[OUTLOOK]Roh should think before speakingListening to President Roh Moo-hyun’s speech at the National Assembly on the dispatching of troops to Iraq, I wondered if Korea really had a president. The gist of his speech was that the dispatching of troops was a “causeless” act but that we had to do it to solve the problem of North Korea’s nuclear program and to help the economy. This is the president trying to persuade the people by telling them, “I am a man who considers morals important and I am forced to make this decision against my will.” Who needs be persuaded? Mr. Roh’s comments on the anti-war demonstrations also sounded as if he supported them. “The civic groups are expressing their opinions. Freedom of expression is the right of the people.” Nor did he dissuade the government’s human rights committee from denouncing the war. He was merely an onlooker.
When the bill to send troops to Vietnam was passed 38 years ago, then-President Park Chung Hee said, “At the least, this will fortify our national security and anti-communism struggle. Moreover, this is a honorable act of serving freedom and contributing to peace.” The circumstances concerning the dispatching of troops to Vietnam were similar to what’s been happening recently. Amid worldwide opinion against the Vietnam War, the United States put pressure on us to dispatch the troops if we didn’t want to see U.S. troops in Korea withdrawn. We also acted in consideration of the economic benefits amounting to more than $200 million a year that the United States had offered. That is how the word “mercenary” came to describe our soldiers sent to Vietnam.
Despite all that, the president is not in the position to speak of these hidden factors. Just as there are things to be said and things not to be said in everyday conversation, some things should not be said in public speeches. Saying that the dispatch is a “causeless” act will hardly make the United States happy and will dampen the morale of the soldiers who are going to be sent to Iraq. If this decision was unavoidable by a representative of our country, Mr. Roh should have chosen his words as a representative of our country, not as an individual seeking popularity. At the least, he could have diplomatically said something about our being an ally in the war against terrorism and that we were participating for the sake of international peace. With the president professing his less-than-enthusiastic mind, would the National Assembly members be persuaded? The opposition party was more worried than the president that the bill might not be passed. It is more to the opposition party’s credit than the president’s that this bill was passed.
Mr. Roh’s incessant complaints against the media are also unfitting for a president. Mr. Roh has said that the media were an unrestrained force and that he had received “unfair attacks from the media that have caused unspeakable damage.” He added, “The pain of it still lingers.” Are these the words of a president or of someone in the opposition? The president has more power in his little finger than the average person has in his entire body and he is being persecuted by the media? It is truly an incomprehensible and unconvincing idea. Yet it seems that the president really feels this way. Does feeling this way make it acceptable for the president to speak this way? Why is he not considering the effects his words will have on the government’s policies on the media and how it would portray the government to the outside world? There is no president in this country when it comes to the issue of media. There is only Roh Moo-hyun the individual who thinks he is a media victim. Honesty is a virtue for an individual. But so is prudence.
Everyone should carefully consider what is proper for him to say considering his position. The president’s position is one that especially requires as much, if not more, prudence as honesty. That is why it is said that a president should be a person of few words. The president is a representative of this country and the last stop in the chain of command. The reason Mr. Roh keeps saying inappropriate things might be because of his confusion about the change in his role. This can be solved through trial and error, all in good time. However, it would be most beneficial if this good time were short. All positions require a mindset befitting them. A president needs to do things that he might not like doing and say things that he might not like saying. If the president speaks like a man in the opposition, who will say what the president should say?
What is worrisome is the effect these actions will have. His words could even lead to the fall of the system, the deconstruction of our culture. The assumption that there is appropriate language for a president comes from a cultural consensus. If the recent series of events were, by any chance, an attempt to change our culture, our society could fall into chaos. The president’s words that he is being persecuted by the media could be heard by some as a beckoning for populism to ascend.
* The writer is chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk