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The old exiles come home
The left-right confrontation in Korea – Its origin
Kim Young Sik, Ph.D.
Today, we celebrate August 15th as our Liberation Day. Was Korea really liberated on August 15, 1945? Yes, Korea was liberated on this day, in that the yoke of the Japanese rule was lifted off the neck of the Korean people on that day. But liberation did not mean independence for Korea. On the contrary, the Big Powers – the United States, the USSR, and the Great Britain – believed that the Korean people were unable to rule themselves and therefore, a period of a trusteeship would be needed.
Accordingly, an US military government was established in South Korea and the Soviets ruled North Korea. The Korean people had no say on their future, and once again, foreigners ruled Korea. The Soviets brought in Korean Communists to work for the Soviet Union in North Korea, and the US military brought in anti-Communist Koreans from America and China to work for the United States. And these ‘foreign’ Koreans brought with them the ugly old blood feuds, which date back to the early 1900s.
On September 19, 1945, Kim Il Sung and his guerrillas numbering about 40 arrived at Wonsan aboard the Soviet warship Pukachev from Siberia. Kim led the Korean detachment of the International Allied Forces (IAF) created by the Soviets in 1940. Kim waged anti-Japanese guerrilla war in Manchuria from mid-1930 to 1941. In 1941, he led the remnants of his army to Siberia to join the IAF. From 1941 to 1945, Kim led reconnaissance missions in Manchuria and Korea.
On October 16, 1945, Rhee Sygnman returned to Seoul from years of exile in America. Some historians say that Rhee was the 'tiger of Korea' who “was the democratically elected founder of Korea, most revered by all Koreans even today”, while others say "Rhee was a sinister and dangerous man, an anachronism who had strayed into this age to use the clichés and machinery of democracy for unscrupulous and undemocratic ends." The truth about Rhee lies somewhere in-between. In South Korea, Kim Dae Jung and some other leaders want to erect a monument to the “Father of Korea”, while others are bitterly opposed to it.
On November 2, 1945, Kim Gu received Gen. Hodge’s permission to return home. Gen. Hodge was not comfortable with Rhee Syngman and hoped to use Kim Gu to control the Korean people for him. Kim Gu wanted to install his government-in-exile (the Korean Provisional Government in China) in post-liberation Korea, but both the United States and the Soviet Union were opposed to Kim Gu’s idea. Kim Gu was not allowed to return to Korea until he signed a statement promising that he would return as a private citizen – not as president of the Korean Provisional Government.
Kim Gu returned home on November 23, 1945. There was no marching band, no red carpet – only American military police escorts – for the man who had fought for Korean independence for so many years. Undaunted, Kim Gu, the old feisty fighter, proclaimed: "We will have to discharge all officials appointed by the interpreters of the US Military Government. When Japan fell on August 15, 1945, all pro-Japanese and national traitors under the Japanese first went into hiding but later came out to buy off the interpreters so that they could get positions in the provincial governments, the district government and the police. We must clean out all these people, and at the same time, stop this spirit of dependence on foreign countries."
In North Korea, the Soviets empowered pro-Moscow Communists and purged non-Communist leaders like Cho Man Sik. Soviet Koreans and Communists from China replaced the ‘domestic’ Korean leaders – those Koreans who remained in Korea during the Japanese occupation – from local governments and security forces created by Yo Un Hyong in August 1945. The Soviets and their servants took over North Korea.
In South Korea, the US military empowered pro-Japanese Koreans and anti-Communists. The pro-Japanese became ardent anti-Communists, and being anti-Communists, in the mind of many people, justified their collaboration with the Japanese police before Korea’s liberation. After all, many of the Koreans fighting for independence from Japan were Communists and there was no harm done in hunting them down then.
With the return of the old exiles from China and the United States, the old blood feuds amongst them came to Korea to roost. The brief period of national unity that prevailed all across Korea before the return of the exiles was shattered and gone forever, and the era of extreme polarization and fratricides began. Brothers turned against brothers. Children turned against their parents and students turned against their teachers. Political leaders were assassinated one after another – Yo Un Hyong, Kim Gu, and others who believed in national reconciliation were murdered and silenced.
Why do Korea’s Communists and anti-Communists hate each other so much? There are Communists in America, Japan and many other nations but they are not hunted down and killed like wild animals as they were in South Korea. Communists rule China, Viet Nam, Cuba, and some other nations, but they do not hunt down and kill non-Communists there. Germany, Viet Nam and Yemen used to be split into Communist and non-Communist halves, but they have been united and been working together – Communists and non-Communists side by side, as brothers and sisters.
In order to understand why Korea’s Communists and non-Communists are still at each other’s throat, we need go back in time about 200 years.
Kim Young Sik is editor of Korea WebWeekly.
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