To the death

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To the death


Ko Dae-hoon
The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

This is a fight — to the death — between new Justice Minister Cho Kuk and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. They are in a duel that will only end when one of them kneels. It’s like the fate of a gladiator who has to kill the other to live. As their political lives are at stake, they cannot avoid the unprecedented battle between political power and prosecutorial power. The spectators are excited and whipped up by factional rhetoric. It is hard to predict the outcome.

I have to admit that I underestimated Cho’s lust for power. I thought Cho — a former law professor who served as President Moon Jae-in’s senior secretary for civil affairs before his nomination as justice minister — was just a scholar who bad mouthed others on Facebook. I looked down on him as a weak and hypocritical “Gangnam leftist,” a caviar socialist. It was naive to think he was an enlightened intellectual who would be ashamed of a touch of scandal. I now see an animal instinct in him. Cho’s counterattack as a suspect in a myriad of accusations against him and his family is surprising. When Yoon’s prosecutors target them, he reverses the situation by aiming a spear at the heart of the prosecutors.

After he took the office on Sept. 9, he dealt with the ministry — a state law enforcement agency — as if it were a personal organization mobilized to defend his family. Using his ministerial position as a weapon, he is performing a dangerous high-wire act of pressuring the prosecution and abusing his power. He pledged “irreversible reform” and boasted of his power by excluding Yoon from the investigation line, prohibiting the public airing of accusations against suspects and even proposing a conversation with prosecutors. In fact, I suspect that Cho’s slogan of “prosecution reform” is designed to dominate prosecutors by planting people favorable to him — including members of the liberal Lawyers for a Democratic Society — into the prosecution to create a “reform vs. resistance” framework.

Yoon’s psychology is complicated. He can die in the fight with Cho. Even if he survives, it heralds a tough time for him. Yoon smelled crime in the Cho controversy and sent a signal to the Blue House by kicking off an investigation. Indicting Cho’s wife right before the completion of the National Assembly confirmation hearing on Sept. 6 was an appeal to block Cho’s appointment. Nevertheless, the president appointed Cho because he is a reformist. That was a tacit order to Yoon not to stand with the anti-reform group.

It is a battle that Cho cannot afford to lose. He is armed with the armor of self-conviction bordering on delusion. Moral insensitivity and double standards among the liberals are considered venial sins. Cho is backed by Moon, a pro-government media, pro-government civic groups and the liberal front. They have stood firm even after explanations made by Cho in a press conference and confirmation hearing turned out to be lies. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. A good mix of lies and truth is more effective than 100 percent lies”( from “Goebbels” by Ralf Georg Reuth).

More than 3,000 professors have signed a petition against Cho, college students are protesting and negative public opinion is overwhelming. Cho does not care. His wife is indicted and nephew is arrested. But he is not going to stop. Is he immersed in a fantasy? Goebbels said that the turning of a crisis into success is the true art of politics.

Yoon rose thanks to the current administration’s drive to stamp out “longstanding evils” in our society. In other words, he is indebted to the government. While he says he is not loyal to anyone, he is at a crossroads. If he defeats Cho, it will represent disobedience to the president. The prosecutor’s sword is aiming at Cho, but it could fatally hurt the “living power.” That is Yoon’s dilemma.

The Cho controversy exposed the privilege, hypocrisy and greed behind the fancy words of fake liberals. Some brazen people still use factional rhetoric and call the media’s suspicions and allegations simply “fake news and framing.” We live in the same country, but we are divided in two different groups.

In a society where truth and lies — and right and wrong — are blurred, people have the right to demand justice, wrote Hong Kong’s political philosopher Chow Po Chung in his book “National Dignity: Freedom, Equality and Justice.” He wrote that the right to demand justice is not “begging,” but a moral right for social members. He claims that when equality and fairness backing justice are denied, people have no obligation to follow state power and can resist the legitimacy of the rule.

There are talks to end the case with Cho’s resignation after a half-baked investigation of his relatives. That would be a compromise that can save face for Cho and Yoon, pundits say. But it should never come to pass. Cho must fight for — and prove — his innocence instead of saying he did not know about his wife’s and family’s shenanigans. Yoon must stand up until the mask of lies is uncovered. If not, people may put the right to demand justice into action. That’s why they need to go all the way with the determination of a gladiator.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 20, Page 35
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