|A portrait of the late Paik Sun-yup, a famous Korean War hero and South Korea's first four-star general, is placed on a memorial altar set up at the Asan Medical Center in Seoul, Saturday. Paik passed away at the age 99 the previous day. Yonhap|
Paik sun-yup receives conflicting evaluations ― war hero or pro-Japanese collaborator?
By Jung Da-min
The death of Paik Sun-yup, a Korean War hero and South Korea's first four-star general, has brought an ideological controversy to the political and civic arenas over where he should be buried due to his record of service in the Japanese Army during Japan's colonial rule of Korea (1910-45).
While he has been highly recognized as a war hero by the South Korean and U.S. militaries, and his contributions during the war entitled him to be buried in a national cemetery, opponents claim he doesn't deserve the honor due to his alleged pro-Japanese activities.
After Paik passed away, Friday, at the age of 99, the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs and the South Korean Army said the next day that they decided to have his body buried at a graveyard for former generals at Daejeon National Cemetery, at the request of the bereaved family.
According to the relevant law, the nation's first four-star general is fully entitled to be buried in the cemetery.
But some liberal politicians and civic groups are claiming he should not be buried there, calling him a pro-Japanese collaborator.
In 1941 during Japan's colonial rule of Korea, he became an officer of the Manchukuo Imperial Army. Manchukuo was a puppet state set up by Japan in Manchuria. According to the Center for Historical Truth and Justice, the army fought against Korean independence fighters. In 2009, he was included on a list of pro-Japanese collaborators issued by a presidential truth-finding committee.
The liberal minor opposition Justice Party expressed regrets over the veterans affairs ministry's decision to bury Paik at the national cemetery.
"We would feel too ashamed to see independence fighters if we bury the person, who had been a puppet of Japanese imperialism and who suppressed the independence fighters, at the national cemetery. We expressed a great regret over the government's decision," Justice Party spokesman Kim Jong-chul said, Saturday.
An alliance of groups honoring independence fighters called on the government to cancel the burial plan. "Is it right for the country to bury a pro-Japanese collaborator, who suppressed independence fighters, at a national cemetery because of his service during the Korean War?" the alliance said in a statement. "If he was a hero who really dedicated himself to the country, we recommend he be buried at his family gravesite."
The liberal ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) decided not to issue any official comment on his death or on the controversy over his burial.
But earlier this year, some DPK members submitted a bill to move the graves of people buried at national cemeteries if they have been proven to be pro-Japan collaborators or their national decoration has been annulled due to other reasons after the burial ― a move partially targeting Paik even before his death.
The conservative main opposition United Future Party (UFP), on the contrary, has expressed condolences for his death, saying Paik should be buried at Seoul National Cemetery along with comrades, not in the Daejeon cemetery. The veterans' affairs ministry said there were no slots left at the graveyards for former generals at the Seoul cemetery
"Paik is a general who had led the South Korean military for 1,128 days from the outbreak of the Korean War on June 25, 1950. That was how he protected South Korea when it was on the edge of a cliff," UFP spokeswoman Rep. Kim Eun-hye said, Sunday. "It is a dishonor of the time that we are not letting him lie with his 120,000 comrades of the Korean War at the Seoul National Cemetery."
The party also said the five-day military funeral through Wednesday is not enough for Paik, requesting the government to raise the status to that of a national funeral.
President Moon Jae-in sent flowers to Paik's memorial altar at Asan Medical Center in Seoul, while his chief of staff Noh Young-min and other aides as well as Defense Minister Jeong Kyung-doo visited the altar to pay their respects.
Born in 1920 in Gangseo in South Pyongyang Province, which is now in North Korea, he joined the army in Manchukuo in 1941. He served in a unit known for hunting down Korean guerillas fighting for independence from 1943 to 1945 until Korea's liberation from Japan, although Paik later denied that he was ever directly engaged in fights with Koreans.
He was a first lieutenant when Korea was liberated and was recruited when the U.S. helped South Korea build a military after the division of the Korean Peninsula.
Paik participated in the Korean War as the 1st Infantry Division commander at its onset. He is especially credited for leading his division in the Battle of Tabudong, one of the fiercest in the war, in which the division played a critical role in preventing North Korean troops from breaching the Pusan Perimeter which would have won them the entire peninsula and the war.
When South Korean and U.N. forces charged northward pushing the North Koreans back, Paik later arrived at Pyongyang and planted a South Korean flag there. Paik became a four-star general in 1953 at age 32, the first in Korean history.
After the Korean War, Paik retired from the military and served in diplomatic posts before working as transportation minister from 1969 to 1971.
While Koreans are still divided over whether Paik is a war hero or a traitor to his people, the U.S. military has always treated him as "a living legend."
|U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris, right, kneels and holds Paik Sun-yup's hands at Paik's birthday event held at the Ministry of National Defense Convention in Seoul, Nov. 21, 2018. / Captured from Harry Harris' Twitter|
After Paik passed away, United States Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams said in a statement, Saturday, "From his time serving in the Korean War to becoming South Korea's first four-star General to serving as the ROK Army Chief of Staff, General Paik is a hero and national treasure who will be truly missed."
Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris also said on his Twitter, "So saddened by the death last night of Republic of Korea's first four-star general, General Paik Sun Yup. Leader. Patriot. Fighter. Statesman. He shaped the modern U.S.-ROK Alliance. He wrote, 'Without my country, I cannot exist.' Deepest condolences to his family. He is already greatly missed."