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What goes around comes around

Aug 08,2018
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Kim Jin-kook
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The first thing President Kim Young-sam — the first civilian president elected after the 1987 Constitution institutionalized four-year single-term presidencies by direct vote — did upon moving into the Blue House in 1993 was sack the Army chief of staff and the chief of the Defense Security Command. That was the start of his purge of the politicized military group called “Hanahoe.”

After removing the two active military leaders, Kim went on disbanding an exclusive group in the Army that surged to power after their generals Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo served as presidents. Anyone left was demoted. The spread of a list of generals allegedly plotting a military coup accelerated the purge. The chief of the Air Force was made chairman of joint chiefs of staff, a position normally reserved for the Army chief, and an army general hailing from the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, not the Military Academy, was named to head the Defense Security Command.

President Kim would have been fearful of a military coup as he won the presidency by merging his party with the party of Roh Tae-woo, a former army general. When Chun Doo Hwan took power by force with other Hanahoe members in 1980, generals-turned-politicians dominated the government. Kim was put under house arrest, while his dissident rival Kim Dae-jung was threatened.

Through the marriage of convenience, Kim was able to come to power and claimed he paved the way for his rival Kim Dae-jung to succeed him. If he had not disbanded Hanahoe, the military’s political force could have bounced back to life. Many say it was one of Kim’s biggest achievements and that it greatly helped our civilian-led democracy. We thought we were seeing the end of military coups in our history.

Now we have learned the Defense Security Command prepared a plan to institute martial law in case the Constitutional Court returned the impeached President Park Geun-hye to office last year.

President Moon Jae-in’s approval rating sank to 60 percent. Although still high, public confidence in him is skidding fast. The summer has been unprecedentedly hot. Jobs are not growing at a normal rate and consumer prices have soared. Can all these be because of the wrongdoings of past conservative presidents or predatory large companies run by third-generation princelings? A former Supreme Court Chief Justice is being probed for possible abuse of power. Practices that must be undone and corrected do not seem to end.

The ruling party won June 13 local elections and by-elections by a landslide because many voters approved of the liberal administration’s clampdown on past wrongdoings. But the past alone cannot explain our ongoing troubles. People’s livelihoods have become harder and jobs scarcer. Blaming previous governments can no longer give cover to the incumbent administration.

Upon coming to power, all governments tried to rewrite history. Kim Young-sam demolished the central government building in Gwanghwamun and removed all the secret quarters around the Blue House. There was a lot to be removed since the military regime has been in power for more than two decades. The work was necessary, but his administration was too engrossed with cleansing the past to notice the looming liquidity crisis. A quarter of a century has passed since. But combatting past ills has once again become central to the state’s agenda. Reform is necessary, but preoccupation with the past can delay steps toward the future.

President Roh Moo-hyun had prosecutors look into the deals his liberal predecessor Kim Dae-jung made with North Korea. President Park Geun-hye exposed dirt in her conservative predecessor’s signature four-rivers renovation and overseas resource development projects. She was more willing to recruit people from the Roh administration than trust people from Lee’s. Rage and hate dominated state affairs. Foreign and security affairs also came under scrutiny. The country’s dignity is victimized every five years.

In democratic politics, different views must co-exist. They must move forward through dialogue and compromise. Two former conservative presidents are behind bars now. The role of politics is to establish procedures. It is the people’s choice to remove people from power through those procedures. If political forces try to eliminate rival forces, the revenge could go on forever.

The prosecution sought arrest warrants for members of the family that controls Hanjin Group five times and was rejected every time. The crackdown on Hanjin was joined by all available law enforcement and regulatory authorities. Hanjin is not alone. When the president makes a comment, the prosecution immediately embarks on a probe. Prosecutors were arguably more discreet under military regimes.

The Moon administration wants to change the mainstream of our society. A black-and-white mindset breeds the politics of exclusion instead of engagement.

The ending of evils is not possible. China’s Cultural Revolution and Nazi Holocaust were led by obsessive leaders determined to cleanse or punish what they believed were evil and wrong. They were disasters. What matters more to the public at the moment is not politics, but improvements in their livelihoods.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 6, Page 31