[FOUNTAIN]A sorry state of affairs

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[FOUNTAIN]A sorry state of affairs

What are you supposed to say when you want to call a waiter or waitress for the menu at a restaurant in Europe or the United States? If you say "Hello," you might get a friendly "Hi" in return instead of the menu from an employee who mistakes you for an acquaintance. It is more common to say, "Please" or "Excuse me." Europeans and Americans are quite accustomed to saying "Thank you" and "Pardon me" or "Excuse me." You can hear these words anywhere you go. This is because people who offer them have been thoroughly educated at home and at school to use these phrases. It is the same in Japan. You say "Sumimasen," or "Excuse me" when you call the waiter or waitress at a restaurant. (You only say "Moshi moshi" when you answer the phone.)

Anyone can make mistakes. Life could be said to be a continuation of mistakes. Yet there are those who courageously acknowledge their mistakes and apologize for them, and those who don't. The difference between these two types of people is like the difference between heaven and earth. Confucius said in his "Analects" that a "junzi," a person who has reached the ideal greatness of character, should not hesitate to correct one's mistakes.

This applies to the relations between countries as well. Acknowledging and apologizing for the mistakes of the past is the only way to begin true re-conciliation. An exemplary case in history is when German Chancellor Willy Brandt apologized to the Polish people when he visited Warsaw in December 1970. The German chancellor's action of kneeling before a monument commemorating Jewish victims was more eloquent than any words. Through such efforts, Germany was able to shed its image as a Nazi country and become a respectable member of the international community.

The leaders of North Korea and Japan apologized to each other last week in Pyeongyang. North Korea's Kim Jong-il apologized for the Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korean agents in the past and promised that he would work to make sure it would never happen again. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi expressed "acute remorse and apology" for the Japanese colonial rule. Mr. Koizumi's expression is not new; former Japanese prime ministers have used it in the past in their apologies to South Korea.

There were mixed feelings witnessing this event. Why can't North Korea apologize to us as it has to Japan? Also, why can't the Japanese, who cry "Sumimasen" all the time, just once give us a genuine apology like Mr. Brandt did in Poland?

The writer is the Berlin correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yoo Jae-sik

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