The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
He was given an absurd explanation — that his son, Jong-cheol, “suddenly died because of shock when we slammed the desk.” The father could not understand how and why his youngest son died and had to scatter the ashes of his son on the Imjin River. As he bid farewell to his son, he had nothing to say. His grief and devastation took over.
It is a painful tragedy to lose a child. Someone who has not experienced it cannot even imagine the pain. But Park Jeong-gi opened his eyes after he lost his son. Upon retirement, he joined the association of bereaved families and worked actively. His retirement was the day after the June 29 declaration which paved the way for direct presidential elections. The civil servant, who had planned to open up a spa upon retirement, became an activist.
A devout Buddhist, Park has always been generous and kind. After rallies and protests, he would be the last one to leave after clean up. When he was jailed for three months, he declined even the slightest favor that other inmates offered. To the families of other victims of suspicious deaths under the authoritarian regime, he said he was sorry that only his son’s story was known. But he was careful to forgive.
Cho Han-kyung was one of the interrogators who had tortured and killed Park Jong-cheol. In an interview with a magazine after spending seven and a half years in prison, Cho said he had sent a letter asking for Park’s forgiveness twice, but they were returned unopened. He had asked Father Ham Sei-ung to mediate, but Park did not respond. Park later said in an interview, “If I say enough is enough and conveniently forgive, torture will not be eradicated in Korea. Unjust power will continue.” As the leader of the victims’ families, he had to be strong in his cause.
Times have changed. The heads of the police and prosecutors visit Park’s memorial altar and the president sends a message of condolence. The 1987 democratic system — in some ways the result of Park’s son’s death — is evolving. Kang Min-chang, the former National Police Agency chief responsible for covering up the torture, died earlier this month. What would Park and Kang say to each other if they met in the afterlife?
JoongAng Ilbo, July 30, Page 31