[Viewpoint]Learning from Lincoln

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[Viewpoint]Learning from Lincoln

In times of crisis, leaders hope to arm themselves with a leadership of integration. President Abraham Lincoln set an American model for such behavior.

Barack Obama is a Lincoln expert. They both have political roots in the state of Illinois, and according to Obama, Lincoln’s greatness is that he used language and beliefs to reunite and change the country at a time of national crisis.

The Gettysburg Address epitomizes Lincolnian language. President-elect Obama borrowed words from the address in his victory speech. He declared, “A government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth.” Gettysburg is a small town in Pennsylvania, two hours north of Washington D.C. by car. Abraham Lincoln made the speech on Nov. 19, 1863. The 145th anniversary of the speech was celebrated last week.

When Lincoln was inaugurated in 1861, the United States was divided. The American Civil War broke out, and the Battle of Gettysburg was one of its most devastating fights. The three-day battle resulted in over 50,000 casualties. Lincoln’s address, which was composed of only 272 words and lasted three minutes, was a part of a four-hour-long dedication ceremony [of a soldiers’ cemetery].

However, the short speech is remembered as one of the most important in history. The core idea was the defense of government of the people and a “new birth of freedom.” President Lincoln succinctly conveyed the democratic ideology in his speech. He clarified the grand causes of the war, namely the reintegration of the federation and the abolition of slavery. Obama must have learned from Lincoln’s rhetoric. As he accomplished his ambition to become the first American president of African descent, he cleverly adapted President Lincoln’s language and image. The theme of his inauguration speech in January will be “a new birth of freedom.”

A president’s language defines the national vision and brings citizens together. A leader’s words dominate the public’s imagination and passion.

On the other hand, a poorly chosen word can lead to conflict. Some of the remarks made by former President Roh Moo-hyun better belonged in a back alley. Such manners undermine a leader’s dignity. His habit of drawing a line between enemies and allies fanned social division.

President Lee Myung-bak’s language has failed to capture the hearts of the citizens. His inauguration speech had multiple focuses, and that habit has not changed. He is not good at determining when to speak and when to stay quiet.

A bust of President Lincoln can be found in the Gettysburg National Cemetery with the Gettysburg Address carved on the base. The site of the bloody battle has been preserved, and over 1,000 monuments and gravestones stand there. The open field reminds visitors of the cruelty and savageness of a civil war.

President Lincoln’s Union Army was victorious at Gettysburg, but the pain of war continued. Thousands of soldiers continued to be killed every day. In the 1864 presidential election, the opposition party promised a peace treaty with the Confederacy. Anti-war sentiment spread as well, and there were ominous signs that President Lincoln might fail to be re-elected.

And that’s when his integrated cabinet proved its power. President Lincoln appointed his opponents to secretarial positions, making his cabinet a team of rivals. They boasted outstanding experience and strong personalities. President Lincoln remained modest to bring out their caliber.

Secretary of State William H. Seward and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton silenced the possibility of negotiating for peace. They followed President Lincoln’s principle, rejecting compromise. Lincoln strongly believed that only a complete victory guaranteed true peace. Two months before the election, dramatic news of a victory arrived. The Union defeated the Confederate Army in Atlanta, the heart of the South. The victory boosted Lincoln’s popularity and he was successfully re-elected. A leader of principle can seize the opportunity. When he maintains consistency, he will achieve a breakthrough.

Now that we are faced with an economic crisis, how will the Lee Myung-bak Administration react? The cabinet has to be reshuffled to reflect integration. And the president has to approach citizens with modesty. He has to trust his original purpose.

The citizens are frustrated and furious about corruption in public corporations, slacking high-ranking officials, highly paid union members and the passivity of banks.

He has to push for reform with conviction. Consistency is the secret to success.


*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Bo-gyoon

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