[FOUNTAIN]The wisdom to heal, and to stay quietThe history of the United States is a short one, but it is more dramatic than that of any other country. There were many moments of glory, but the United States also found itself on the edge of the cliff more than a few times. Its fate was in particular jeopardy during two wars fought on its soil. The United States was able to become the world’s only superpower today because it had the 11th-hour wisdom to overcome crises then.
In the last days of the Revolutionary War, George Washington, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, famously prevented a coup by assuaging his young officers who were furious about not having been paid. Had those officers stormed into the Continental Congress, America’s nearly attained independence could have gone up in smoke.
In addressing the angry officers, General Washington drew forth a letter and said, “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have grown not only gray, but almost blind in the service of my country.” It was the first time the officers had seen him in glasses. Tears came to their eyes, and they recovered their reason and returned to his side.
There were many serious vicissitudes in the founding of the country. Mr. Washington knew more secrets than anyone, but did not write a memoir, knowing how disillusioned the citizens would be if they learned how often the glorious cause of independence had neared catastrophe because of petty self-interest and discord.
Near the end of the Civil War, General Robert E. Lee’s exhausted Confederate Army was encircled by overwhelming Union forces under General Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia. A lieutenant suggested fleeing to the woods and waging guerilla warfare, but General Lee disagreed. He said they must admit that the Confederacy had failed, and that the soldiers should go home as soon as possible to resume farming and rebuild their devastated hometowns. General Lee’s brilliant leadership left him with no equal on the battlefield, but he considered peace and the reintegration of the people more important than victory.
These may sound like mere stories from a faraway land, but we need the wisdom of generals Washington and Lee more desperately than ever. Politicians, media and civil groups are offering their opinions on the so-called “X-file,” but as Caesar said, “Men in general are quick to believe that which they wish to be true.” They see reality through the lenses of their own interests. The disillusion, division and confusion of the citizens mean nothing to them. In the meantime, the nation is losing its dignity and its reputation, and its international competitiveness is in decline.
by Lee Hoon-beom
The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.