Ahn Jung-geun: an ordinary man, an extra-ordinary life
By Franklin Rausch
Ahn Jung-geun wrote a poem which contains the line "The times make the hero and the hero makes the times." In his poem, Ahn expresses his faith that despite the difficult times in which he lived, it was possible for an individual to shape history. Through his tireless efforts in the patriotic enlightenment and righteous army movements, Ahn sought to do just that.
But what was his vision? What sort of future was he trying to build? Perhaps we could summarize his hopes for the world by saying that he wanted to establish an authentic peace by building a ``unity'' that respected ``independence.'' I believe that much of his importance in Asian history rests upon this desire, for in contrast to the dreams of conquest of the great empires of history, what Ahn wanted was only that desired by the great mass of humanity: to live in peace. But Ahn knew that an authentic peace did not simply mean the absence of war, but must have as its foundation a just order in which the dignity of all men and women is respected.
Perhaps it is in the ordinariness of Ahn's hope that his place in Asian history can be found, for though he sought to be a hero, it was one of a rather ordinary sort. I say that, not to put Ahn down, but to raise up the many others of his time who also struggled for justice. Like them, Ahn, though intelligent, was no genius, and though brave, was no great military strategist. Ahn's courage and his willingness to do what he believed was right despite the personal cost are not inborn virtues of a tiny elite; but ones that can be obtained with hard work by ordinary men and women. Ahn's place in history is not found in his uniqueness, but in the fact that he is a representative of all those who suffered for what they believed was right. It was the unique circumstances of his death that led him to record his life and thoughts; something others like him, never did. And so his words are not his alone, but also of those who struggled for injustice but did not leave behind a written record. And so, in a sense, when we read Ahn's writings, we learn not only of him, but of the thousands of others who suffered and died in their fight to do what they thought was right and whose names have been lost in the winds of history.
I wonder if it was this combination of ordinariness and heroism that led Ahn to inspire, not only Koreans but Chinese as well, to struggle for independence and a just social and world order. Perhaps it was the fact that, because his virtues were those obtainable by ordinary men and women that they kept his picture close at hand as a sort of talisman, and told stories of his deeds, giving them courage as they faced the darkness of imperial rule.
But Ahn's influence is not confined to the past. Even now, there is interest in his life, actions, and thought. Many look to him for inspiration to overcome contemporary problems, finding sound advice in his calls for respectful unity and humility. Such people are not confined only to China and Korea, but even in Japan there are those who see Ahn as someone who tried to call their country away from the dangerous path of imperialism and the destruction it brought. And this is appropriate; Ahn saw himself not only acting for the benefits of Koreans, but for Japanese as well. His writings betray no anti-Japanese feeling and it was not prejudice that drove him to struggle for Korean independence and peace in the East, but a genuine concern for others.
Nor is Ahn's life only of interest to Asians. Many other people, Westerners in particular, are becoming more curious about him. Though it is often difficult for them to understand him and the place he occupies in the hearts of Koreans today, he has an important message. He reminds us that we must listen to the weak, whose cries for justice are drowned out by deafening oppression and too often go unheard. This is of great importance for the citizens of wealthy and powerful countries who are called on to remind their governments to work for justice and to remember to respect the rights of less-developed and weaker nations. Though they may not agree with everything that Ahn did and the means he utilized to pursue justice, it cannot be denied that he gave all he had in an effort to do what he thought was right and that his grievances were real. His articulation of these grievances, shared by many of his own times and today, remind us that in order to have true peace, we must seek justice, especially for the weak and the oppressed.
Ahn holds an important place, not only in Asian history, but in world history, as an ordinary man who lived an extraordinary life, possessing virtues, such as courage that are obtainable by all who will work for them, and struggled for goals that all right-thinking men and women desire: peace and justice.
Raush was a special advisor to the contest. ― ED