Don't Abuse Kim Dae-jung's Diaries for Political Ends

      September 03, 2009 12:56

      Park Hae-hyun

      "A man builds a house to live and writes because he knows he will die," said the French writer Daniel Pennac. Writing lasts longer than the life of writers and some pieces of writing last forever. Many poets and novelists have labored for countless sleepless nights for this kind of immortality. But such immortality is not only the privilege of great literary works. The journals of ordinary people, like the diary of Anne Frank, can be touching and leave an indelible impression. 

      Now parts of the diary of former President Kim Dae-jung's last days have been published in the wake of his death. His remark, "Life is beautiful and history develops," is cited as if it rounded up Kim's entire life. Like the Buddhist saying, "Mountains are mountains; water is water," the remark is both self-evident and profound.

      But there lingers a sour suspicion that some will seek to take advantage of his diary. Some of the entries plainly criticize the Lee Myung-bak administration. Kim should have known better than anyone that it is unseemly for a former president to condemn one of his successors. The opposition seems to abuse the journal as if it was his political testament that he wanted them to pursue. And indeed, the diary clearly shows his unfailing conviction and trust in himself as a politician rather than self-doubt as a weak human being.

      Former lawmaker Jang Sung-min, who headed the Cheong Wa Dae situation room during the Kim administration, in a radio talk show on Tuesday, criticized the publication of Kim's "testament." "Causing social repercussions by making a political issue out of last remarks during the mourning period itself is a discourtesy to the late president," Jang said. "Selfish motives should not be allowed to cloud his beliefs and achievements."

      The memoirs of Kim Dae-jung, which will be published within the year, should also not be used for political purposes. Charles de Gaulle's memoirs are considered a literary masterpiece and sold more than 2 million copies in France. On the 30th anniversary of his death in 2000, his memoirs were included in Gallimard's "Pleiades" series of great writers and thinkers. The French don't read the book for the sake of history and politics alone; they savor the literary flavor of de Gaulle, who was greatly influenced by romantic literature.

      Winston Churchill's memoirs earned him a Nobel Prize in literature for its vivid portrayal of effects of World War II. Francois Mitterrand, an intellectual who wrote over 20 books while alive, in memoirs published after his death in the form of questions and answers, makes the apt remark, "Politics is a servant of science and a poor interpreter of philosophy."

      Kim Dae-jung's memoirs will be the first book in Korea a retired president wrote with posterity in mind. Recording stark truths may be important, but the book should show what kind of person Kim really was, since we know he was an eloquent and well-read man. Let us hope that his writings can be enjoyed in perpetuity for their own sake instead of being abused as a political bible by his supporters.

      By Park Hae-hyun from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

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