&#91FOUNTAIN&#93Rulers and natural disasters

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&#91FOUNTAIN&#93Rulers and natural disasters

In the age of myths and legends, natural disasters were sufficient justification for a change in power. Ancient people believed that worldly authority was granted by Heaven. Natural disasters such as a drought or flood could bring down one ruler and give power to another.
In the 10th century B.C., Moses exercised divine leadership over his Israelite tribesmen, who were the subjects of Egypt. According to the Bible, Moses invoked 10 plagues to deprive the pharaoh of control over the Israelites.
A similar story is handed down in Korea, an early Goguryeo period tale during the transition from a tribal state to a city state. When Jumong, the founder of Goguryeo, was in a campaign to take over Biryu state, a powerful neighbor, he defeated old King Songyang of Biryu in horse racing and archery, but still couldn’t make him surrender. Then Jumong, the God-sent ruler, invoked a flood in Biryu, stirred up the public, and took over the nation.
When Songyang was deciding whether to hand over the country to Jumong, one minister strongly opposed the idea, saying the flood was only temporary and the sentiments of the foolish subjects changed continuously. But another minister said that the people’s feelings reflected Heaven’s wish, and could not be rejected.
The superstitious belief in God-given authority in the mythological age was unconsciously passed down to people in the historical period. From the Three Kingdoms period to the Joseon Dynasty, kings would consider natural disasters their fault, and maintained a low profile. The king sought to prevent losing his subjects’ loyalty by showing self-discipline.
As meteorological advances have enabled us to scientifically forecast and chart the intensity and route of a typhoon, natural disasters can no longer be associated with the behaviors of the ruler. When thousands of people perished from the extremely hot weather in France last summer, the French president did not bother to postpone his long holiday.
Korean people are upset because President Roh Moo-hyun watched a musical with his family while the country was on alert for the most powerful typhoon ever to hit Korea. The president finally broke his silence and expressed regret. Now, it is time for the citizens to swallow their hostile feelings.

by Chun Young-gi

The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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