Half-truths vs. sheer liesAll truth gets hidden when it falls into the hands of politicians. They all seem to make convincing arguments, and in the end, citizens tend to vote for popular candidates rather than seek the truth. The country’s two political parties are now stuck in another fight over the controversial memoir of a former foreign affairs minister.
Song Min-soon wrote in his memoir “The Iceberg is Moving” that “a half-truth is worse than a complete lie.” He argues that “saying part of a truth makes it harder to distinguish between truth and lies.” In the book, he wrote about the dream of a thawing Cold War on the Korean Peninsula, but it actually left icicles piercing into our minds.
When I met him in the president’s office at the University of North Korean Studies, Song was busy writing his memoir. He had already completed the structure of the book, and he avoided most extraneous activities to focus on writing. He saw the Sept. 19 agreement in Beijing on dismantlement of all North Korean nuclear weapons that he helped to reach through the six-party talks in 2005 under the liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration as a historic moment.
But he was sorry that the agreement was not implemented as the U.S. Department of Treasury announced sanctions on Banco Delta Asia the next day. “If sanctions were effective, why couldn’t the issue be resolved?” he asked. He also strongly opposed deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense antimissile system in South Korea.
It is hard to imagine that he wrote the memoir to jeopardize former Minjoo Party Chairman Moon Jae-in. Song is more favorable toward the opposition party in his book. What’s important is the future, not the past. We need to know what happened in November 2007 when the United Nations voted for a resolution to condemn North Korea for its human rights violations.
But what’s more important is the attitude of Moon Jae-in, then President Roh’s chief of staff and now the most promising presidential candidate. Is he honest as a leader? Is he capable of responding to an emergency situation? If it happens again, how would he respond? His attitude is not satisfactory.
Moon avoided answering. On Oct. 17, he said he did not remember. Lee Jae-joung, the minister of unification at the time, and Kim Man-bok, then the head of the National Intelligence Service, denied Song’s claims. But Moon said that factual accounts should be asked of those who remember well.
Does he really not remember what happened? It involved intense discord, and there had been unofficial contact with North Korea — whether before or after the government’s decision to abstain from the UN vote on a North Korean human rights resolution. When repeated controversies are enough of a reminder, it is unconvincing that he does not remember. He cannot avoid suspicion that he is reluctant to speak up to save himself from reversing words as a presidential candidate.
On Oct. 15, Moon posted on Facebook, “Learn from the Roh Moo-hyun administration. What’s more important? … Did I collude with North Korea? … That’s a serious insult.”
It might be too rash to attack over something he does not remember. Yet he did not answer when people were curious about. No matter who raises doubts, he is responsible to the citizens as a political leader. Defending an attack may be a good fight technique, but it is not the mark of a dignified leader.
Moon’s thoughts are not clear. Apparently, Saenuri Party Chairman Lee Jung-hyun went too far by calling the contact with North Korea “collusion.” But attacking Lee for questioning his ideology could also make people assume that prior contact is a given. If the government did not ask North Korea before the vote, he should clarify that. If he does not remember but possibly could consult with Pyongyang over decisions, he should reveal his beliefs. Voters want to know how he would respond if he gets elected president.
Those who deny Song’s claim say that the government already decided to abstain from voting on Nov. 16, 2007, and notified Pyongyang of the decision. On Nov. 20, President Roh persuaded Song in Singapore, and the abstention decision was officially announced on Nov. 21. If so, North Korea learned of our government’s decision even before the foreign minister.
A former security adviser said Roh was trying to console Song by saying, “Let’s go with abstention as we even asked about Pyongyang’s reaction.” Lawmaker Kim Kyung-soo recalls similarly. At the time, President Roh and Song were attending the Asean+3 meeting, and Roh wanted to encourage Song as he met with foreign ministers of the United States, Japan and Southeast Asian countries to explain Korea’s position.
We still have ample time until the next presidential election. No matter what decision Moon makes, he should not be ambiguous and reluctant. If he believes the decision was right, he needs to proudly state his position. If it was a mistake, he must acknowledge that as soon as possible and move on. He cannot escape his opponents’ framing with a counterattack.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 19, Page 31
*The author is a senior columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo.