[Viewpoint] We don’t need another heroNewly-elected members of the 19th National Assembly who start their terms next month have been swept up in a heated debate over unsavory backgrounds of some of their peers. In the eye of the storm are Lee Seok-gi and other representatives-elect from a mainstream faction in the splinter opposition Unified Progressive Party and their pro-North Korean views and activities. Others with heinous offenses in their pasts like theft and bribery are getting off more lightly.
Lee Hack-young of the main opposition Democratic United Party, who represents the Gunpo constituency in Gyeonggi Province, has a high-profile criminal record. Namminjeon, the National Liberation Front for South Korea, which was an underground socialist group against America, the military regimes and pro-North Korea’s juche ideology, was active in late 1970s. Its members decided to rob a chaebol owner’s house to raise funds for their activities.
In April 1979, eight men broke into the posh residence of Choi Won-suk, chairman of Dong-Ah Construction, in Banpo, southern Seoul. The ringleaders were then-27-year-old Lee Hack-yeong and 25-year-old Cha Sung-hwan. In an interview with a newspaper in April, Cha recounted the night. He and Lee ran into a security guard at the front door and after a tussle, Cha stabbed the guard. Lee was caught at the scene and other members of the group were arrested later.
The tale became a kind of legend among the liberal and left-wing activists for the last three decades. The ribbers were glorified as heroic outlaws stealing from the evil conglomerates for the cause of the democratization movement. Lee became a prototype democracy crusader. In his election campaign newsletter, he carried an article about him written by Cho Kuk, a liberal-minded law professor at Seoul National University.
In the article, Cho said, “Lee Hack-young is a thief. He rioted to get back the democracy stolen by the authoritarian regime. He is a thief. He stole hopelessness from the hearts of the poor and the people who struggle. The country awarded him honor for his fight for democracy.” The members of the socialist group had their names restored and recognized for their participation in the democracy movement during the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
Another wrote on Lee’s homepage: “The 1970s was the peak of the immorality committed by the dictatorship. The power centers and chaebol collaborated to exploit the people. Lee Hack-young, Kim Nam-joo, and Lee Jae-oh engaged in underground activities during that age. The outlaws Jang Gil-san and Il Jimae (who stole from corrupt aristocrats to help the poor in the days of the Joseon Dynasty) were called thieves at the time.”
Korea’s construction companies in the 1970s were a type of savior for the economy on the foreign front. Their hard work in the Middle East deserts and the petro-dollars they earned helped to buffer effects of the the oil shock. People were able to make big money working on the construction sites in the Middle East. Korean construction companies became the world’s best. Choi’s Dong-Ah Construction was one of them.
When Lee and his gang climbed the wall of Choi’s house in 1979, Dong-Ah had been working to win a $2 billion construction project from the Saudi state telecommunication corporation. It was a huge deal considering the country’s total exports were only $15 billion. Choi was overseas working on the deal.
So who was the thief: a businessman that aides his country by sweating it out in the desert, or jumped up activists who try to rob a house with a knife?
In the eyes of the young, the world is full of ironies and inequities. Lee was the son of a farmer. He joined the underground activities in a rage against the world and its paradoxes. He was led by a blind faith. He had the wrong diagnosis for the ironies and wielded his knife in a deluded state. He resorted to unlawful means in a self-serving cause.
North Korea’s regime is dictatorial and terroristic. To support such an evil because our society has problems of our own will not lead to any form of justice. To attack the conglomerates for making money just because they enjoy their wealth is not justice.
The line between unjust and just became blurry under the Roh Moo-hyun administration. Lee Hack-young and his organization indeed received rewards and merit for their past underground activities. What does that make Choi of Dong-Ah? How confusing.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin