[Viewpoint]For the common good

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[Viewpoint]For the common good

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to reconcile with his rivals is attracting the attention of the international media. Obama has turned his rivals into partners: He invited Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state, and reached out his hand to Republican rival John McCain and disloyal Democrat Joe Lieberman.

Lincoln lives on in Obama’s blood.

We are reminded of the Stanton story, a historic tale in which a political rival of the president was appointed to a high public post in a most dramatic way.

In 1850, there was an attorney named Edwin Stanton working in the U.S. capital, Washington D.C. He took on a patent lawsuit, and the opposing attorney was Abraham Lincoln.

The differences between the two were stark.

If Stanton was a luxurious designer product, then Lincoln was from the cheap goods market. Stanton was a university graduate and made a name being sharp and able. Lincoln was born in rural Kentucky and only went to school for a few months. Stanton had large eyes and a handsome face. Lincoln was gaunt and wrinkled, with deep-set eyes, crooked shoulders and long gangly arms.

With an aggressive and sometimes arrogant personality, Stanton barely even took notice of the hillbilly attorney from Kentucky. Even when they stayed at the same hotel, Stanton ignored Lincoln.

In 1860, Lincoln became the first Republican to be elected as president. As a prominent figure in the Democratic Party, Stanton harshly criticized Lincoln and his policies.

For around 10 years after their first encounter in Washington, Stanton had remained a harsh critic of Lincoln. But in April 1861, shortly after Lincoln took office, the Civil War broke out. When Lincoln’s northern army grew weak, he looked for a new general to breathe renewed life into his army. He thought of none other than Stanton. Lincoln knew that Stanton was unsociable, but was more patriotic and passionate than anyone.

The next year, Lincoln appointed Stanton as his secretary of war. Many people were opposed, especially Republican Party members who did not think favorably of Stanton.

But Lincoln stood firmly behind him, defending the appointment by saying, “Bring me someone as good as Stanton, and I will appoint the person in his place.”

Stanton did not want the position at first because he knew that many people would be opposed to him. He said, “I only accepted with the thought that we have to save the country.”

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Stanton strictly managed the military because he was so patriotic and honest as to be called stubborn. He dealt with solicitors cool-headedly and demanded that the army engage in a more offensive war.”

The rest was history.

The Northern Army won the war and Stanton is known as one of the nation’s greatest secretaries of war.

In 1865, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth while watching a performance at the Ford Theater in Washington. He was laid down on a bed in a house across the street. Many cabinet secretaries rushed to his bedside. The person who stayed longest was Stanton.

When Lincoln died, Stanton muttered, “Even though the times change and the world changes, this person will remain as an asset for all history. Let his name live on forever.”

Throughout its history, Korean politics has shown a penchant for severe factional struggles, retaliations and divisions.

A recent example of the coldhearted discord was probably the primary to select the presidential candidate of the Democratic Liberal Party, held in 1992.

Candidate Lee Jong-chan’s camp was burned to the ground after it lost to candidate Kim Young-sam. Park Tae-jun, who was former chairman of Posco and led the campaign for Lee, had to leave the country and live in exile in Japan. Park Chul-un, who was called the Prince of the Sixth Republic under former President Roh Tae-woo, was the field commander in the race for Lee. He later was imprisoned.

During the last presidential race, President Lee Myung-bak promised he would take on former Grand National Party chairwoman Park Geun-hye as a valuable partner in state affairs. However, Park remains unengaged, on the other side of the river.

Although the white waters of the financial crisis are threatening the economy and inter-Korean relations are in a whirlpool, the leader of this country and his biggest rival are turning away from each other, standing on opposite sides of the river.

Korea is 150 years behind the age of Lincoln.

We will be able to reduce the gap when we decide to leap across this river.

Lincoln opened his heart first, and Stanton accepted his offer. And now, Lincoln’s name shines forth in history because of Stanton.


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

by Kim Jin
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