[Gold Prize] Immortal Advocate of Peace in East Asia
By Lee Eun-sung
A piercing scream trembled through the peaceful air of Harbin Train Station, on Oct. 26, 1909.
The scream of agony came from Hirobumi Ito, the first resident-general of Korea, hit by three well-aimed gunshots from a young
Ito and several other Japanese officials were planning to meet a Russian Treasurer later that day, a perfect chance to discuss plans on invading China and consolidating Korea. Ahn, determined to reveal Japan's dark ambitions to the world, was caught on the spot, proud and unafraid.
The patriotic martyr, Ahn, is most renowned for killing Ito. This noble act has deeply touched Koreans, because he had sacrificed his life for his nation, fully knowing that he would lose everything he had.
Nevertheless, when historians state this incident as important in East Asian history, people may question why this selfless action would matter in all of East Asia, rather than just in Korea, not to mention how the Japanese could possibly accept Korea's view on the "assassination" of their revered leader.
The answer lies in the ideas Ahn and Ito shared and contradicted.
As many find ironic, both Ahn and Ito advocated peace in East Asia. They both believed that the countries of East Asia should coexist, through collaborations against the speedily infiltrating Western powers.
In fact, being a moderate, Ito was welcomed in Korea at first, with many assuming he would improve the situations by creating peace over the grim times of war. Ito was even respected among Korean intellectuals, and his theory was considered to be something Asians should all perpetrate. However, being a moderate definitely didn't lead to the conclusion that he did not work toward the ultimate goal of colonizing Korea.
The argument of the Japanese is wrong, which states that if the head of the moderate party, Ito, wasn't neutralized, he would have firmly insisted that Korea should stay as an independent county.
The truth is that he aspired to place many lands under Japanese control, for it was he who made the Eulsa Treaty, which deprived Korea of its diplomatic sovereignty. Japan, the first country in East Asia to open up to the West, was thirsty for more land and power, posing threats to the neighboring countries. No state was safe from its ambition -- Korea, China, Southeast Asia, and even the islands of Oceania.
Ito might not have been as blunt as other officials, but he still believed that Japan comes first, then the so-called "peace" proceeds.
Therefore, Japan's idea of a "East Asia peace theory" was nothing more than a pretty gift wrapper; something to convince educated people, and to justify their means to invade and conquer a nation.
No land was safe from the craze of Japan, and Korea was consolidated thanks to this sneaky tactic. The evidence? While Korea and China supported Japan in the Russo-Japanese war, Japan insisted that they should work together against the white Russians to promote East Asian peace, he was negotiating with Russia until the day he was killed.
Ahn's righteous act was good news for the other countries located around the Pacific Ocean, for Ito's death played an important role in the fall of Japan, stopping invasions in advance.
But, you might start to wonder, surely the allied powers would have brought an end to the Japanese Empire sooner or later, right? Wrong.
Ito was bright, with international relationships, and he would have chosen to work with the allied powers, rather than Germany, if he had been alive in the political arena. And you can't forget the fact that after the world war, the principle of self-determination was applied only to the colonies of the Axis.
In contrast to Ito's theory of "peace under the Japanese rule," Ahn's East Asia Peace theory, written in prison, sought true peace.
Ahn believed in the absolute unification of East Asia, proposing the idea of constructing a "peace zone" in Lushun, where he spent his last moments, and running an "Asian Bank," co-managed by China, Russia, Japan and Korea, a similar concept to that of the European Union, or the United Nations.
His extraordinary theory and ideas were earlier by 70 years than that of Europe, which was established in 1959. Although he was sentenced to death before he could finish this masterpiece, from what's finished of this incomplete writing, we can see that Ahn was well informed of international relations at the time, and that he genuinely hoped for peace and developments in East Asia, much unlike Ito.
Ahn faced death five months later, sentenced by the Japanese court, after Gojong's secret messengers failed to change the Japanese jurisdiction to Russian.
During the interrogation, he requested he should be treated as a war prisoner, not a terrorist. Unlike terror, the U.N. states, of which the terrorists intentionally choose non-military targets for a stronger spotlight, legitimate liberation movements target only those with military purposes, and that was the case with Ahn.
In other words, Ahn, as a military general, rightfully killed the head of the opponent, to set free his nation. He had profound knowledge in international law, and had previously been in trouble for giving back the Japanese prisoners according to the law that prisoners are to be released if no proper accommodation can be provided.
However, Japan commanded the court to consider him as an individual gunman murdering out of "twisted patriotism," because they didn't want to show the world that Korea was resisting colonization on a national scale.
Lately, we found out that after he was sentenced, the Japanese lawyers and the Japanese attorney of Ahn himself had a party, the Japanese officials complimenting their good work.
Ahn once said, "志士仁人殺身成仁 [Ji Sa In In Sal Sin Seong In]," meaning, "A patriot and a man of virtues will give up their bodies to achieve humanity." Unlike countless hypocrites of history who left empty words, he truly lived up to his sayings, taking bold actions with his life as a price.
The sad thing is that not many people know about the truth; what really happened, and what amazing thoughts he had in mind.
At this moment, the important thing for us to do would be to preserve his achievements and learn from the past, and to spread the knowledge. Only then would it be possible to have his spirit living by our sides forevermore.
The writer is a student of Cheon Cheon Middle School in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province.