Lessons from Moon’s flameout

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Lessons from Moon’s flameout


Lee Ha-kyung

Prime Minister-nominee Moon Chang-keuk has stepped down and Korea’s democracy is regressing.

Democracy is a political system that realizes the opinions of the people and government by law. But the system is not working, as public opinion is swayed by the media, the reckless attacks by the opposition, the strategic moves of the ruling party and the irresponsibility of the Blue House. Moon has been nominated by the president according to due process, but his suitability will never be evaluated as he has backed out before the confirmation hearing.

KBS reported that Moon said, “Korea’s colonization by the Japanese and the division of Korea had all been a part of God’s plan for the Korean race,” and Moon argued that he meant to say that the ordeals in Korean history have made the country stronger. However, his comments have hurt many people. They feel that Moon devalued the sacrifices and suffering of fighters and victims during the Japanese occupation and the course of division. Moon has been branded pro-Japanese and anti-nationalist.

But we should not neglect one fact: the specific situation when the remark was made. Moon was speaking to Christians at a church. It was a place for religious empathy. He was using the language of God and religious expressions. As he explained divine will beyond the power of humans, he made emphasis, comparison and omission. The full text of his lecture can be interpreted differently from the KBS report if you take the background and context into consideration.

If Moon had spoken outside the walls of Onnuri Community Church, it would be a different story. Moon would have never imagined that his religious comments would flow out without context. KBS’ initial reporting used footage from Moon’s lecture from CGNTV, which is run by the church, without permission.

Most of the viewers of KBS News on June 11 consider Moon pro-Japanese and anti-national. However, MBC aired a full video on June 20, and many understood the general context of the lecture that KBS had edited. Even those who do not agree with Moon’s Christian historical perspective understand that he is not pro-Japanese or anti-national.

Afterwards, people argued that Moon should be given a chance to defend himself at a confirmation hearing. However, politicians of the ruling and opposition parties and the Blue House ignored these rational voices. Instead of giving Moon a chance to reveal the truth, he has been sacrificed politically to cover up weakness. It is a cowardly collusion.

The confirmation hearing is the legislature’s active tool to check the president’s arbitrary authority of appointment. The National Assembly could have asked Moon about his other controversial comments, including a remark on comfort women that he has apologized for.

His religious inclination could also be discussed. Many believed that if he became the prime minister of Korea, a society of multiple religions, he would have collided with non-Christians, which make up 80 percent of the population. If we had been given a chance to evaluate his qualifications and suitability, it would have benefitted the country.

There are people who think Moon is a self-righteous man. He has revealed clearly conservative tendencies in his columns and lecture. But, surprisingly, he has not forced his beliefs on others. When he was a chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo, he said he did not agree with senior columnist Kim Young-hie’s column on inter-Korean affairs but published it without changing a sentence. When he presided over an editorial meeting more than 10 years ago, he suggested writing an editorial supporting real-name Internet policy. There were social demands for using real names in order to prevent verbal violence using anonymity.

However, two editorial writers among a dozen members opposed, arguing that freedom of speech was of higher value. A few days later, he proposed it again, and the same two members opposed. While Moon had the final decision and the majority of the member agreed, he did not push for the piece. As a new member of the editorial team at the time, I clearly remember how he respected different opinions. As a chief editorial writer, it is my goal to acknowledge minority opinions and actively include ones different from my own, just as Moon did. I believe that Moon’s style was always democratic as a journalist. I admit that my experience and judgment is not perfect. That’s why I hoped he would be verified in an appointment hearing by many people.

Ignoring the law and system defined by the Constitution and incapacitating the system of confirmation hearing for political interests and misguided public opinion is a regression of democracy. It is a national shame to urge a prime minister nominee to step down without proper reasons.

Korean politics have pushed out Moon Chang-keuk, a conservative with conviction who had been nominated through due process. Regrettably, we have lost the chance to agree on values for the future in a proper discussion between the conservatives and the progressives.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 25, Page 31

*The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Ha-kyung

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