[Viewpoint]Time will tellDeputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Economy Kwon O-kyu made a profound comment in his New Year’s address. “Peach and plum trees cannot speak, yet a path appears beneath them because people are attracted to the beauty of their flowers and the sweetness of their fruit.”
The deputy prime minister took the reference from ancient Chinese historian Sima Qian, who included “The Biography of General Li Guang” in “The Records of the Grand Historian” out of admiration for the Han Dynasty general.
Li was a brave fighter and treated his subordinates like sons. His orders were never confusing, and soldiers did not hesitate to lay down their lives for him. He devoted his life to fighting Huns from the north. Although he received a salary of 4,000 sacks of rice, he did not leave behind any wealth. When the Huns struck back after his retirement, he volunteered to participate in the fight again. But, Li’s biggest virtue was that he never begged for honor nor bragged about his accomplishments. He was a man of few words and stuttered when he spoke. He did his job quietly, but his virtue and charity spread across the country.
That’s how things work. A great man is bound to shine even if he maintains a low profile. Great policies are recognized when average citizens feel their benefit. The deputy prime minister is said to have sacrificed his personal views to cooperate with those in power in the Roh Moo-hyun administration. He must have done his best as head of economic policy within those limits. He might have more in common with the new administration than the incumbent one, but when the policies he struggled to pursue are denied by the new administration, he must feel more frustrated than relieved.
His boss, the president, must feel the same way. People used to joke, “When the bus breaks down on your way to work, it is Roh Moo-hyun’s fault.” We witnessed the “Roh Moo-hyun effect” during the presidential election when support for the opposition candidate did not fall despite all kinds of negative news. However, President Roh must have also done his best as chief executive of the nation within the constraints of fierce conservative opposition.
Some call Roh’s five years of “participatory government” and Kim Dae-jung’s time in power the lost decade, but I do not agree. Just as Albert Einstein said, “God does not play dice,” everything happens for a reason. The leftists were able to take power because conservatives grew complacent and were caught in a trap of authoritarianism and privilege.
During the “war without rules” that took place over the last five years, Korean society certainly gained, not lost, by shaking off the collar of authoritarianism and vested interests. Policies on real estate, education, welfare, regional balance and nuclear power in North Korea have all struggled, but they were not meaningless efforts.
We cannot say for sure that a certain direction is right. We make up for what we lack by shifting the weight from right to left. That is the history of progress. Roh must feel frustrated and full of regret for the way his time in office has been received, like a waitress who was not given a tip after giving warm service.
General Li was not victorious in every one of his over 70 battles. He once lost a large number of soldiers to the Hun army. He was captured and escaped. He was sentenced to death by decapitation and released after paying wergeld. In his last battle, he killed himself by stabbing himself in the neck when he was asked to take responsibility for allowing an escape route for the Huns by delaying a march. When people heard of his death, everyone mourned and cherished his memory.
History will tell us whether the trees planted by the participatory government will bloom and bear fruit, and whether there will be a narrow trail or a highway under them. President Roh Moo-hyun worked hard during his term. All the cabinet members made efforts to assist his leadership. Civil servants who usually leave their souls at home when coming to work have done their best as well.
If the point of planting the trees was to create a great country, the Roh administration has done everything it could. It is time to step aside and wait for history to judge. Civil servants will need to serve the citizens under a new administration, so they need to refresh their determination. Hopefully, they will keep their souls in their bodies. To all involved in Roh’s participatory government, thank you for your hard work.
*The writer is a deputy political news editor of JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom