Proven past beats uncertain futurePark Sang-bum, a Marine Corps general and former veterans’ affairs minister, served under five presidents since joining the presidential security team. He left the Blue House after last serving as the chief of presidential security to President Kim Young-sam. When North Korean sympathizer Mun Se-gwang fired gun shots at a podium during an Independence Day ceremony on Aug. 15, 1974 and downed the first lady, Yuk Young-soo, he took out his gun and protected President Park Chung Hee.
He was the only survivor from a bloodbath at a secret dinner party where the president and his bodyguards were killed by Kim Jae-kyu, head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, in October 1979. He lived despite wounds from gunshots.
Among the presidents he served, he spoke most highly of Park Chung Hee. He saw the personal side of the strongman while accompanying him on tours. A close friend of his once asked him which president he respected most. The veteran security officer answered simply: “There is no comparison.” One exit poll on Election Day had Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party slightly ahead of Park Geun-hye, ruling party candidate and daughter of Park Chung Hee. When his friends expressed concern, he remained calm and said, “Do you remember the movie ‘Ghost?’ Her father will be watching after her.”
President Roh Moo-hyun was enjoying his heyday when he hosted a banquet on May 29, 2004 for the victors from the ruling Uri Party who won a majority from a legislative election that served as a de facto vote of confidence for the liberal president. Some 20 legislators sang their favorite democracy demonstration theme song from their student activist days.
Some shed tears, and the president sang along with them. The audience invited their president to sing a song. He chose a 1986 hit song “Empty Space” of popular singer Cho Yong-pil, a heartbreaking love song with lyrics like “There are too much regrets to think it all as a dream. My sad story that I have to bury in empty space.”
The song’s composer was Jeong Pung-song, a conservative and fan of former President Park. He was apprehensive of the left-leaning administration under President Roh. When he read in the news that the president sang his song, he thought to himself what an inappropriate song to pick during a party celebration. Upon hearing that President Roh jumped to his death off a hill behind his retirement house on May 23, 2009, Jeong immediately recalled the song the president sang. He raised a glass of liquor to mourn the late president who dispersed in the empty space.
He was watching the election broadcast on TV on election night where a daughter of Park Chung Hee and a long-time friend and chief presidential secretary to Roh Moo-hyun were in a neck-to-neck race. When TV broadcasters flashed a news alert that Park was the decided winner, he could not believe his eyes. She was declared the winner after receiving 51.6 percent of the total votes compared with Moon’s 48 percent. He immediately rang up his friends and asked, “Are you seeing this? It’s 51.6! How can this be?” For Koreans, the number primarily is associated with the May 16 military coup in 1961 that Maj. Gen. Park raised to topple the crippled government and came into power.
The invisible formidable contender in the presidential race had been the late Park. Moon Jae-in and his party, along with all others on the liberal and left-wing front, went all-out against Park Chung Hee. They first tried to use the remains of Chang Chun-ha, an iconic democracy activist during President Park’s reign, that indicated he could have been murdered and not killed after falling while mountain climbing as claimed by the Park administration.
A new forensic examination of the remains of the deceased who was buried hurriedly without an autopsy showed a round-shape hole in the skull that wouldn’t appear on someone who died simply from falling. Then a preface Jang wrote in a current affairs monthly journal he published soon after the coup d’etat came to light. He wrote: “The May 16 military coup was a last resort to provide a breakthrough to a country in crisis.” The opposition camp’s so-called “Chang Chun-ha” campaign stopped there.
The last shooter against Park Geun-hye on the opposition camp was veteran singer and performer Lee Eun-mi. In a TV speech in support of Moon, she said, “Is it normal that a daughter of a dictator tops the polls?” Her speech was viewed by more than 210,000 on YouTube.
Lee, born in 1966, would have been 13 when former President Park was assassinated. Her memory of the late president would be one of a child’s. What did she learn of him as a grown-up? If not direct, has she any indirect knowledge of the man? Has she read any of the 13 volumes of biography authored by Cho Kab-je? The dictatorial rule is only a part of Park’s legacy. Many of the people still remember him and appreciate what he has done for the country. Why is she blind to his positive side?
The attested past defeated the unpredictable future in this presidential election. Many are still critical of Park for his dictator stigma. But those who have experienced his time in power do not agree. A country that was falling astray finally recovered its footing. Supporters like Park Sang-beom and Chung Poong-song carried Park in their heart. Critics like Lee Eun-mi attacked him with their tongues. The heart has a more powerful resonance than the tongue.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin