By Feature Editor Lee Sam-san, Reporter Sua Kim
All the former Presidents of the Republic of Korea have faced a tragic fate with the sole exception of Presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung. The ill-fate came from the new governments succeeding the old ones. Now two of them are still in jail, former Presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak.
At this juncture, opinions are being expressed one after another ridiculing the present situation and some even say, “Now what will happen to President Moon Jae-in after his term of office is over?” As in the case of former President Kim Young-sam, Moon will be safe if the successor ‘comes from the same waters like the dragon’ as in the case of President Kim Dae-jung who made it possible. Former President Chun Doo Hwan allegedly ‘committed a long of wrong things’ but he was not put in jail by his successor, President Roh Tae-woo, who also was a military general-turned President. Roh put Chun into a sort of an involuntary ‘exile’ instead of sending him to jail although there were so many things more than fully justifying to put him in jail. Instead, Roh sent him to the Baekdam-sa Buddhist Temple in the mountainous Inje County of the Gangwon Province to have a long period of ‘silent contemplation regretting the old wrongs he might have committed.
Now what will happen to the incumbent President after his term of office is over? If the successor comes from a political party of the same political-ideological background of his (as in the case of Kim Young-sam) he would be safe. However, it is very difficult to make any prediction if anything opposite to it should happen or if the candidate wins the election by his or her own merits with any backing from his incumbent political force.
In any case, the overwhelming trends of opinion on this matter in Korea today is, “The incumbent President should try to void doing things that are against the law.” However, would it be possible in the present political climate in Korea? It seems to be very good questions and the answers will have to wait until the fateful day, the 9th of March 2022, the next Presidential election date.
At this juncture, a very interesting column story was published Korea’s leading conservative daily, Chosun Ilbo, on Sept. 22, 2018. Written by Processor Emeritus of Yonsi University Kim Dong-gil in Seoul, the story suggests the existence of merit in avoiding erring and a warning against repetition of the past wrongs. Here are excerpts from an unofficial translation of the article:
“The middle-of-the-roaders are mostly undecided”
Published by Chosun Ilbo, Sept. 22, 2018
Is there any other country in the world (but Korea) where four former Presidents were put in jail? The first-term President, Syngman Rhee, did not go to jail. However, it was because he went to Hawaii in exile.
Former President Park Chung-hee who ruled Korea for a total 18 years avoided being put in jail due to his bosom follower, Director Kim Jae-kyu of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, shot him to death at the Gungjeong-dong safehouse in Seoul near the Presidential Mansion of Cheong Wa Dae.
If former President Roh Moo-hyun had not committed suicide, would he have been able to live out his life space in a very remote place?
Kim former President Kim Young had not opened the way for his successor President Kim Dae-jung to become the President, Kim YS himself and all his family members should be been all put in jail.
If a President does something wrong, he should be made to resign during the tenure of his office. Why wait until his term of office is over and then put him in jail?
The political climate of Korea is believed to derive from the days of Four-color Political Party Struggles of the Joseon Dynasty (during the reign of King Seonjo in 1575 when the political groups were largely divided into two and fought with each for their own partisan gains). At the time, the partisan groups fought with each other trying to put an end to the rival party. Why are the present-day politicians unable to put an end to the vicious practices?
I am writing this not because I have any personal grudge against the 17th-term President Lee Myung-bak who is undergoing interrogation under detention. I am saying this because I am ashamed of myself. I have done the best I could to make Mr. Lee Myung-bak the President of the Republic of Korea. While Mr. Lee was the mayor of the Seoul City, I had a high praise for him for his successful restoration of the clean Cheonggye-cheon River flowing through the heart of the Seoul City west to east. Mr. Lee also substantially improved the Seoul City transportation system for the convenience of the citizens of the Seoul City. I highly evaluate these accomplishments made by him.
I found Mr. Lee Myung-bak an attractive person when he confessed, “I am miserable-looking and also I have a voice that is anything but good and I am not a type of man who can make a President of the Republic of Korea.” Perhaps this is the main reason that I and a number of people like myself canvassed all parts of Korea in order to making him the President of the Republic of Korea. We even travelled all the way to the United States of America, called together the Korean residents there and tried to persuade them at the top of our voice, “Mr. Lee Myung-bak must be elected during the current President elections!”
We often compared Lee Myung-bak to the famous Japanese Shogun, Hideoyoshi Toyotomi (March 17, 1537 – September 18, 1598), who successfully united the entire territory of Japan. I pleaded to the people to support Lee even joking, “Look, don’t you think Lee and Toyotomi look alike?”
