[INSIGHT]Clarity, consistency, decisivenessIn “The Principles and Practices of Military Tactics,” Jung Ho-yong describes an incident in the Korean War where a senior commander sent an order to a subordinate unit to “advance,” using a Korean word based on Chinese characters. But the senior commander’s order, interpreted with a different pair of Chinese characters, was the Japanese military usage for an order to retreat, which is what he actually meant. The ambiguity, Mr. Jung comments, could have resulted in the unit being wiped out completely.
This story illustrates how important clear orders are in military operations. But the point does not apply only to a military setting but also to a nation’s administration in which the leader’s policies or orders must be delivered clearly with an accurate message. When policies are unclear or are inconsistent, criticism of “confusing policies” or “chaotic administration of national affairs” will follow.
The recent truckers’ strike seems to be a painful reminder to the new Roh Moo-hyun administration of the importance of a clear policy. It was quite right for President Roh to scold government agencies for taking no measures against the strike as he ordered them to handle the leaders of the illegal strike using the letter of the law. But the problem arose because of the “Roh Moo-hyun code.” Seeing President Roh advocate the union as an oppressed group and his government side with unions in labor-management disputes such as that at Doosan Heavy Industries and Construction and the railroad strikes, all people read the Roh administration’s “pro-union code.” The signal usually sent out by the Roh code was to not handle the union strictly. This was well demonstrated in the initial reaction of local police to the strike. The police wondered if they could enforce public order as they had done in the past. This response was a quite natural consequence of the “Roh code,” because the president and ministers personally met the union leaders. Although President Roh did not order any gentle treatment, the signal sent by the code that he and his administration created led to that conclusion. Only after the situation worsened was the signal clarified to give the police the authority to enforce the law, but his vague initial signal caused a great deal of damage to the nation.
Dual or confusing signals have been seen frequently in the Roh administration. Take for example, the “weed” theory that triggered criticism of Mr. Roh. When he met the representatives of the Millennium Democratic Party last week, President Roh declared his position that he would not intervene in the matters of the party, and said that the party should tend to its affairs by itself. But on the very next day, he appealed to 5 million people by e-mail to help uproot “weedy” politicians. Which message was the real one ― the nonintervention signal or the changed message the following day in which he said he wanted to remove the weeds from the political garden? That second signal was certainly not a sign that he intends to stay aloof from party affairs.
While stressing the importance of South Korea-U.S. alliance and deployment of the U.S. 2d Division on the front lines, President Roh has emphasized at every opportunity that we should defend ourselves because it is wrong to depend on the U.S. military for our national security. It is quite confusing to most people whether the president is hinting at any change in his policy on the U.S. forces stationed in Korea or whether he just wants to maintain the status quo. Furthermore, his signal might invite suspicion by the United States ― which has been doubtful of Mr. Roh’s stance on bilateral relations ― that the Roh administration is rushing to defend its nation independently of the U. S. military. It remains to be seen whether or how he will clarify his position during his visit to the United States, but it is indeed hard to understand his intentions in this tense situation triggered by North Korean nuclear weapons development.
There were also mixed messages about quickly jump-starting the Korean economy and inconsistent signals about anti-American classroom curriculums developed by the teachers union. Those ambiguous signals from the president will inevitably lead to confusion or a deadlock in national administration. If the signals from the president continue to be confusing, it will be impossible to implement such critical security policies as those involving the South Korea-U.S. alliance and the North Korean nuclear issues successfully. Such critical issues must be supported by national unity and consensus. Confusing signals would surely decrease the predictability, and frequent reversal of policies will produce a harmful impact on the national economy.
Why are these phenomena occurring? Of many possible reasons, the most important one seems to be President Roh himself. He should reflect on whether the confusion over his messages came from the fact that his thoughts, beliefs, and orientation, commonly referred to as the “Roh code,” are actually not in the national interest or inconsistent with the rationality and efficiency required for national administration.
Also, wordiness is bound to cause slips of the tongue and weaken the consistency of one’s words. This is where the saying, “Talk less and listen more as your position gets higher,” works best. The truckers’ strike would have resulted in less damage if the police and the union had known that the president would deal decisively with it from the beginning. The Roh government would benefit from the lesson that any order or policy must be presented clearly and accurately.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Song Chin-hyok