How the Three Kims talkedKim Jong-pil’s memory didn’t get rusty. His voice and energy didn’t change a bit. His husky voice was the same as always when he got carried away.
Kim spoke for about 40 minutes at the Unjeong Foundation’s inaugural assembly on Dec. 10 at the National Assembly Memorial. After suffering a stroke years ago, Kim had to use a wheelchair.
Unjeong, meaning “garden on the clouds,” is a pen name for the former prime minister. When the clouds are white, the garden is cozy. When they are dark, the garden is windy. The wind signifies turmoil and crisis, the political saga of Kim Jong-pil. His life is a long spiral of accomplishments and frustrations.
The turmoil began with the May 16 coup in 1961 when he was 35. Now, he says he is “soon to be 90.” Former Prime Minister and Unjeong Foundation Chairman Lee Han-dong said, “That was the Three Kims period, and we cannot record modern history without discussing Kim Jong-pil.”
Kim recalled with self-assurance, “Confucius said we need to refrain from vain thoughts and unnecessary actions and stay within the boundaries of the human way. I’ve never broken that rule since I grew up.”
Kim’s speeches always include idioms, sentimental comparisons, subtle political references and instructions on how to live in the world.
The Three Kims’ politics were founded on language. Words were their weapons. Their words always had a point, and precisely chosen words allowed them to occupy advantageous positions. The Three Kims mastered the impact and influence of language.
Kim Young-sam was straightforward. “You can break the neck of the rooster,” he said, “but the morning will come” to highlight his will to pursue democracy.
His comparisons were often rough or blunt, but his straightforwardness clarified complex issues. His simple words, not to mention his perfect timing, had the effect of calming chaos. He knew the beauty of concise language.
Kim Dae-jung liked to use comparisons and juxtapositions. He said a politician should have “the critical mind of a student and the touch of reality of a merchant.” He spoke through multiple logical steps. He described himself as a perfectionist, and his persuasion was logic.
Kim Jong-pil’s language is nostalgic and artistic. He is a professional painter. In 2001, he published a calendar of his landscapes. On the cover, he wrote, “Never go against the will of heaven.” It didn’t seem to suit the life of someone who helped to orchestrate a coup. However, he changed and went on to pursue politics that go with the flow. He doesn’t like extremes and favors poetic sentiment.
Whenever Kim was pushed out of power during the Park Chung Hee era, he said he resigned “half-willingly and half-against his will.” His claim did not upset the No. 1 while keeping his pride secondary. He said politics was an empty business after he retired. That may have reflected his remorse, but it could only have come from a master.
At the Unjeong Foundation event, he cited the Mencius saying, “If life isn’t steady, the spirit is not steady.”
He said, “If we don’t have the economic strength, we cannot support democracy and liberty. President Park established a clear political line after the May 16 coup. He set a priority to pursue industrialization first and then democracy. Korea has accomplished both industrialization and democracy. Other underdeveloped countries that took the opposite path failed.”
The Three Kims’ politics aggravated regional antagonism. Plutocracy and connection-oriented politics are also a negative legacy that the three will be remembered for. However, they pursued politics as the art of the possible. They didn’t offend one another and refrained from unnecessary arguments. They used silence to emphasize their determination. Kim Jong-pil’s technique was to “smile and remain quiet.”
In 2013, Korean politics is sloppy and filled with irrelevant words. The Saenuri Party, in particular, lacks any sense of intensity and is poorly organized. Its kind of speech cannot win over the passion of the public. Chairman Hwang Woo-yea laughs frequently, but his words are empty.
The Democratic Party talks like an activist. Bad money drives out good money, and the same characteristic goes for language. Kim Han-gill expresses determination, but his face is not intense enough.
Ahn Cheol-soo is still vague. Ambiguity is different from prudence. He may lack confidence or be an opportunist. Vague speech deepens people’s distrust of politics.
People suffer under politics. Bad politics is fatal. Politics need to generate something, and it should begin with the gentrification of political language.
*The author is a senior columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Park Bo-gyoon