Skipping history lessons
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
“As long as we avoid extremes and define patriotism within the realm of common knowledge, no matter how we view ourselves — conservative or liberal — we can move closer to an integrated society,” President Moon Jae-in said in his Memorial Day speech last week. And yet, he displayed extremes and violated the realm of common sense in other parts of his speech. He made remarks which can be interpreted as saying that Kim Won-bong can be regarded as the root of the founding of the Republic of Korea’s Armed Forces. Moon has still not denied such interpretations.
If Kim is the root of the country’s military, it means that the 150,000 soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War to fight against the invading troops led by Kim were fighting against their own roots. It means that the people — who protected this country with their own blood with the belief that freedom is not free and not one inch of the land is free — are a group of senseless people.
“Love of a country is a mindset that regards the destiny of a national community as one’s own — as opposed to clinging to vested rights or private gains,” Moon said in the speech. If South Korea was an immoral community that failed to acknowledge its own roots, how can you possibly show love to this country?
Kim received a decoration from North Korea on March 19, 1952. The description of his merit said Kim was the military commission’s representative for North Pyongan Province who produced rice for provisions and a leading worker of the administration who contributed to the Liberation War for the Fatherland. The liberation war here means an attempt by the North Korean military — guided by the Soviet Union and in alliance with the Chinese military — to defeat the allied forces of South Korea and the United States and communize the South.
If they had succeeded, South Korea would have disappeared from the map and we would all be living in fear of Kim Jong-un’s totalitarian politics.
Some are making a fuss as if the past seven decades of Korean history is an unfortunate separation of the country that should have not have happened. But I am endlessly thankful that South Korea, although it is separated, is not a communist state. I pay my deepest and sincere respects to the Korean War veterans who sacrificed their lives and protected this country.
More and more people are feeling ashamed by the president’s remarks. They said it is hard to imagine a unified society under his leadership and demanded he withdraw the remarks.
Personally, there have been a few occasions when I have questioned Moon’s perception of the world. The first was his speech at Peking University on Oct. 15, 2017. “I saw a grand dream of China from President Xi Jinping … Korea is a small country, but we want to join the dream,” Moon said at the time. How can he call China a great country, while calling his own country as a small country?
The second incident was Moon’s remarks at the May 1 Stadium of Pyongyang on Sept. 19, 2018. “As the president of the southern side, I and Chairman Kim Jong-un will build a new fatherland,” he told the audience. What did he really mean by the southern side and new fatherland? Do we need another fatherland but the Republic of Korea? His vision of inter-Korean peace and the Korean Peninsula are acceptable, but does he have a hidden plan? Aren’t his words and actions against the Constitution?
The third was his March 1 Independence Day address this year. “Wiping out the vestiges of pro-Japanese collaborators is a long-overdue undertaking,” he said. “Firmly upholding the national spirit is the state’s responsibility.”
About 95 percent of the population was born after the 1945 liberation from Japanese colonial rule. Where will he find his pro-Japanese collaborators and wipe out their vestiges? Does he say that a retroactive, guilty-by-association system should be applied to the people whose parents were pro-Japanese?
It appeared that Moon and some of the administration and the ruling party sometimes lose their sense of balance because they are blinded by the anti-Japan, nationalist sentiment. Korea is a large country and the people are diversified. It is also a republic. Moon is not an emperor — it is undesirable for him to force his own tastes on everyone.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 10, Page 30