A Leader Has to Forsake Personal TiesA gang fight broke out between the students of two high schools right after Korea''s liberation from Japan in 1945. It began as unarmed fighting, but intensified to the point of students breaking into their school armories to exchange gunshots. Just then, a fire engine came racing to the scene, and a handsome young man began to deliver a speech from atop the fire engine.
He pointed to the tragedy of the people of one nation, especially young students, shedding blood over school disputes. He appealed to the students to throw down their weapons and concentrate on working for their nation. The fight ended. The students hung their heads in shame, filled with admiration for the young man.
The above is an abridged version of a passage from a book by Representative Kwon Roh-kap, the leader of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party''s most powerful faction. It is a description of his first encounter with Kim Dae-jung, following which he became the Kim''s virtual shadow, serving him with dedicated loyalty.
Such a relationship between men, built on faith and loyalty, can be as beautiful as love between the opposite sexes. The relationship of strong allegiance between Mr. Kwon and President Kim Dae-jung is facing a serious challenge today, not from the opposition, but from their fellow party members who are calling on Rep. Kwon to give up his party leadership.
The older members of Mr. Kwon''s faction bemoan the betrayal by their younger counterparts, but the younger members believe it is time for Mr. Kwon to be held accountable and step down because of suspicions that he exercised improper influence in candidate nominations and personnel appointments.
It is necessary to define the precise cause of the MDP''s internal strife that is threatening to split the party. It lies in the relationship between Rep. Kwon and President Kim, which is similar to one that prevailed during the days of feudal lords in Japan.
This is not a savory comparison and one that journalists hate to make, but the MDP''s anachronistic and bitter internal wrangling, the likes of which we have not seen since the Yi Dynasty, makes it inevitable.
Their relationship resembles one between the samurai boss and his faithful adherent who swears allegiance. It is akin to a relationship between a father and his adopted son. It is not an official association of two-way communications, but a personal, one-way relationship of obedience to a superior.
Such relationships existed in ancient China between Liu Bang, the founder of the Han Dynasty, and his followers; and between Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming Dynasty, and his warriors. These two rulers rallied warriors from across China to conquer and found their dynasties but after rising to power, the rulers invariably cast aside their faithful followers and ended their personal associations.
Ironically, the more outstanding and loyal warriors were the first to be banished since they knew the weaknesses and strengths of their leader only too well.
The Yi Dynasty was characterized by endless factional disputes. King Jeongjo, enthroned after his father Crown Prince Sado was killed in a power struggle, called for social integration to resolve the conflicts caused by factional strife. He particularly warned against blind loyalty to one''s faction and pointing swords at members of other factions in destructive partisan battles. Declaring that loyalty has to be rational and for legitimate causes, the king managed to resolve factional conflicts and ushered in a golden age of culture.
Loyalty is, of course, a fine virtue. It was valued two thousand years ago in China and two hundred years ago in Korea. But history taught us repeatedly that loyalty has to be based on an official and equal relationships, not on a vertical personal alliance. It has to be rational and open, not shady and insidious like the one among Mafia families. The previous administration ignored this lesson in history, and the current administration, which should know better than any of its predecessors about such pitfalls, has not discarded personal alliances.
A person cannot be a leader if he, through mistaken loyalty, clings to personal feelings and allows his followers to monopolize state administration. A nation or a company run only by family members and their loyal followers cannot prosper. All the battles over company ownership among Korean conglomerates, such as the Hyundai Group, took place because the leader was reluctant to forsake personal ties.
King Jeongjo confessed: "I did not enjoy playing the role of a king. For some twenty years, I lived each day as though walking on thin ice, heaving a sigh of relief at the passing of each day without mishap." He also lamented, "The sun is setting, but we still have a long way to go."
Korea has a long way to go today, but how much longer do we have to watch disputes among the president''s loyal followers? It is at times like this that we sorely miss some resolute decisions by the nation''s leader.