Yoon Seok-youl red-baits Lee Jae-myung

Posted on : 2021-07-05 17:27 KST Modified on : 2021-07-05 17:27 KST
Observers accuse Yoon of aligning his historical perspective with South Korea’s right wing
Former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl talks to reporters at the National Assembly press room on Tuesday. (Yonhap News)
Former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl talks to reporters at the National Assembly press room on Tuesday. (Yonhap News)

Former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl publicly rebuked his presidential race rival, Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung, for remarks claiming that “Korean collaborators with Japan worked together with the occupying US forces to maintain a governing regime.”

In his response, Yoon went after Lee for “denying the legitimacy of the Republic of Korea” and “trying to transform the Republic of Korea into a country that follows misguided ideologies.”

With Yoon’s response subtly distorting the remarks that Lee actually made in order to frame them in terms of an ideological debate and “red-baiting” allegations, observers are accusing him of aligning his historical perspective with South Korea’s right wing and past military dictatorships.

On Sunday, Yoon posted a Facebook message under the title “Self-distortion of history cannot be tolerated.”

In it, he wrote, “Gov. Lee Jae-myung, a strong contender for the current party’s next presidential nomination, has echoed the absurd misstatements of the head of Heritage of Korean Independence, who called the US military ‘occupying forces’ and the Soviet Army ‘liberating forces.’”

“What’s even more shocking is that the President and Blue House, who are the ones in charge of governance, have not made any statement of their position on this,” he continued.

“They speak as though the Republic of Korea is harboring some foul and shameful secret surrounding its birth,” he added.

“The people who deny the legitimacy of the Republic of Korea and highlight only one aspect of history while ignoring its context are simply feeding parasitically off the achievements of the South Korean people. They are trying to transform the Republic of Korea into a country that follows misguided ideologies.”

With his remarks, Yoon appeared to be arguing a “conspiracy among leftists” to stay in power, linking Lee’s remarks with those of Heritage of Korean Independence chairperson Kim Won-woong and attacking President Moon Jae-in for not criticizing them.

Yoon’s remarks echoed the typical antics of South Korea’s far-right and its antiquated red-baiting tactics.

The remarks by Lee came during a visit to the Yi Yuksa Literary Museum in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, on Thursday, the same day that he declared his intent to run for the presidency.

“The Republic of Korea went through something a bit different from the government establishment stage in other countries. It failed to reckon with its legacy of pro-Japanese collaboration, and Koreans who had collaborated with Japan worked together with the occupying US forces to maintain a governing regime,” he said at the time.

“The country did not get off to a ‘clean’ start,” he added.

Lee also noted the example of the museum’s namesake, poet Yi Yuksa, as someone who “fought in the independence movement, only to end up dying in prison.”

“I have to ask whether we have engaged in adequate historical assessment or accorded the due respect and compensation, and in that sense I would like for us to start anew, seeing ourselves as re-establishing our country,” he said.

The emphasis in Lee’s remarks was on acknowledging the contributions of independence activists such as Yi.

But two days later, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper published the remarks in a Saturday article, declaring that Lee had “shown his position that the Republic of Korea’s foundation was spearheaded by pro-Japanese collaborations, and that the US military was an ‘occupying army.’”

In other words, while Lee had said that pro-Japanese collaborators had “worked together with the occupying US forces to maintain a governing regime,” the newspaper took that as claiming that the Republic of Korea itself was a “product of collaboration between pro-Japanese collaborators and occupying US forces.”

In his Facebook message, Yoon echoed the argument made by the Chosun Ilbo.

“[Lee said that] the ‘Republic of Korea emerged as the collaboration of pro-Japanese forces and occupying US forces.’ It’s enough to make the entire South Korean public disbelieve their ears,” he wrote.

Seemingly taking the distorted characterization at face value, Yoon continued by making some extreme claims of his own.

“To those of you who are in control of governance and who distort history as you eye the next presidency, I ask what you are attempting to achieve now and whom you are speaking for. Are you saying that all the Republic of Korea’s soldiers and people who died or were injured in the Korean War were fighting for the interests of pro-Japanese collaborators and the US?” he asked.

He went on to lambaste Lee and the Moon administration as having lumped them together with the South Koreans who cleared away the legacy of authoritarian regimes and achieved democracy, transforming them into ‘democratic warriors who fought the hardest.’”

“I am against people getting carried away with ideology in a way that makes them divide the public’s consciousness and cause suffering,” he said.

Lee claims his remarks were historically accurate

Responding to Yoon’s attack, Lee said on Sunday that it was a “clear error to equate the US military presence after the Korean War with the US military presence shortly after liberation, and it was a falsehood to claim that I called the Soviets a ‘liberating army.’”

“It’s truly unfortunate that [Yoon’s] first political remarks about me were an old-fashioned red-baiting attack that distorted and falsified what I actually said,” he added.

In a Facebook message, Lee wrote, “The Soviet forces stationed north of the 38th Parallel and the US forces stationed to the south were both occupying armies. The US military’s proclamation itself stated that they were occupying forces.”

“The US forces stationed as an occupying army withdrew after the Republic of Korea government was established, and after taking part again with the UN forces during the Korean War, they have remained here to this day through the Republic of Korea-US Mutual Defense Treaty,” he said.

“It was the same US military, but depending on the era, it held a different legal status as an occupying army and stationed forces. You only need to study introductory level law to understand that it was not the same thing,” he also said.

Lee also stressed that it was a “widely known fact that the people who had been complicit with imperial Japan [during the occupation] were not only not dealt with, but went on to hold important positions in the newly launched Republic of Korea government.”

“It was through their efforts that the Special Investigation Committee of Anti-National Activities was forcibly disbanded,” he claimed.

“Many of the unjust and collaborationist elements were belatedly dealt with after the government was established, but the reality is that some of them remain present throughout our society like toadstools, getting in the way of social unity and damaging our image as an autonomous and independent state,” he argued.

“The same People Power Party that [Yoon] plans to join has not strayed very far from this,” he added.

Some historians described Yoon’s remarks as “politicking” that “denies the historical facts.”

“When the US arrived and stationed its forces in September 1945, the official term was ‘occupying forces,’” said Ahn Byung-ook, an emeritus professor at the Catholic University of Korea and former president of the Academy of Korean Studies.

“Gov. Lee’s remarks were not inaccurate either in logical or academic terms,” he claimed.

“They [Yoon and others] appear to be attaching the nuance of ‘invasion and forcible occupation’ to the term ‘occupying forces’ in order to go on the attack, but that isn’t based on the facts,” he said.

Yim Hun-young, president of the Center for Historical Truth and Justice, said, “Since they see the ‘legitimate’ historical perspective as one that supports Korea’s division, dictatorial regimes, and people who come to power through coups, that leads them to their argument that [Lee] was ‘denying the legitimacy of the Republic of Korea.’”

“Yoon Seok-youl’s Facebook post shows just how categorical and fragmentary they are in their views of modern history. It’s the same view of history shown by the far-right dictatorships of Rhee Syngman and Chun Doo-hwan,” he argued.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, another historian who specializes in modern and contemporary history said, “Proclamation No. 1 by General [Douglas] MacArthur uses the term ‘occupy’ or ‘occupation’ four separate times.”

“I think [Lee’s] remarks about pro-Japanese collaboration not being dealt with had to do with the large number of people who held positions in the police and military dating back to the Japanese occupation [even after the Republic of Korea government was established],” they added.

By Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles