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[Opinion] Dr. Cho Byeong-ok

Posted December. 17, 2003 22:51,   


If you look at the life of Dr. Cho Byeong-ok (1984~1960), you can feel how painful the lives of intellectuals who devoted themselves to the independence movement during Japan`s occupation of Korea were. Cho, who returned to Korea after 11 years of study in the United States, had to endure the hardships of prison life for five years for participating in independence movement organizations such as the Sin-Kan-Hoe. The following is an excerpt from his memoirs.

“Indeed, getting barely enough food for survival was not easy. I lived in endless fear, anxiety, and misery in hunger and rags. My wife had to stay up many nights in front of a sewing machine to earn a scant sum of money.”

Cho also said, “I am a Christian and the Bible says to love your enemies. But (knowing how cruelly Japanese treated Koreans), I can not pray for the sake of Japan.” Rep. Kim hee-sun of the Uri Party, however, condemned Cho, arguing he was a pro-Japanese figure who was a “brutal detective who hunted patriots.” Cho, however, is a man who received an Order of Merit for National Foundation and was known as a symbol of democracy after Korea’s restoration of its independence. If such a man is really pro-Japanese, it is a huge shock. However, in order to disclose the truth, we have to examine his past at the time of the end of Japan’s occupation. But no pro-Japanese activities from Cho are found. Instead, we can find facts that he was a figure who stood for the Koreans during Japan’s oppression.

As Kim’s remark encounters a storm of criticism, he is now raising suspicions of Cho’s activities during the American military occupation period after Korea’s regaining its independence. Cho served as a police affairs director for three years during the U.S. occupation and contributed greatly in building the foundation for the Korean National Police. Kim, however, is accusing Cho of hiring pro-Japanese detectives. Although such an accusation had been raised previously, suggesting activities conducted after Japan’s occupation of Korea as pro-Japanese cannot be a convincing argument. According to a commander of the U.S. Forces in Korea at that time, Cho received 48,000 anonymously written complaint letters during his post as a police affairs director, because he was actively involved in removing leftists. So we have to be cautious when we look at such controversial historical events.

How difficult it is to write history? Contrasting conclusions on an identical historical event can be drawn up, in some cases, depending on the historians who write it. Positivism historians who write the history only based on evidence have also emerged in the wake of the fundamental limits that historians are inherited. Thus, our complicatedly entangled contemporary history always bears a risk of being contaminated by being abused as a mean of political strives, conspiracies, or assaults. Although Kim has expressed his regret, I am still upset. I wonder whether Kim has a sound historical view, and still do not understand why he had to suddenly criticize Cho.

Hong Chan-sik, editorial writer. chansik@donga.com