[Viewpoint]Facing a new foePresident Abraham Lincoln, regarded by many as the greatest president in the history of the United States, was actually a leader who failed to unify divided national opinion.
If a grand compromise over the issue of slavery had been reached under his leadership, the United States would have been able to avoid the calamity of the American Civil War.
The war that left 620,000 dead is remembered as the worst case of national division in American history. If you convert the number of casualties in proportion to the current U.S. population of 300 million, the number of war dead is equivalent to around 5 million today.
What would American leaders have done, if they had known beforehand that a sacrifice on such a great scale would be required? Historians believe they would have avoided the war at all costs. At that time, however, people in both the North and the South thought optimistically that the war would end in just three to four months.
Misjudgments about each side’s position had also contributed to driving them to the disastrous war. The meek inaugural address of President Lincoln played a part, too.
The federal government had declared many times that it would punish the South if it left the Union. However, instead of issuing a strong warning, which was expected in his inaugural address, what Lincoln actually said was that he would protect the properties of the United States federal government in the South no matter what.
This was enough for the Southern Confederacy to inaccurately conclude that there would be no severe retaliation if they decided to leave the Union.
Ignorance about the latest war technology available was largely to blame for the huge number of war fatalities. Before the Civil War, the main weapon of war was the musket rifle with a firing range of only 60 meters.
Combat tactics were extremely simple, too. After firing one volley, the soldiers marched forward in close formation. But a rifle that could hit a target precisely from 200 to 300 meters away had been developed around that time. Consequently, all soldiers could be massacred if they marched forward in close formation.
Nevertheless, the generals on both sides, who only knew the old-fashioned combat tactics, stuck to them and insisted on driving their subordinates to death.
The current division we are experiencing in Korea that started with the beef issue is in some ways similar to the situation in the United States before the outbreak of the American Civil War. It is similar in that neither the government nor the candlelight protesters knew, in the beginning, that the damage resulting from their actions would become so big.
Aside from the number of injured people and the cost of property damage, various other problems are continuing to snowball.
Because of the prolonged candlelight vigils, the economy is being battered by negative side effects, such as the hit self-employed people are taking, Korea’s falling international credibility and declining foreign investment. These are continuing to occur during a difficult time.
There is no way of knowing what else will happen. On top of that, the government seems to have misjudged that the candlelight vigils will stop if cabinet ministers and Blue House senior aides were reshuffled.
Just as American Civil War leaders didn’t understand the new rifle, the incumbent Korean administration seems not to understand the awful destructive power of the Internet. In today’s world, an individual can spread misleading information at the speed of light.
Yet the government in its negligence to take measures against this, made the mistake of failing to prevent exposure of the public to false or provocative information.
In any case, the confusion caused by U.S. beef imports, which is creating more and more damage by the day, should be solved through democratic means.
A solution through the National Assembly would be most desirable.
In all political issues, it is natural that there are groups with different opinions. But the political circles and the Assembly are the institutions that had been created to solve such conflicts and smooth over antagonism among the different groups.
However, politicians these days ignore their most important job of working out compromises in order to settle divisive conflicts.
The U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said that President George W. Bush’s black-and-white way of thinking, in which he divides people into two rival groups, is ruining the United States by raising antipathy between the Democrats and the Republicans. He is winning the hearts of voters by proclaiming that he would start a politics of compromise in which each group recognizes the other by overcoming conflicts between rival parties. This is the key point of his slogan, “The Audacity of Hope.”
The majority of Koreans, who are tired of the current situation, probably want politicians, especially the opposition party lawmakers who have refused to be present at the National Assembly, to come back to the dialogue table. There are even reports in the media that some opposition lawmakers want to return to the National Assembly, although they cannot say so openly.
In this era of confusion, we miss, more than any other time, a political leader who pursues democratic principles and his convictions without giving in to populist impulses or personal ties to people around him.
The courageous politician John F. Kennedy, before he became president of the United States, expressed his respect for such people in his famous book, “Profiles in Courage.”
*The writer is the New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Nam Jung-ho