[Viewpoint]Gracious in defeat

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[Viewpoint]Gracious in defeat


President-elect Barack Obama’s second favorite book after the Holy Bible is “Team of Rivals: The Politician Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” In the book, author Doris Kearns Goodwin describes the famous “surrender at Appomattox” in detail. It is the last scene in the Civil War, where Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses Grant in 1865.

General Lee thought he would be imprisoned, so he presented himself with dignity, in his best military uniform and carrying a long sword. However, General Grant had the Confederate soldiers, including General Lee, return home after pledging not to bear arms against the Union. General Grant even offered food - far from seizing horses and arms. He was following an order by President Lincoln not to insult the defeated.

While the book accentuates the winner’s tolerance, it does not tell the whole story. When the Confederate Army was surrounded by Union forces at Appomattox, Virginia, General Lee realized that surrender was the only option. However, his staff advised that they could hide in the woods and wage guerrilla warfare. They calculated that two-thirds of the remaining forces could escape.

But General Lee opposed the idea, arguing that they needed to acknowledge the fact that the Confederacy had failed. He urged the soldiers to return home, start farming and make efforts to repair damage caused by the war. He knew that guerrilla warfare would result in irreversible division. He thought it was about time to mend the chaos and move forward to the bigger purpose.

While General Lee was defeated, he made a huge contribution to the United States.

We cannot help but admire his actions. America surely had great winners, but because it also had one “cool” loser, it was able to overcome damage from a four-year Civil War and take a grand step toward becoming the superpower it is today.

How about us Koreans? Is the country so cursed that we cannot ever expect to see such a dignified moment? I cannot strongly deny it. What’s going on at the National Assembly makes me cringe.

The Civil War resulted in twice as many dead U.S. soldiers as those killed in World War II. While the Confederacy could have held a grudge, it simply surrendered and agreed to cooperate with the Union when the moment of defeat came.

In Korea, the presidential election was over a year ago, but the country is still “at war.” We did not risk our lives, and all that has happened was a change of administration. Yet, distrust and antipathy have penetrated to the bone.

The winners might be foolish, but the losers are shameless. The losers should accept that they were defeated in both the presidential and general elections. But they are stubborn in every way.

In the end, they occupied the National Assembly to prevent the passage of bills they created when they were in power. The winners want to pull out the big nail voters already said they want removed, but the losers fiercely resist. They are not acting like guerrillas but the gangsters who work for loan sharks. They don’t seem to have voters in mind.

I do not know who gave the losers so much power. As a voter myself, I do not recall entrusting them with such authority. The winner’s popularity has plummeted because of his mistakes with appointments, and the controversy over U.S. beef imports left him groggy. Nevertheless, the winner’s unpopularity is no excuse for the loser’s arrogance. It is the voters’ role to judge the faults of the winner, not the opposition’s.

Right before World War I, French society became more concerned with the trial of Henriette Caillaux than the imminent war. Madame Caillaux shot and killed a right-wing newspaper editor who criticized her left-wing politician husband, and the trial turned France into a battleground between left and right.

Her defense attorney, Fernand Labori, shouted during the trial, “Let’s save our anger and turn it toward our external enemies. We need to end this dispute and come together to face the catastrophes we will imminently face.”

Such a cry is desperately needed in Korea today. The fearful prospect of an economic crisis already looms large upon us. We need to bring our forces together. The losers need to accept their position as the defeated. The energy expended to attack the winners should be put into overcoming the economic crisis. This is the only way for the losers to make a comeback.

The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Lee Hoon-beom
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