[Viewpoint]Weathering the storm

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[Viewpoint]Weathering the storm

The concept of “the people” has again surfaced in Korean politics. The People’s Solidarity Against Mad Cow Disease, the organizers of the candlelight protests, has ordered the government to “reopen negotiations on beef imports with the United States.” It has given the order in the name of “the people.”

In a speech in Japan, former President Kim Young-sam spoke out against the deal, saying, “If the people do not want U.S. beef imports, the government must stop them.”

Who, then, are “the people”? Are we talking about a single person or a multitude? Do the results of opinion polls really reflect the will of the people? Are those who do not participate in candlelight protests also “the people”?

According to some opinion poll results, around 70 to 80 percent of the people want the government to reopen negotiations with the United States. However, were the questions of the survey accurate and balanced? And did the answers reflect the will of the people? Should the government still reopen negotiations with the United States, even if imports of U.S. beef over 30 months old are banned as a result of additional consultations with Washington? Experts point out that if Seoul insists on a renegotiation of the beef deal, Washington would demand a renegotiation of car imports from Korea, and the ratification of the U.S-Korea Free Trade Agreement could be on thin ice.

Despite the aforementioned problems, should the government go back to the negotiating table on the beef deal?

In a poll, would the people give the same answer if the question was posed like this: “So far, not a single American has been infected with mad cow disease from eating U.S. beef. The beef that Americans eat includes that of cattle 30 months or older. Do you still think beef 30 months or older should not be imported?”

When former U.S. President Richard Nixon was inaugurated in 1969, the results of opinion polls showed that most Americans were against the Vietnam War and supported the withdrawal of U.S. troops. However, when the question was phrased to hint that bringing troops back home could mean defeat, only 9 percent of them said yes to withdrawal.

Many people with different views are included in the 70 to 80 percent of the people who want a renegotiation of the U.S. beef deal. A woman working at a Korean restaurant said, “I saw on the Internet that the government would raise the rate of gas and water bills. I don’t make much money, so I don’t like President Lee Myung-bak. That is why I attended the candlelight vigil with a friend.”

Two children, who looked like they were in the first grade of elementary school, wrote in a sign-up book displayed at City Hall Plaza, “I hate Lee Myung-bak. I hate mad cows.” Standing by their side, their mothers applauded them.

One of the two people arrested for resorting to violence at a rally was a laborer and the other was a homeless person. They are more concerned about surviving each day than they are about beef. Included among the 70 to 80 percent are the restaurant employee, the mothers of elementary school students, the laborer, the homeless man and union members at public companies protesting the privatization of their companies. How many people there really want the government to reopen negotiations with the United States, if we exclude those who misunderstand the issue due to false information, or those who are dissatisfied with their lives for other reasons? Despite this, should the president reopen negotiations of the beef deal in the name of the people?

The main reason put forth by U.S. President George W. Bush for his invasion of Iraq was that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction. However, this turned out to be incorrect. It was unintentional, but the people were duped. Over 3,000 U.S. soldiers and many more thousands of Iraqis have died in the Iraq War. According to a CNN survey, the war had a 72 percent approval rate in the beginning. Now, it is 32 percent.

Still, President Bush is not calling back the troops. He is persuading the people that the United States should help with the rehabilitation of Iraq, as it did in Europe after World War II. He warns that there would be violence all over Iraq if U.S. troops withdraw. Nevertheless, there is no news that protesters tried to jump over the White House fence.

Before the outbreak of protest rallies against the beef deal, over 50 percent of the people supported the U.S.-Korea Free Trade agreement. Only 30 percent of them were against it. Now, the trend is reversed ?? 50 percent are against and 30 percent are for the free trade agreement. Does this mean the president should give up the FTA?

There are two types of people: those who support the truth and those who don’t. When people support the truth, they create people power. People power crumbled the dictatorship in the Philippines and brought about the execution of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania. It accomplished a democratic revolution here in Korea in 1987. However, if the people do not support truth, or are led by false information or ghost stories, they are not “the people” but a mob.

French philosopher Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) said, “Citizens can disappear, but people will remain.” Citizens who react to distorted information may disappear, but the truth will remain. The public is a complex organism. If you peel off its layers one by one, like an onion, you will find a wide array of different motives and desires. A leader should not be distracted by the candlelight, but see the sun light of the truth. He should face the social wave headed his way by believing in the power of truth.

He should have the conviction that the storm will some day die down.


*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin
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