[Viewpoint] Park Chung Hee can inspire us againThe Park Chung Hee Memorial-Library opened yesterday in Sangam-dong, western Seoul. It’s been 13 years since the Kim Dae-jung administration first initiated construction as a government project in 1999.
The memorial was suspended during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, which refused to use government funding for the site. However, after a lawsuit that was heard by the Supreme Court, government assistance was resumed and more donations were received to complete the construction.
The memorial is small and humble considering the accomplishments of President Park Chung Hee. However, the meaning is more significant. The memorial is to become an important center for the documentation, research and education of modern Korean history. Since World War II, Korea has written a history of glorious success. The 1960s and 1970s, symbolized by President Park, marked a critical period in the transformation of one of the world’s poorest countries into a prosperous nation at an unprecedented pace.
The memorial for President Park Chung Hee celebrates all Koreans who overcame the rough times and created this great era. The memorial is a space to share and commemorate the blood and sweat that accompanied this nation’s accomplishments.
Koreans enjoy an elevated status and often find themselves at the center stage of the international community thanks to the economic development of the Park Chung Hee era. Along with Lee Byung-chull, Chung Ju-yung and Park Tae-joon, President Park led Korea’s miracle.
As a result, many developing countries around the world look up to Korea’s economic growth and hope to learn the unique ways of Korean leadership. Park Chung Hee’s leadership is a brand-name asset that all countries who want to break away from poverty and leap to prosperity hope to follow.
The opening of the Park Chung Hee Memorial provides an opportunity for Koreans to reflect on the history of the country. It reminds us of the legacy established by Park and encourages optimism and unity. Despite the history of success that is celebrated internationally, there has not been a meaningful evaluation or memorial for our political leaders.
Korea has succeeded as a nation, but we pretend as if we never had a successful leader. Depending on political interests, the accomplishments of certain leaders have been highlighted, and other leaders’ pushed under the rug. The consequential division and deteriorating national unity has come at a tremendous social cost.
There are memorials and libraries commemorating presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, and the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation is operating actively. But there are still few government-level memorial activities for other former presidents.
Hopefully, the opening of the Park Chung Hee Memorial Library will mark a turning point and catalyze the evaluation of our former heads of state. The memorial projects will become an important history lesson and encourage national integration. Moreover, it will be a gesture of our pledge to share our inherited past and hand down a better future to the next generations.
The Park Chung Hee Memorial-Library should be more than an exhibition displaying his relics. It should be a place that inspires national pride and encourages ambition. It should remind us of how far this country has come and how strong leadership can direct us to a better tomorrow. It will provide hope for the future.
But at the same time, the memorial should not just be a place to boast about the success of the past. It must become a center of research and education that offers wisdom and lessons to all developing Koreans.
It must foster the development of those willing to learn from Korea’s history and help create a generation that grows the prosperity of the nation.
That is how to make the Park Chung Hee Memorial Library a historic center that celebrates all Koreans who have overcome challenges on the peninsula. That is how the memorial can help lead Korea down the right path.
by Kim Kwang-dong
* The author is the director of the Nara Policy Institute.