[OUTLOOK]Power corrupts, and ...

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[OUTLOOK]Power corrupts, and ...

A newspaper article I read a few days ago on the trial of the former Blue House chief of staff, Park Jie-won, made a lasting impression on me. His crimes hang heavy around his neck. A sentence of 30 months has been added to the 12-year sentence he is already serving.
Pictured at the trial, Mr. Park looked very much worn out from the ten months he’d spent in prison. The contrast of his present state to that of when he proudly announced the North-South summit meeting a few years ago is a lesson on the fickleness of fate.
Power is meaningless and human lives are transient. Gone are the numerous callers who had knocked at his door. Silent remains the master whom he had served through all means possible.
The first time I heard the name Park Jie-won was when I was told that a very hard-working and capable man had become the spokesman of what had been the opposition party 10 years ago. He came from an unusual background for a political figure and he had held some unusual roles in the party but with his abilities, he survived in the wild jungles of politics to become the closest aide to Kim Dae-jung. When the “people’s government” stepped in, he became one of the most powerful men in the country. I have personally never met Mr. Park, but received a phone call from him once.
I had written a newspaper column expressing my concern for the national economy after the financial crisis in 1997. Mr. Park called me up to ask me to keep on writing such columns. I remember thinking at the time what a diligent man he indeed was.
Mr. Park’s case proved that if you are smart, diligent and willing to work, you win the confidence of your superior and gain power. However, there was the rumor that because he was always sure to return favors, lobbyists and bribers flocked around him. Power got to Mr. Park and before long he was “riding on the back of the tiger.” Toward the end of President Kim Dae-jung’s term, Mr. Park was given the nickname “the little president,” referring to his position second only to the president himself.
There was speculation that he would fly to the United States after the change of government. But Mr. Park had vowed to stay in Korea and aid Kim Dae-jung to the end. He kept his promise, but six months after the administration changed, he ended up in prison while his list of crimes got longer. Had Mr. Park underestimated the consequences of his power-playing? It is said that at the beginning of his trial, he was relatively calm. At the first trial, he wept and asked to be allowed to return to his wife and two daughters. Now, he is reportedly in a state of resignation.
Mr. Park reminded me of a character who lived 2,200 years ago. Li Si was the prime minister under Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. He had worked hard and suffered much during his younger years. Li was originally from the kingdom of Chu. He rose to the position of prime minister under the emperor solely on his skills. He contributed greatly to the emperor’s unification of China and after the unification, did much work as a capable prime minister.
However, he did not try to dissuade the emperor when the emperor started to burn books and bury scholars alive in an attempt to control knowledge. He was loyal to his master even in his tyranny. Despite the fact that he was a brilliant prime minister who could have gone down in history as such, people regreted his willingness to serve a master in evil as well as good.
Even the powerful prime minister’s fate turned with the sudden death of the emperor. He participated in a conspiracy forging the will of the emperor and changing the heir to the throne. According to the records, he participated in the scheme because he had been threatened by his co-conspirators. After much deliberation, the prime minister unwillingly agreed to the plan.
After the second emperor came into power, Li Si was accused of treason and sentenced to death. On his way to his execution, Li Si held his son and lamented that they could no longer go rabbit hunting with their dog in his home village as they had in the past. Even the prime minister who had ruled the entire Chinese kingdom had but a simple wish in the end. Perhaps, it is human to remember these things only when one is finally down and out of luck.
Mr. Park also has but a simple wish right now. One of his eyes has always been weak and he has glaucoma in the other. According to sources, he now repeats murmuring, “What is the use, even if my innocence is proven, if I lose my eyesight?” I, too, had worried about losing my eyesight after an eye operation ten years ago so I understand Mr. Park’s desperate feelings. Nothing in the world probably seems important anymore.
It is said that we should hate the crime but not the man. Mr. Park’s mighty power in the past has put him in this situation today. Power is a very convenient yet dangerous thing. Yet, the stream of moths rushing towards power is continuing even today.

* The writer is a vice chairman of the Samsung Economic Research Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Choi Woo-sock

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