Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Assassins, Sainthood and Joan of Arc

'[T]here is a great deal about the bad blood between modern Korea and Japan that does not make sense ...' Really? Tell that to a Korean slave in Japan or a Korean 'comfort girl' who survived!

Whilst I might agree with MM's view on the possible canonisation of Ahn Jung Geun, he allows his irrational love affair for the Japanese Empire to colour his view.

From The Mad Monarchist (20 February 2014)

Most people in the west are probably unfamiliar with this story so a little background information is called for. Once upon a time, in the “Land of the Morning Calm”, the Kingdom of Korea, there was a man named Ahn Jung Geun. He was a Catholic and, based on his actions and writings, quite possibly not in full possession of his faculties. In 1909, a year before Korea would be annexed by the Empire of Japan, Ahn Jung Geun hid a gun in his lunchbox and slipped into the railway station in Harbin, Manchuria. When a Japanese delegation arrived after having negotiations with Russia, he opened fire, shooting four men; a South Manchuria Railway official, a Secretary of the Imperial Household Agency, the local Consul General and his primary target, who was killed, Prince Ito Hirobumi, the first Prime Minister of Japan and the former Japanese Resident-General in Korea. Ahn Jung Geun was quickly arrested by the Russians and later turned over to the Japanese. Found guilty of murder and attempted murder he was executed on March 26, 1910. Since that time, for his assassination of Prince Ito Hirobumi, Ahn Jung Geun has become the greatest national hero in modern South Korea. Great kings, generals and admirals of the past who won great victories for their country might not be remembered but this assassin has been deluged with monuments and posthumous honors. Recently, in a collaboration with communist China (you know, the regime responsible for Korea being split into two warring factions) a special “memorial hall” was opened in the VIP section of the Harbin Railway Station overlooking the place where the murder occurred.

I take for granted that this exuberant celebration of an assassin does not make sense but there is a great deal about the bad blood between modern Korea and Japan that does not make sense. That should be set aside, it is not something I am terribly interested in. However, while I consider bizarre actions by republican governments the rule rather than the exception, recently, the Catholics in the Republic of Korea have started to make this a religious issue as well and have invoked the name of one of my favorite historical figures, someone I consider a great Christian and a great example for monarchists; St Joan of Arc. Now, to step back for a moment, it should be made clear that this was not always the case. Ahn Jung Geun supposedly converted to Catholicism after being sheltered by a French Catholic priest oddly named Father Wilhelm. When Ahn Jung Geun was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death, the presiding Catholic Bishop of Korea ordered that he not be given the sacraments, including the last rites, because he had committed murder and was not in the least repentant about it. However, the story is that Father Wilhelm disobeyed the Bishop and gave him last rites anyway.

Now, we come to the present day when Ahn Jung Geun is a celebrated hero across the Republic of Supplicant Koreans, the Democratic Republic of Enslaved Koreans and the People’s Bandit Republic of China. Recently, the Catholic hierarchy in Korea began to push for the canonization of Ahn Jung Geun as a saint. The local Korean bishop said that he was a great Catholic patriot and compared him to St Joan of Arc in France. That got my monarchist blood boiling in a big way. To compare Ahn Jung Geun to St Joan of Arc is not only false and extremely arrogant but is an absolute insult to the memory of St Joan. The connection being made was that, just because Ahn Jung Geun shot a man three times and shot three more men in quick succession, that should not disqualify him from sainthood because St Joan of Arc killed people for the liberation of her country as well. Obviously, the Catholic bishops of Korea do not have a very solid grasp of the life of St Joan of Arc or of medieval French history. Allow me to highlight the great, gaping chasm of difference between the lives and circumstances of St Joan of Arc in France and Ahn Jung Geun in Korea.

First of all, although some might find it hard to believe for a soldier and a general but St Joan of Arc never killed anyone in her life. She had a sword and she wore armor but according to all that I have read, and her own testimony, she never took the life of anyone. She stated at her trial that when she rode into battle she preferred to carry her banner rather than her sword for fear that she might kill someone. The only thing she is known to have used her sword for was to use the flat of it to strike prostitutes who followed the army. In battle, she mostly preferred waving her special banner to rally and inspire the French soldiers who did the actual fighting. She was wounded, very badly wounded at times, because she was at the front, leading her soldiers and urging them onward but never did she ever actually kill anyone herself. Furthermore, St Joan of Arc did not want anyone to die, French or English. She would plead with the English before battle to leave in peace and go back home to England, she was as much concerned for the souls of her English enemies as she was her own countrymen.

Prince Ito Hirobumi and the
Crown Prince of Korea

However, just for the sake of argument, let us suppose that the Korean bishops are correct. Let us assume that either the trial transcripts are wrong or that St Joan was lying and that, in the heat of the moment, Joan of Arc lashed out with her sword and killed some English soldiers. We will assume that for the moment. There is still absolutely no comparison to what Ahn Jung Geun did. That was a war and if St Joan did kill anyone it was in the midst of battle, fighting armed men who were trying to kill her and her countrymen. There is a huge difference between soldiers killing each other on the field of battle and someone, hiding in wait, concealing his weapon and then gunning down a group of unarmed civilians, shooting a defenseless, elderly man three times and then exulting over it. There is a huge, huge difference. However, there is someone that might be more similar to Ahn Jung Geun who was also French (though from a part of France at the time under the rule of the King of Spain), also a Catholic and who also is known to history only because he murdered someone. That is Balthasar Gerard, the man who assassinated the Dutch rebel leader Prince Willem I of Orange (Willem the Silent).

