President Moon Jae-in lays flowers at a grave marker at the 4.3 Peace Park on Jeju Island. Moon was taking part in a memorial ceremony for victims on the 70th anniversary of the Apr. 3 Jeju Uprising. (Blue House Photo Pool)
The keywords of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s memorial address for the victims of the Apr. 3 Uprising on Jeju Island were human rights and reconciliation and peace that transcend ideology. His message called for South Koreans to take an honest look at this historical tragedy while getting over internal conflict based on ideological labels and moving toward harmony.
During his first memorial service for the victims of the Apr. 3 Uprising since becoming president, Moon began his address with the anguished question of the residents of Jeju Island: “Does spring come to this land?”
“The innocent people of Jeju Island may not have known ideology, but they were going about their happy lives in a land free of thieves, beggars and gates when they were slaughtered without even knowing why,” Moon said, defining the tragedy of the Apr. 3 Uprising. Military and police sent to suppress the uprising banned movement in areas that were more than 5km from the coast and threatened to shoot anyone who violated the ban regardless of the reason, leading to the deaths of numerous innocent people.
The people of Jeju Island who fell victim to the “age of ideology” – the liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial occupation, the establishment of separate governments in South and North Korea and the Korean War that followed – were the first to make peace with each other, Moon observed, as he underlined harmony in the country as a whole.
“The violent confrontation between left and right resulted in an awful historical tragedy, but the victims of Apr. 3 and the people of Jeju island transcended the mistrust and hatred created by ideology,” Moon said, while sharing the stories of two residents of the island, both deceased. Oh Chang-gi joined the Marines during the Korean War despite being shot by police and soldiers putting down the uprising, and Kim Tae-saeng volunteered for the Army even after losing his parents, wife, mother-in-law and brother-in-law in the Apr. 3 massacre.
“The young people who were branded as ‘commies’ during Apr. 3 risked death to defend their country. Ideology was no more than an excuse used to justify slaughter,” Moon said.
“The reconciliation begun by the people of Jeju must now be taken up by people around the country,” Moon said, while mentioning that the Apr. 3 Bereaved Families’ Association and the Jeju Branch of the Police Veterans Association had achieved unconditional reconciliation in 2013 and that a memorial stone to “defenders of the nation” and another to “victims of the Apr. 3 Uprising” had been brought together in Hagwi Village on Jeju.”We need to avoid being trapped in a worn-out ideological framework”
Moon also cautioned against attempts to disparage the Apr. 3 Uprising on ideological grounds. “There are still some who disregard the truth about Apr. 3; there are still some who view Apr. 3 through the distorted lens of worn-out ideology. The language of hatred and hostility created by worn-out ideology is still rampant in the Republic of Korea. We need to be able to squarely face Apr. 3 on our own and to avoid being trapped in a worn-out ideological framework,” he urged.
On the same day, Liberty Korea Party leader Hong Joon-pyo said, “Apr. 3, when the memorial service for the incident on Jeju Island is being held, is the day when leftists launched an armed revolt.”
Moon also asserted that the conservatives and the progressives should be competing not over ideology but over justice. “The Republic of Korea must become a country in which just conservatives and just progressives compete over justice,” he said.
Moon also highlighted the fact that uncovering the truth about the Apr. 3 Uprising and Massacre and restoring the reputations of the victims is in line with the actions of South Korea’s previous liberal governments. Moon mentioned the apologies made by former president Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun and the passage of a special act to learn the truth about the Apr. 3 Uprising and promised to “move toward a complete resolution of Apr. 3 on that basis.”
“A complete resolution of Apr. 3 will lay a firm foundation for the reconciliation, unity, peace and human rights that are desired by all people not only on Jeju but throughout the country. My fellow Koreans, spring is coming to Jeju Island,” Moon said at the close of his message.
During his address at the memorial service, Moon refrained from adding a modifier to the date of the incident. This appears to reflect his desire not to stir up any unnecessary controversy since no definite historical conclusion has been reached between conflicting claims about the “slaughter of innocent people” and an “armed uprising.”
“A precise name will be given to Apr. 3 when the revised version of the special act about the incident passes the National Assembly,” said an official at the Blue House.
By Seong Yeon-cheol, staff reporter
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