Moving toward a balanced judgment
In 1998, conservative journalist Cho Gab-je’s book “Spit on My Grave,” a biography of former President Park Chung Hee, started what became known as the “grave controversy.”
Chin Jung-kwon, a liberal critic who despises the ultraconservative, refused to sit still, responding with his own book, “I’ll Spit on Your Grave,” a satiric criticism of the far right.
The controversy returned for the 18th presidential campaign. Park Geun-hye, the presidential candidate at the time, brought it up in an interview on MBC radio’s “Sohn Suk-hee’s Focus of Attention” on Sept. 10, just 100 days before the 2012 presidential election.
When Sohn asked Park about the controversial remarks that Park Chung Hee’s Yushin regime was necessary to attain $10 billion in exports, Park answered, “My father said, ‘Spit on my grave,’ and took great pains for the nation. I believe that quote implies everything.”
According to Kim In-man, the biographer of former President Park, he made the “spit on my grave” remark in 1975 while drinking with Blue House correspondents. After being criticized for a variety of reasons, he thought that history would understand his intentions and stated, “Spit on my grave after I die.”
The “grave” remark became an issue when the leaders of the ruling and opposition parties made contrary moves on Jan. 1. Senior members of the ruling and opposition parties began the new year by paying a visit to the Seoul National Cemetery. Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung visited the graves of Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee, as well as the late Kim Dae-jung, where he said he would “embrace all parts of Korea’s turbulent history.”
Meanwhile, Moon Hee-sang, interim chairman for the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, visited the grave of former President Kim Dae-jung and left. When reporters asked him what he thought about Kim Moo-sung’s visit to Kim Dae-jung’s grave, he responded: “It is praiseworthy. But I don’t have the courage yet. When I leave my party position, I’d like to personally visit Park Chung Hee’s grave. I wonder what it looks like.”
The evaluation of Korea’s former presidents is left to the future generations. But it’s regrettable that the opposition leader refrains from visiting Park Chung Hee’s grave because of his politics, despite his personal intentions. Some claim the 2012 presidential election was decided when opposition candidate Moon Jae-in skipped visits to the graves of Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee, only paying respects at the grave of Kim Dae-jung. We don’t need to refer to the old saying, “A great mountain does not turn down a handful of soil and a great ocean does not discriminate a small current.” “Tolerance” is often lacking in Korean politics.
Whether you decide to “spit on the grave” of a former president, we must recognize their achievements and acknowledge their faults to move on.
*The author is the deputy political news editor of JTBC. JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 5, Page 30
by KIM HYUNG-GU