Of course, there are still some differences. Balthasar Gerard could claim to be acting on instructions from his sovereign lord the King of Spain, at least in a way. Again, we have the difference of there being an actual war going on between the Dutch rebels and the Kingdom of Spain. During the Dutch War for Independence, King Philip II of Spain declared the Prince of Orange to be a “pest on the whole of Christianity and the enemy of the human race” and offered a reward of 25,000 crowns to anyone who dispatched this traitorous rebel, which to Spain he certainly was. Balthasar Gerard acted on this and shot and killed Willem the Silent on July 10, 1584. He was arrested by the Dutch, given a trial and condemned to death. However, whereas the Japanese simply hanged Ahn Jung Geun, Balthasar Gerard was sentenced to death by slow torture, having his right hand burned off, the flesh torn from his body, his arms and legs were cut off, he was disemboweled, had his heart cut out and shown to him before finally being beheaded. Ouch. And this was after enduring four days of other horrific tortures before his actual execution. Ahn Jung Geun fared much better. The Japanese did not torture him, helped him write the story of his life, gave him special treats for the new year celebration and his warden brought him a special set of white Korean clothes for him to be executed in as he requested.

Anh Jung Geun

However, both men were Catholics, both men claimed to be doing a greater good by their actions and both men had shot princes. Also, after his death, some Catholics regarded Balthasar Gerard as a hero and the Apostolic Vicar to the Dutch Mission, Sasbout Vosmeer, campaigned for him to be canonized as a saint. He took the case all the way to Rome. However, even in those days of such bitter and violent religious division, the Catholic Church declined to canonize a murderer. It also helped that democracy did not matter to anyone in those days. The fact that a large number of people in Catholic Spain and the Low Countries considered Gerard a hero did not make any difference to the papal court in Rome. Today, however, it remains to be seen if the authorities will be as unmoved by the widespread and enthusiastic support in Korea for the canonization of Ahn Jung Geun. To make him a saint would certainly be popular in both Koreas and in China where Christians are still persecuted such as those Catholics who remain loyal to Rome in spiritual matters rather than to the Communist Party. However, would it be right? Will the hierarchy of today do as it did in those supposedly more violent days long past when they said that the Church would not canonize someone for committing murder?

I find it astonishing that any Catholic, even if they are Koreans burning with national pride and eternal hatred of Japan, could propose canonizing someone who is only known to history for being an assassin. I find it deplorable that he is being compared to someone like St Joan of Arc, a spotless example of Christian compassion, virtue, heroism and loyalty, showing the sort of loyalty that stood firm even when it was not returned and I find it, frankly, disgusting that this could actually be given serious consideration. After all, even if we are to toss religious and Christian principles out the window and look only at plain, dirty, political considerations, it still makes no sense. Remember again the case of Balthasar Gerard. He was not canonized but the fact that he was so popular among some Catholics and that it was considered made Protestant leaders like Queen Elizabeth I in England extremely paranoid and this resulted in a great deal of persecution for totally innocent Catholics. Obviously the Japanese would be greatly offended to see Ahn Jung Geun canonized and the Christian minority in Japan as well (just as Ahn Jung Geun is cheered by Protestant as well as Catholic Koreans and Chinese atheists all at the same) but think of how other presidents, prime ministers and assorted national leaders will look at their Catholic citizens in the future if the Church declares a man who assassinated a prime minister to be a saint. Will this gain the Church greater acclaim or will it make every world leader, particularly those paranoid, dictatorial types, start to look at the Catholics in their populations as a threat to national security, a group of people who might decide to become a saint by murdering their leader or a foreign political leader and sparking a war?

Korea has legitimate national heroes worthy of honor and celebration and if Korea cannot celebrate a national hero without taking a swipe at Japan there are examples of successful men who met the Japanese in honorable combat (Admiral Yi Sun-shin and General Kwan Yul spring to my mind) but Ahn Jung Geun is not one of them. He was not anything at all like St Joan of Arc and it is an outrageous insult to the Maid of Orleans to even make the comparison. He was not a soldier who killed on the battlefield, he was not a martyr who died because he was Catholic. He was an assassin who murdered an unarmed man and was justly put to death for the crime he committed. His crime did not help his people or his country and it had nothing to do with religion or the Catholic Church. If his canonization goes ahead it will be a clear indication that pandering is more prevalent than piety in the Catholic hierarchy and the fact that, even as things stand now, he is so celebrated is proof of the depths republican governments will sink to in searching for a figure to unite their people in the absence of a monarch. The whole episode is disgusting and should be unworthy of both the Catholic Church and the nation of Korea.

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