[VIEWPOINT]A leader’s words should be dignifiedThe words of a national leader sometimes play a vital role in the entire nation’s interest. Toward the end of former President Park Chung Hee’s rule in 1979, opposition leader Kim Young-sam was deprived of his position as a National Assemblyman. He shouted out, “Even if the rooster’s neck is twisted, the dawn of democracy will break.”
Although Kim Young-sam failed as the president because of the economic crisis and his son’s power abuse, the image of Kim Young-sam as an opposition leader who fought for democracy became permanently etched in people’s minds after that remark.
Former President Park Chung Hee, who is accused of imposing dictatorial rule, said, “Let’s fight against communism while we work, and work while we fight.” The present generation, which enjoys affluence and indulgence, probably doesn’t understand the meaning of these words, but people who lived in the 1970s ― when the fate of the nation was in its most critical situation ― remember them. Kim Young-sam’s remarks comparing the persecution of democracy to twisting the neck of a rooster and Park Chung Hee’s words emphasizing the importance of both military power and economic growth were reflections of the times.
Among the words of our national leader, what will the people keep in their minds? President Roh Moo-hyun, who pledged to open a new era, gave up that challenge himself only couple of months after assuming the presidency, saying, “I can no longer fulfill my presidential duties.” Four years have passed since then, and yet he said, “Aren’t they intending to shake me up, a rolling stone that unexpectedly stole the presidency?” What should a national leader’s speech be like?
On Jan. 28, 1986, Americans who were watching the television news saw a terrible event. The space shuttle Challenger blew up after liftoff. That evening, President Ronald Reagan sat in front of the television camera at his office in the White House. If he were a Korean president, he would have promised to carry out a “thorough investigation of the cause of the blast” and “punish those responsible sternly” and “prevent a recurrence of similar accidents.” But Mr. Reagan was different. He called the names of all seven crew members who were sacrificed. Then he said to the children, who might have gotten bigger shocks than adults:
“It might be very difficult for you to understand things like this .... They (the crew members) slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.” President Reagan, who was an actor, dramatized the tragic accident of the space shuttle with a drama of the spirit.
Good speeches by a national leader go down in the history as immortal lines and people will remember them forever. In the morning of June 18, 1940, when Paris was falling into the hands of the Nazis, Charles de Gaulle. who was the undersecretary of state for national defense and war, fled to London and appealed to the French people to fight against German occupation, via BBC radio, from London: “We were defeated in a battle once, but we did not lose the war . . . . The fire of resistance in France should never be extinguished.” On the 50th anniversary of the speech, President Francois Mitterrand dedicated a bronze plate on which the 400-worded appeal to the French people was engraved to the monument of the unknown soldiers in Paris on June 18, 1990.
There is also an immortal line that is remembered by the British people and will go down in history. On May 13, 1940, when the German army was marching down to Paris with crushing power, Winston Churchill was at Parliament to be sworn in as prime minister. He made the famous speech there: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
Both De Gaulle and Winston Churchill were men of culture with an abundant knowledge of the humanities. Mr. Churchill, who had once worked as a journalist, won the Nobel Prize in literature. French writer Morris Druon said, “As Emperor Marcus Aurelius is called the stoic emperor, De Gaulle will be known as the writer president.”
From the beginning, no Koreans expected President Roh to compete with such heroic world figures. But people hoped, at least, that in a new era, he would write a new chapter of our history with a new language.
Unfortunately, however, Mr. Roh has turned the clock backward by using undignified words that cannot match any of his predecessors.
One of the presidential duties is enhancing the pride of the people by using dignified speech. As far as the Korean language is concerned, it is not Korean language scholars, such as Lee Hi-seung, who should be the protectors and polishers of Korean.
It is political leaders. They must improve the quality of the Korean language, as did Winston Churchill and Reagan for English and De Gaulle for French.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin