[INSIGHT]Truths beyond reality and factTokyo University once asked a question in its entrance examination: “Discuss the correlation between historical truth and fact and reality.” I have never seen the right answer to that question and I have no competence to give one, either.
But I can guess how difficult the question is. What is truth? It is, probably, an eternal value. Fact can be defined as what happened. Reality is closer to the logic of the present situation. Despite these definitions, other questions still remain. Does such an eternal value exist? There was a time when the patriarchal leadership of a family was considered an eternal value, but now public opinion tends to be in favor of its abolition.
As time passes, truth can be changed. When there was a rumor that Gil Jae-gyeong, Kim Jong-il’s aide, had fled abroad, a picture of his grave printed by the JoongAng Ilbo subdued the wild guesses. That is why a factual report by the press is great. But it is not always so easy to conform facts as in the case of that picture. The media makes every effort to report facts, but questions still remain unresolved. The logic of the present situation can also be changed, depending on our position and interests.
For this reason, many histo- rians have engaged in battles for a long period. The mainstream argued that a historian’s main domain is to find “the truth hidden behind the historical facts.” But another school of historians emerged to contend that all history was the history of the present. They took the position that history is understood from the perspective of the present and interpreted according to the frame of reference and values of contemporary historians.
There have been confrontations between objective and subjective views of history in which the former values facts and the latter values interpretation. Discussing these positions, E. H. Carr came to a midway conclusion: “History is a continuous conversation between the past and the present.” According to his interpretation, the task of history is to try to find out the past facts as they were and to be involved in a dialogue between the past and the present in which the present that the historian lives in cannot be ignored. These esoteric correlations exist between the past and the present and between fact and reality. Therefore, a description of history is difficult. Also, a news reporter’s job of tracking down facts is never easy, and a judge’s task to find out the substantial truth and make a balanced judgment is very difficult.
The independent counsel is busy seeking the facts about the cash-for-summit scandal. It is carrying out a fact-finding job to discover the truth about how much money was raised and how it was raised, and through which channels and for what purpose it was transferred to North Korea. Former President Kim Dae-jung has already apologized, and Hyundai-Asan Chairman Chung Mong-hun acknowledged that the transfer of money contributed to the summit talks, but the game of looking for the truth about the transfer of cash cannot stop there. Should the investigation go on? Two positions toward the scandal may coexist: one is an argument that facts should be disclosed as they are, and the other is a situational logic that the environment should be taken into account.
The North-South summit can be seen as a part of the former president’s engagement policy to ease tensions. The policy was a turning point for supporting the North economically and for seeking ways that the two Koreas could coexist. The policy led to the summit, and the summit led to Mr. Kim’s Nobel peace prize. These results were matters for congratulations by all people.
But because the North regime deceptively continued its nuclear programs and developed nuclear weapons despite Mr. Kim’s efforts, people felt betrayed by the results of the sunshine policy. Despite the fact that he transferred the money, former President Kim lied when he said he had never given a penny to the North. That lie turned public opinion to see the transfer itself as a crime. Because he used formal, evasive remarks in his apology and statement to the people, a special prosecutor was called in to investigate the scandal. Since suspicion about the transfer has developed to this point, it is our overriding task to clear the air. But when all details of the transfer are exposed, it is also obvious that we will face a reality in which tension between the North and the South will increase and a former president will have to appear in court for the third time in Korean history.
Such knotty correlations between truth, fact and reality are in a chaotic state, just like the investigation of the transfer scandal. As I already claimed in this paper (“A policy only truth might save.” JoongAng Daily, Oct. 14, 2002), even if it is belated, Mr. Kim should now take the initiative.
When his health recovers, he should make the details of the funds transfer public so that people understand the processes of raising and transmitting the funds and the rationale for his sending money to implement his North Korean policy. He should also apologize again to the people for his failure to let them know the truth, because the policy was made under his authority.
We passionately welcomed the North-South summit talks three years ago. But now, as if forgetting that enthusiasm, we are preoccupied with the hide-and-seek game to find the truth about the transfer.
Policies can fail. Even if the sunshine policy failed, we have to solve the problem of military tension and pursue dialogue and cooperation with the North. This is a proposition close to truth beyond reality and fact.
* The writer is executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Young-bin
More in Columns
A war needs a commander
Betting against Big Business
It’s the economy, stupid