Truth and Reconciliation

It takes a lot to admit you are wrong, but swallowing your pride and admitting you messed up is often worth the end result. This week Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission went public with its report on the execution of almost 5,000 Koreans suspected of having ties to the Communist Party in Korea at the outbreak of the Korean War. The Commission not only found that these Koreans were brutally executed but that many of these suspects were executed under false pretenses.

Under the authoritarian government of Syngman Rhee, with the fear of communism and communist infiltrators at an all time high, government officials started the National Guidance League to keep Koreans from joining the Communist Party.  But officials often coerced Korean peasants into joining the National Guidance League in order to fill quotas by forcing many by gunpoint or promising food to these poor, hungry and desperate people. “The authorities pressed us to join the league,” the New York Times reported Kim Ki-ban, 87 as saying at a news conference Thursday. Kim continued, “We had no idea that we were joining a death row.”

Their membership into this League was an admission of having some kind of tie to the Communist Party and a trip to a reeducation camp where these Koreans would be forced to give up their communist ways.  But instead of reeducation, many of these people were gunned down.  Some, like Kim, escaped and only recently came forward about these atrocities. Before recently, discussion of these massacres was taboo.

The Commission called on Korea’s government to publicly apologize and offer compensation to the families that lost someone.  A tall order for a prideful government, but a small and easy gesture.  Korea is one of the few countries where such a commission even exists Hopefully, government officials will heed to its advice. But the Commission was started under former liberal president Roh Moo-Hyun and some fear that the the more conservative government under current president, Lee Myung Bak, will cease funding this Commission.

Maybe, Lee’s administration will see the benefits of such a commission.  Dealing with blemishes in a country’s history is definitely one way to find peace for victims’ families and a way for future generations to understand mistakes made in the past.  Sadly, few countries look backward to to learn. My hope is that Truth and Reconciliation Commissions can help future leaders avoid making the same ugly mistakes humanity has made in the past.