[VIEWPOINT]Roh’s speech another letdownA Chinese book on literary theory called “Wen-xin Diao-long” ― known for its long history and well-framed compositions ― has a separate chapter titled “Royal Edict” to deal with the emperor’s speech. In this chapter, it is said that the speech of the emperor or the son of heaven is “something divine or sacred, and his voice, although it unfolds silently like a screen, fills the whole world.” It is also said that “feudal lords take examples from his speech and the whole world believes and follows his words.” All these descriptions seem to define the dignity and prestige the emperor’s speech should have.
The emperor’s speech can refer to a powerful speech of a leader and for today, it can be compared to the president’s speech. But listening to our president’s remarks these days, we are at times worried to the point of feeling pathetic. The latest instance is his criticism and concern about people who are “more pro-American than Americans,” which he reportedly said during his visit to Europe.
First of all, the heartlessness of the president’s remarks is worrisome, as they were unsuitable for a president. Such extreme figures of speech may call for the same kind of response. Eventually, such pronouncements may undermine the president’s authority.
People may reply that because the president is surrounded by people whose way of thinking is “more pro-North Korean than North Koreans,” there emerge people whose way of thinking is “more pro-American than Americans.” They can also say that some intellectuals tended to make remarks “more pro-American than Americans,” because there are cabinet ministers who make remarks “more pro-Kim Jong-il regime than the cabinet ministers of Kim Jong-il government” do.
Even the content of the metaphor the president meant to convey with the expression “more pro-American than Americans” seems not that trustworthy as to follow suit. However hard we may try to believe in the president’s remarks, we can hardly get the feeling that such pro-American people, hiding on every corner of our society, are leading anti-national opinions or on the contrary, shaking the South Korea-United States alliance.
Frankly speaking, the meaning and the purpose of the president’s remarks increases our doubt whether it is a method of dividing people into sides, which seems to have become the president’s specialty.
But what is more worrisome than the president’s remarks is the rapid degradation of their derivatives. That is to say, the remarks of the ministers or key figures in the government and the governing party who followed the example of the president’s language belong to such cases. In particular, the words of the senior presidential secretary for public information two days ago ― who can be called the voice of the president ― were too embarrassing to hear.
In a press conference at the Blue House, the presidential secretary for public information, Cho Ki-sook, is reported to have accused the press of trying to do “a new business of selling national security issues,” while mentioning the media reports that expressed concern about “the South Korea-U.S. alliance at risk of a breach.” Speaking of a “business of selling national security issues” when the press is not a vendor in the market place further degrades her figure of speech from heartlessness to vulgarity. How perplexed would she be if people talk back, “If so, is the president doing ‘popularity business’ depending on unripe nationalism?
The words the presidential secretary said on a radio program were even more offensive probably because they were spoken outside the Blue House. She criticized “scholars or journalists who speak English fluently” or “people who feel comfortable with English or speak it fluently because they had been to the United States at a fairly early age.” Her method of such categorization of people to friend and foe was more merciless than the remarks on “pro-American people” made by the president who was suspected of picking sides. Why should people cause problems to the nation even after having spent money and time studying abroad in the United States?
If we listen to remarks of some influential figures in the government and the ruling party, we find them too accidental or thoughtless to be seen as political remarks. All of them may not be the result of following the example of the president’s speech, but it would not be bad if the president’s speech is solemn and prudent.
Although this is not the age of an emperor, the president’s words should certainly be at a lofty place “so that all people could look up to.”
Kwang-wu-ti, the founder of the later Han Dynasty in China, was a wise king who pacified the unsettled world and at the same time took interest in promoting learning and the arts. But he did not receive high ratings in using the emperor’s speech. The reason was that in his royal edict, his joy and anger greatly fluctuated and at times his emotion was too extreme or overflowing. Being unauthoritarian or frank is different from revealing unrestrained emotion at random.
* The writer is a novelist. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Moon-youl