Incautious wordsIn a Memorial Day speech on Thursday, President Moon Jae-in stressed that we can move toward integration if we view patriotism in terms of common sense beyond the boundaries of ideology. “The time has passed when we could divide our society into the conservatives and the liberals,” he said. But we cannot dispel our suspicions about his following remarks about Kim Won-bong (1898-1958), a very controversial anarchist, independence activist and statesman from North Korea.
We thought Moon would seek to change his governance style from confrontation to reconciliation through his address. His emphasis on patriotism and integration amid a tense standoff between the ruling and opposition parties can be translated into a request for support from the opposition camp for a better future for the country. Some pundits interpreted the comment as a demonstration of a willingness to resolve the current political stalemate through dialogue.
While mentioning patriotic activities of the Korean Liberation Army (KLA), however, Moon said we could ultimately reinforce our capabilities for independence by incorporating the North Korea Volunteer Army led by Kim Won-bong. Moon went on to say that the indomitable fighting spirit of the KLA coupled with military capabilities nurtured through joint drills with allies laid the foundation of the Republic of Korea Forces after our liberation in 1945.
Kim is a figure of contention. Though he took part in an armed struggle for independence during the Japanese colonial days, he participated in the establishment of the North Korean regime after liberation and received a medal of honor from North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, during the Korean War. His purge in 1958 cannot end all the controversies surrounding him. Moon’s mentioning of such a controversial figure is unfortunate — particularly on Memorial Day — even if he wanted to underscore the significance of national integration.
All of that can fuel ideological conflict. Even though he intended to broaden the scope of patriotism, he nevertheless went too far. How would he answer questions about the possibility of Moon trying to fuel an ideological battle in our society? A president’s words have impact. Every speech they make is recorded as history. Moon has ratcheted up political tension through his addresses so far. We hope he thinks again.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 7, Page 30