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Where is reconciliation?

June 27,2018
There is no mandate on whom the president should pay respects to or not after someone passes away. Sitting presidents visited the mourning altar upon the passing of former prime ministers. In 2013, then-President Park Geun-hye stopped by to pay her respects to former Prime Minister Nam Duck-woo.

President Moon Jae-in sent a wreath in his name to the mourning altar of the late Kim Jong-pil, the two-time prime minister who died on Saturday, and ordered to pay the “upmost respect” to the bereaved family. He also ordered the awarding of posthumous Mugunghwa medal, the highest order of civil merit, despite protests from the liberal camp opposing giving such honor to someone who was instrumental in a military coup and oppression. Still, it is a pity President Moon could not have been more open-minded by making a symbolic visit to the mourning place for the deceased and put the ideology-ridden past behind.

Although the two have not been political contemporaries, Moon and Kim were at opposite ends in the struggle between the industrialization and democratization forces in the late 1980s. When Kim helped two-star Gen. Park Chung Hee achieve a coup in 1961 and supported his industrialization drive, Moon fought back as a student and human rights activist. Moon was among the rebels resisting the coalition between the heavyweight and dissident leaders Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung to help them successively win presidency.

Moon also did not fall in favor with the ultra-right politician. The late political guru outright criticized Moon for his détente towards Pyongyang. Moon shrugged it off in his memoir, saying he did not wish to hear any favorable words from Kim.

It would have made a touching ending to the official setting of the so-called three Kim era if Moon had seen off the last member of the trio. He would have helped close the chapter on Korea’s turbulent modern history of severe ideological division. By setting his feet into the altar, Moon could have triggered a butterfly effect across society and this generation. It is a pity we could not see such a noble politician in this country.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 26, Page 30