History is a two-way streetRepresentative Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party defended the May 16, 1961, military coup by her father Park Chung Hee as the “best possible choice under the circumstances,” saying it later built the foundation of Korea. The comment from Park on her father’s way of gaining power and long rule during a debate sponsored by the Korea News Editors’ Association carries special weight as she is running as a presidential candidate from the conservative camp.
Park also apologized for the losses and pain many suffered under her father’s rule, which went on from 1961 to 1979. She added that the legacy of her father - who drove the country out of poverty by accelerating industrialization and modernization - should be left up to history to judge. She also attempted to clarify the controversy around her identity as the daughter of a coup leader who extended his presidency through a third term through a constitutional amendment.
The Democratic United Party responded that if the 1961 coup was the right choice, so was Chun Doo Hwan’s military coup and Japanese colonial rule, both of which led to modernization. It said Park is not fit to run for presidency if she believes that a military coup that overthrew a democratic constitution could ever be the optimal choice.
That Park secured power through a coup is undeniable, but to compare it with Chun’s military revolt and Japanese colonial rule is a ridiculous stretch. Park is credited for pushing the country to a new level by opening it up, accelerating growth, securing sovereignty in security and building heavy industries that turned the country into an industrial powerhouse. Because of his crucial role in the country’s staggering economic progress, Park has topped opinion polls as the best Korean president despite questions of the legitimacy of how he gained and held onto power.
Most Koreans accept that Park did things that should be appreciated and condemned at the same time; however, his merits and follies should not fall upon his daughter. Under the same logic, DUP presidential candidate Moon Jae-in could be asked to answer for all the mistakes of the Roh Moo-hyun government since he was the former president’s right-hand man.
Debates on history should be future-oriented. Leaders must learn from past mistakes and embrace the accomplishments of former leaders.