Fan Zongzuangong, an insightful minister during the Northern Song Dynasty of China. The intellectuals need to keep in mind the wisdom from a millennium ago.
*The writer is a partner of the Hwang Mok Park, P.C. and a former chief justice of the Seoul Central District Court.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
By Lee Woo-keun