[VIEWPOINT]A few lessons from history

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[VIEWPOINT]A few lessons from history

The world is chaotic, and the weather is hot. A lot of people are raising their voices and provoking disputes, as if they think this is the right time to do so. So there is no point in adding a comment to the overflowing patriotism and passionate indignation against traitors. The best thing to do at a time like this is to hide inside a pile of books.
The book I bought a while ago, “Until the Final Hour: Hitler’s Last Secretary,” caught my eye. It is a memoir of Adolf Hitler’s secretary, in her 20s at the time, who spent the last three years with the man just before his death. It is a book that focuses more on Hitler’s private life than his public one.
I went through the book with interest, but stopped at a passage that said Hitler always prepared the manuscripts of important speeches by giving dictation to his secretary. Hitler was a genius as an orator and was especially good at public speeches. After World War II broke out, however, he stopped making public speeches without a script and made sure that his speeches were first recorded on a tape before being aired by broadcasting stations.
Hitler stated his reason for this: “Personally I like speaking freely without a script. However, when we are at war, we have to be cautious and thoughtful about every single word we say because the whole world is listening with all their ears. One bad comment that comes out of me because I’m in a bad mood can make things very complicated.”
Hitler made long-winded speeches when he spoke to his generals at meetings or to his staff at unofficial occasions, but he always made his secretary take dictation for any official speeches and corrected them many times beforehand.
Emperor Yongzheng was also an interesting personality. The fifth emperor of the Qing Dynasty was a shrewd ruler. He had a network of secret spies all over the country and watched his subordinates like a hawk.
Once a minister held a birthday party and played mah-jong with his friends. During the last game, he realized that a mah-jong tile was lost.
The next day, the minister was granted an audience with the emperor. The emperor asked the minister what he had done the day before. The minister’s instinct told him to tell the truth, so he confessed that he played mah-jong with his close friends.
Then the emperor pulled out a mah-jong tile from his sleeve and asked if it was the one that was missing.
There was no wiretapping in those days, but he was watching the whole country. After this story spread, nobody dared to lie to the emperor.
Emperor Yongzheng ordered high-ranking officials all over the country to send him personal reports in addition to their official reports. He said that the emperor needed to know in detail everything about the country in order to make good judgments and ordered them to report everything.
The emperor personally opened these letters and sent them back to the writer, with comments in red. After the officials read the emperor’s comments, the letters were sent back to the palace to be kept there, and many of these letters remain intact even today.
There is a comment in one of the letters: “Looking at one of the letters, it seemed as if the world is peaceful and beautiful flowers are pouring down from the sky. So I was happy. However, when I looked into the matter, I found out that it was all talk and that nothing had been done in reality. Thinking how I was tricked into being happy and how I complimented you, I just felt like finding shelter underground.”
In another letter the emperor said, “Someone puts all his work aside and worked well into the night, every night, on polishing a letter addressed to me. What is the use of an essay written on a table? The most important thing is implementation. Do not try to deceive me by conspiring with others. I have a way of knowing everything.” He actually sent secret agents all over the nation to confirm the contents of the letters. This is a story I want to tell the people who are presenting positive reports about the economy to the president nowadays.
I picked up the “The Story of The Three Kingdoms” once again. When Cao Cao won a big battle and occupied the headquarters of his rival Yuanso, Yuanso ran away in such a rush that he left all his documents and papers behind, including letters he wrote to someone in Cao Cao’s camp.
All his subordinates said that the betrayers should be rooted out. But Cao Cao threw that bundle of letters into a fire. He reassured his subordinates by saying, “Now that Yuanso has been defeated and run away, everyone in this country is my subordinate. Even I was scared when Wonso was strong, so there is no need to speak of the fears others had of him.”
Cao Cao might have learned from Emperor Kuangwu, who built the later Han Dynasty 200 years before him. Emperor Kuangwu took over the enemy’s capital and burned all their papers. Watching the papers burn and curl up, he even joked, “It looks like someone tossing about in bed over too many worries.” By saying this, he gave assurances to his subordinates of their safety and also prevented political revenge.
All the complicated problems of today existed in the past too, and the wisdom and resolution of our ancestors helps us forget the midsummer’s heat.

* The writer is a columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Choi Woo-suk
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