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[FOUNTAIN] Apologies and Arrogance

Mar 30,2001
The origin of doing penance, at Canossa in 1077, was a controversy between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. The power struggle between the two parties resulted in the excommunication of Heinrich IV, the German king and Holy Roman emperor, by Pope Gregory VII. So one cold winter's day, the king is said to have visited the castle of Canossa in Northern Italy where the pope was staying. Standing in the snow for three days to do penance, he finally received a pardon. The king later got his revenge by driving Gregory VII out of the papacy.

Perhaps the most shameful incident in Korean history is the indignity suffered at Samjeondo. After being defeated by repeated Ching invasions, King Injo stepped out from the fortress where he took refuge in January 1637 and kneeled in surrender to the Ching emperor. A reminder of the incident still remains: The monument of Samjeondo, forcibly erected at the order of the Ching ruler, is still standing in Seokchon-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul.

But not all apology and penance are shameful. An old story tells that Han Xin, a famous general who served under Liu Pang, the founder of the great Han Dynasty of China, avoided a fight by swallowing his pride to crawl between the legs of jeering gangsters who were picking a quarrel with him. This episode demonstrates the caliber of the man who later played an important role in Chinese history.

We also remember the apology made by Willy Brandt, then the West German Chancellor, during a visit to Poland in December 1970, 25 years after the end of World War II. On a bitterly cold morning, Mr. Brandt fell to his knees in front of the Jewish memorial in Warsaw. His dramatic apology met with controversy at first in Germany, but history vindicated his actions. Later, he recalled, "I did what human beings do when speech fails them. While kneeling down on the ground, I remembered those millions of Jews murdered during the war."

Recently, people have been paying a great deal of attention to a comment made by Kwon Roh-kap, a former member of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party's Supreme Council. Mr. Kwon, probably one of the most powerful figures in the nation after the president, reportedly demanded "a public apology through the press" from another member of the MDP Supreme Council who had insisted that Mr. Kwon should step back from the political front lines last year. Mr. Kwon's supreme arrogance ("Everyone in Korea knows who I am, so I don't need a name card.") and insistence on an apology makes us shudder, even though we are not his target. There is a saying in Korean that there is no political power that lasts longer than ten years. He might well worry what his future will be.



by Noh Jae-hyun




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