Friday, March 26, 2010

Patriot Ahn Seen by Japanese and Koreans

Today, the 26th of March, is the 100th anniversary of the death of Ahn Jung-geun--a patriot to most Koreans, a terrorist to most Japanese, who hanged him for assassinating (Oct. 26, 1909) the first resident-general of Korea, Hirobumi Ito. At the time of the assassination, Ahn was viewed as a terrorist by many Koreans, including his bishop who condemned the shooting. However, Fr. Joseph Wilhelm, who had baptized Ahn, did visit him in prison, said Mass and gave him the last sacraments.

Over the years, there has been a gradual shift in how Ahn is regarded by the vast majority of Korean Catholics, including many Chinese and some Japanese. He is now seen as a hero, a freedom fighter fully justified in killing Ito, who masterminded the push to colonize Korea and the Chinese territory to the north, and as resident-general of the country was responsible for the torture and killing of thousands of dissidents. Killing Ito was, for Ahn, a duty--"It is the duty of a soldier to give his life for his country" (from his calligraphic collection of sayings). He did not consider himself an assassin but a soldier at war with an enemy intent on subjugating his country. What he did was, in his view, what a soldier is required to do--protect his country.

The Church, reversing its original position, now considers Ahn a great patriot for peace, an example of what it means to be a soldier in the army of justice, and close to being a saint. The late Cardinal Kim called the killing "a heroic deed of self-defense." Although the Catholic Church has not made any doctrinal statements on the morality of removing a tyrant by force, St. Thomas and many others have concluded, "He who kills a tyrant (i.e. a usurper) to free his country is praised and rewarded."

He was born in North Korea so now the return of his body will have to bring in China, North Korea and South Korea, and Japan has no desire to bring this to an end that will please all. Japan still does not see the justification for what was done, and allow this chapter of history to be concluded with a happy ending at least for the Koreans.

For those who can read Korean, the website ( will have a great deal of information on Patriot Ahn Jung-geun.

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