Philosopher Immanuel Kant said lying was always morally wrong. He even said lying out of humanity was also wrong. According to him, we should not lie even to murderers even if telling the truth would bring about dire consequences to others and ourselves. Was he right?
Jennifer Huntley’s “Jenny’s Attic,” which deals with the Gwangju Uprising in May 1980, tells a lot different story than what Kant said. The writer of this novel, Jennifer, is the daughter of American missionary and pastor Charles Huntley (Korean name Heo Cheol-seon), who sent the photos taken in Gwangju to abroad to tell the world what was happening in the city.
Jennifer, who was born in Yangrim-dong, Gwangju, 10 years old in 1980. On the late night of May 20, Korean pastors came to Jenny’s house. They came to ask Huntley to hide their children after soldiers started searching houses to capture students. They asked him to lie if soldiers come and ask the whereabouts of their children. Jenny’s parents hid the students in their attic although it could make their family dangerous. They told their children, including their adopted Korean son not to tell anyone, even to other pastors and Americans. That meant telling them to lie if they had to. Lying out of humanity was not wrong. They allowed more Koreans in their attic and let them stay there. Later, the family slept in the windowless basement out of fear that bullets would come through the walls. They sacrificed their lives to protect the lives of their guests like Lot in the Old Testament.
Author Lee Hwa-yeon reconstructed the “Ten Days of May” written in English by Jennifer Huntley to write Jenny’s Attic. There are two authors in the book. Thanks to them, we have a children’s novel, which is a mix of facts and fiction, depicting the Gwangju Uprising. This novel shows how much humans can be ethical in an existential situation. What is wrong with lying if it is for humans? The attic in Jenny’s house was an ethical space that would not have existed if Jenny’s family adhered to the absolute truth like Kant.