[Viewpoint] Why history rejected Lee Jung-hee

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[Viewpoint] Why history rejected Lee Jung-hee

Rhyu Si-min, once among short-listed candidates in the liberal camp to bid for the next presidential election, received a major political setback when he lost the election governorship of Gyeonggi in June 2010. Twenty days before the vote, he spoke negatively on the announcement on a joint government-international investigation that a North Korean torpedo was responsible for the sinking of Cheonan warship. “I do not believe the ship could have been sunk by explosion. Speculations of a torpedo are all fiction and theory,” he said.

He watched the televised press conference on the findings and hard evidence on the sinking of the Cheonan that killed 46 sailors. The international investigative team concluded that the ship sank due to an external explosion. Yet Rhyu remained skeptical, claiming it a manipulation to help the conservative ruling party’s election results.

Gyeonggi shares borders with North Korea and hosts four army camps, a naval fleet, a marine division and a command base for the Air Force. The military command organizes a combined defense council with chiefs of prosecution and police, council chairman, education superintendent, Korea Electric Power Corporation, and Korea Telecom officials headed by the governor of the province. What would the country’s defense and security state be if the local commanding head discounts what the military officers report as fact as fiction?

History also seems to work in a mysterious way ahead of next month’s election. Lee Jung-hee, co-head of the minority opposition Unified Progressive Party, lost her nomination to run as a single candidate from the opposition camp. Her party leads far left and progressive forces and is very amicable to North Korea. Lee is a fragile 43-year -old woman, but nevertheless represents a political power. If she were elected, she would have formed an alliance with the main opposition Democratic United Party in the legislature. But she no longer can join the Assembly because of mistakes by her aides.

In a radio talk show in August 2010, Lee, then head of the Democratic Labor Party, declined to comment when the host asked her opinion on the Korean War - whether she agreed the war was triggered from a North Korean invasion. She said, “There are arguments among historians, so I would like to give the problem a deeper thought before answering.” The head of a registered political party of Korea has declined to immediately agree to a historical truth. Nineteen months have passed since then. I wonder if she is ready to answer.

Her ambiguity does not agree well with her life story. She recently published an autobiography describing her love and partnership with her 11-year-older husband and human rights lawyer Shim Jae-hwan. Their strong bond has been bred from poverty. Lee grew up poor, but her husband poorer. The war caused poverty in Shim’s family. Shim’s mother was born to a wealthy family in Kaesong, Hwanghae Province, in North Korea. At 20, she was estranged from her family and hometown when the war broke out while she was visiting her uncle in Seoul.

The North Korea-inflicted war devastated Lee’s mother-in-law and husband. Their struggles were like most of the separated families and war victims. But the couple nevertheless advocated for North Korea. Lee’s husband, while head of the unification division for the Lawyers for a Democratic Society, a group of lawyers advocating for human and civilian rights, claimed female bomber Kim Hyon-hui’s confession that she was acting upon an order from North Korean leaders to bomb Korean Air flight 858 in 1987 was a fabrication. In an interview in 2003, he said Kim’s story was invented. “I don’t know where she came from, but we are certain she is not a North Korean agent.”

Two years have passed since the Cheonan sank. Liberals still refuse to believe it was North Korea’s doing. The main opposition DUP declined to identify North Korea as the attacker in a statement commenting on the anniversary of the sinking. They deny it even with evidence of explosive substance used in torpedoes and the metal containing serial numbers of a North Korean torpedo. We want to ask the DUP and UPP if they believe the torpedo was invented, and if so, who planted it under the sea?

I do not know how many from the progressive party will win in the election. But as long as the national spirit lives, a person who cannot tell if the Korean War was caused by North Korea or not cannot represent the people.

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

by Kim Jin
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