During the Presidential elections in 17th-term Presidential elections on Dec. 19, 2007 Lee Myung-bak won the race beating the then New United Grand Democratic Party Presidential Candidate Chung Dong-young with a difference of 5.31 million votes. After his successful election, I have never met Mr. Lee again, not even once.
It is true that Mr. Lee sent his Chief Secretary Chung Jung-kil to us and treated us to a dinner at a restaurant in Seoul and gave us each a president of Cheong Wa Dae. However, Mr. Chung did not have any word of inviting us to the Presidential Mansion.
So to I told Presidential Chief Secretary, “Are we a bunch of contagious disease patients? Would there occur a big trouble if we visited Cheong Wa Dae?” Mr. Chung looked very uneasy.
President Lee Myung-bak, after his successful election, gave up honoring one of his important promises, construction of a Grand Korean Peninsula Canal. The reason was a protest against the construction by over 100 professors of Seoul National University where they insisted that the Canal would inflict great damages to the land and other natural environment of the country. President Lee made no effort to dissuade them against their demand but gave in and gave up the Great Canal Plan.
When President Lee was invited to visit the Russian Federation, he did so accompanied by a controversial writer named Mr. Hwang. It might be ‘nobody’s business’ as to whom the President would want to go with when he visits a country. However, Mr. Lee forgot his position where he should go declaring that he is the leader of a member of the Free World. Instead, Mr. Lee declared, “I am neither a leftist nor a rightist but a practical politician who treads of the pass of the middle-of –the-roaders.
At once I expressed to him a piece of my mind which would be nothing pleasant to him. “If you do not have a clear political understanding, please just be quiet. If you say you are neither a rightist nor a leftist, the listeners would think that you are undecided and wandering Uwang Jwawang (which Wikipedia dictionary defines as “Going this way and that, run about in confusion, move about busily, run pell-mell, rush about to no purpose.”)
Even today, I am ashamed of myself that I was a party to making Mr. Lee a President of the Republic of Korea.
When I ardently wished that Mr. Lee would make a President of the Republic of Korea I had in mind the 16th-term President of the United States, Mr. Abraham Lincoln.
Mr. Lee was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1941 as the son of a laborer working at a farm near the city (second largest in Japan). It was a very difficult living in Japan. After returning to Korea, the livelihood of Mr. Lee was not any better than that in Japan. It was difficult even to eat enough. He worked his way through the university in Seoul but his difficult living did not improve until he successfully joined the Hyundai
At Hyundai, Lee succeeded in making fast promotions with for the then Chairman Chung Ju-yung of the Hyundai Business Group. Ultimately, Lee made the president of one of the group’s affiliate companies and then the chairman of the company. In this process, Lee also made a considerable size of wealth.
After leaving the Hyundai Business Group, Lee became a member of the National Assembly and then won another victory in the next National Assembly elections. However, his life as a parliamentarian was anything but an easy one as he was charged of involvement in a case of violating the election law.
Lee offered himself the ruling Hannara Party candidate for the Seoul Mayoral elections, and won.
While in office, Mr. Lee successfully completed the Cheonggye-cheon Canal cutting through the heart of the Seoul City. The success substantially impressed the people favorably, and at length won the Presidential election in 2007.
However, Mr. Lee never made a Lincoln. On the contrary, he made himself a prisoner and is now leading a miserable life.
To all the poor young people in Korea, Lee Myung-bak should have given high hopes for their future. But he gave them a sense of despair and hopelessness.
I still like to advise people, “Try and become someone like Lincoln!” But I detest to hear anything like, “Try to become someone like Lee Myung-bak!”
I believe that the incumbent President is not free from the blame. I wish the incumbent President had called Mr. and Mrs. Lee to a dinner at the Presidential Mansion of Chong Wa Dae and advised to him as follows:
“Mr. Lee, the amount of money involved in the cases of illicit fortune-massing is enormous. How would you like to use some of the money, maybe 100 billion won, and ask someone to establish a scholarship foundation? If you would do this, I would do everything I could to protect your honor at all cost. To bring criminal charges against you would be something very regretful to both of us.”
If such a statement had been made and both sides had agreed to it, the unhappy and unfortunate situation as is seen today would not have happened.
A President must try to be a Gunja (which Naver dictionary defines as “A noble man, a (true) gentleman, a wise man, a man of virtue [honor, noble character], etc.).
A President must try not to be a Soin (a little man, a child), but try to be a Gunja.
Otherwise, there would be confusion in the country.
The President of today must try to protect the honor of the President of yesterday. By putting his predecessor in prison, there is no guarantee that the Republic of Korea would become a country where the people would have a larger pride.
It is my ardent wish that the 19th-term President (Moon Jae-in), too, be one commanding an overwhelming respect of the people.