[FOUNTAIN]A way to retreat while saving faceIn the midst of the Three Kingdoms era (220-280), the general Cao Cao engaged in battle with Liu Bei to regain the territory of Hanzhong in China. Contrary to Cao Cao’s expectations, the battle became a real struggle, and the outlook for his forces grew dimmer with each passing day.
Privately, Cao Cao considered withdrawing from battle, but he lacked sufficient justification, and it would have been a blow to his pride. Sitting down for dinner, the troubled general was served chicken broth. Noticing a chicken rib in the soup, he ordered that “chicken rib” be used as the day’s military password.
By alluding that Hanzhong was like a chicken’s rib ― not something to be thrown away, but not worthy to be kept, either ― Cao Cao let his officers know of his desire to pull the forces out, without compromising his dignity.
A bright subordinate, Yang Xiu, understood what his master wanted, and started to make plans for a retreat. But upon hearing Yang’s explanation, other commanders began causing a stir. Cao Cao had Yang Xiu executed for damaging the troops’ morale, and then used that as an excuse to withdraw the forces. His chicken rib idea had brought him not just the result he wanted, but a justification for it.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is famous for his diplomacy, in which he put the interests of the United States first and foremost. In January 1973, negotiating adroitly with North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho, he achieved an armistice in the Vietnam War, and U.S. troops were withdrawn. Mr. Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that year.
Even England’s King Richard I, the personification of bravery and force, knew when to step back. After continuously losing to Saladin during the Third Crusade, he acknowledged that Jerusalem was under the control of the Muslim sultan. In return, his army was able to withdraw safely in 1192. He lost his honor, but acheived actual gains.
Saddam Hussein of Iraq is an example of someone who lost everything by not knowing when to withdraw. After his refusal to pull his troops from Kuwait, Iraq was bombarded by UN forces in 1991. That original sin led to the fall of Baghdad in 2003, and the end of Hussein’s reign.
Since the recent terrorist act on London, public sentiment against the occupation of Iraq has risen around the world. It is believed more than 30 lawmakers have signed a resolution to withdraw Korea’s troops. In doing so, we risk offending our longtime ally, the United States, but failing to do so will endanger our citizens. We wonder if there is a way to protect our people while maintaining the alliance ― some contemporary version of the chicken rib.
by Yi Jung-jae
The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.