[View point]Recapitulation nation

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[View point]Recapitulation nation

If you liked biology in high school, you probably remember Ernst Haeckel and his theory of recapitulation. In 1866, the German biologist developed the idea that during its development, an organism rapidly goes through the forms of ancestral organisms. For example, a human embryo evolves through the shapes of more primitive organisms, such as fish and reptiles, before taking the form of a human baby. The hypothesis, accompanied as it was by creative drawings of embryos in different stages, sounded plausible at first. However, the theory has obvious flaws and is no longer considered significant in biology.

When Lee Bong-hwa, the vice minister for health and welfare, caused the current controversy over the rice farm subsidy system, she also caused the recapitulation theory to resurface in my mind. This is not just a problem related to Lee, and she is not the only one taking the subsidies illegally.

Lee’s life is a rags-to-riches story - she came from a childhood of poverty and rose to the position of vice minister. She is a self-made woman, the type President Lee Myung-bak likes. She graduated first in her class from Chungju Girls High School, but couldn’t afford to go to college. After serving as a policeman for a year, she became a seventh-level civil servant in Seoul in 1973. She was the first woman in the Seoul city government to head the human resources department. She served in other important posts, such as director of financial affairs and chief inspector, while President Lee Myung-bak was mayor. After Oh Se-hoon became the mayor, she was put in charge of the project “Creating a City of Happy Women.”

She was not just good at her job. People call her the “Queen of Self Management” for a reason. In 1979, she took the college entrance exam and entered Hankuk University of Foreign Studies to study Japanese. She was pregnant at the time. After graduating from college, she received a master’s degree from the University of Seoul’s Graduate School of Urban Science, then went on to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Seoul and Doshisha University in Japan. She wrote two theses, “Comparison of Women’s Policies in Korea and Japan” for the University of Seoul, and “Study on Long-Term Care for Seniors” for Doshisha University. She has proven that she can excel at the job of vice minister.

Her resume illustrates that thus far her life has been a series of successes, but she now is going nowhere but down. And she is not stepping down by herself. She has opened a Pandora’s box that could possibly result in embarrassment and indictment for hundreds if not thousands of people. What has happened to her?

The recapitulation theory can be used to describe Ms. Lee’s predicament. The civil servants who resigned from their positions all follow a certain pattern. Their issues include real estate deals such as unqualified purchase of farm lots, illegal change of address for education purposes, manipulation of academic records, evading military service (either themselves or helping their sons do so), and dual citizenship. Conservative or liberal, ruling party or opposition, they all have similar problems.

So, in a way, Ms. Lee represents the establishment of Korea. Her sins are not just hers alone. The farm subsidy controversy is not a mutation that sprang up all of a sudden. It is an event with a long history.

The age of industrialization demanded great diligence and devotion to work. Of course, Lee Bong-hwa had to sacrifice in her youth. In an interview, she said of the land in question in Anseong, “Ten years into my marriage, I began getting interested in accumulating wealth and thinking about retirement, and that’s when I made the purchase.” She had devoted herself to work, and one day, she woke up and started worrying about making her future comfortable.

It was a time when controls were loose when it came to real estate, military service, residence registration, nationality and academic records. If you were determined, you could manipulate your records. Civil servants in particular had access to people who could do so.

However, moral standards are much higher today. High-ranking officials are now suffering from the heavy metal that accumulated in their bodies during the industrialization period. The rice farm subsidy controversy is just a piece of this residue. It is not too late to dig it out completely. If someone seems suspicious, we should not let him or her serve in a public position. In particular, we need to watch how our politicians handle public funds and tax money.

Anyone who dreams of becoming a public servant needs to rid his body of all trace of corruption left over from industrialization.

*The writer is the senior culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Noh Jae-hyun
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