A final farewell to Kim Geun-tae

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A final farewell to Kim Geun-tae


A senior journalist once told me about his encounter with the notorious torture-specialist Lee Geun-an. In 1980, the journalist was taken to police headquarters’ anti-communist division in Namyeong-dong on charges of harboring a discharged reporter who was wanted for his alleged involvement in Kim Dae-jung’s conspiracy case. An investigator came into the room and slapped him, calling him a Communist. After intimidating and threatening him, the investigator tapped his shoulder, and his arm was dislocated at once. In a panic, the journalist said he wanted to admit to everything he was accused of just to get out of the cell. Later, he learned the investigator was Lee, who tortured many democratic activists in the 1980s.

Kim Geun-tae, the senior adviser of the Democratic Party who passed away on Dec. 30, suffered at the hands of Lee for 22 days in 1985. Kim struggled all his life with the aftereffects of the torture he suffered. Lee was sentenced to seven years in prison and became a pastor upon his release in 2008.

Was Kim able to forgive Lee? When Kim visited Lee at Yeoju Prison in 2005, Lee knelt before him and asked for forgiveness. Kim has said he thought that it was such a superficial gesture that he couldn’t say he would forgive him easily. But he was such a respectable man that he said he later regretted that he may have been ungenerous.

I had met Kim Geun-tae when I was covering politics, and I remember thinking, “How can he be involved in politics?” In short, he was a model scholar. When a guest in shabby clothes came to see him, he would greet and send off the guest personally.

Liberals and conservatives alike have expressed sorrow at the departure of this great man. Some are making convenient interpretations to fit their own political interests. The opposition party has cited Kim’s last writing, “Dominate Year 2012,” in its bid to win the upcoming general and presidential elections.

I’d like to make a confession. I’ve always felt indebted to him. I didn’t exactly receive anything from him, nor do I owe him anything, but I always feel sorry for him. Many Koreans who have lived through the same era may have a similar feeling about Kim as I. Kim’s coffin was wrapped with a cover saying, “Kim Geun-tae, an advocate of democracy.” As I said farewell to him in Moran Park, where he is buried, I whispered, “I am truly sorry.”

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Noh Jae-hyun
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