[Viewpoint] A leader gets his, or her, hands dirty

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[Viewpoint] A leader gets his, or her, hands dirty

A swollen swine carcass bulges from a pile of earth. Maybe the animal felt too violated to be buried in peace. Or maybe his soul is making a silent, repellant demonstration of resentment and a plea for a proper burial for all the of 3.3 million livestock victimized in the mass culling that followed the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

The 3.3 million sacrificed cattle and pigs could fill up all the sports stadiums in Jamsil, Seoul. The swimming pools in Jamsil couldn’t even begin to contain the waters contaminated by the quicklime used in the animals’ burials. What have we done?

When the culling topped 1 million in mid-January, President Lee Myung-bak lamented, “How many of these animals do we have to kill to end this disease?” As a devout Christian, he may have felt for the creatures God placed on this earth together with humans. The battle with the unprecedented epizootic outbreak will likely go in the history books as the worst failure of this administration.

Such a catastrophe, in fact, has never been experienced in the country throughout its 5,000 years of history. Livestock have always been the foundation of the rural community. But these farmyard family members were brutally rewarded for their silent and loyal service. They were quickly buried because of the indifference and ignorance of the people who regarded their sacrifice collateral damage in the efforts of the agricultural authorities to deal with foot-and-mouth disease.

In Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” a famous painting portraying the sufferings of innocents in the bombing by Germans during the Spanish Civil War in 1937, figures of animals and humans are disfigured to portray the pain and chaos.

Picasso may have produced a painting in similar tragic tones if he had lived to see our massacre of animals.

The foot-and-mouth disaster starkly exposes many facets of this world. The world is not all peace and quiet just because there are no wars. In fact, it is contaminated and forever falling sick with various diseases and viral infections.

The dead pose a question: Who is in charge here? Is it the special committee that the politicians hastily formed after the outbreak who will be rewarded for their “extraordinary” service? Or is the quarantine workers from the central and local governments who still suffer nightmares from killing so many animals?

A potential leader should be able to look straight through the complexities of disaster. The foot-and-mouth tragedy is not a matter of a certain government office, region or constituency. It’s a state disaster and emergency. The candidates who want to be our next national leader should at least go to the slaughter sites and see the tragedy with their own eyes.

Park Geun-hye, former chairwoman of the ruling Grand National Party and current frontrunner in the race for president, should especially be there now.

She expressed concerns over contaminated groundwater in a seminar and sympathy for the farmers on her blog. Nevertheless, she has remained distant and aloof from the tragedy. She did go to the North Gyeongsang Provincial Office, but only as part of a routine New Year’s tour. Her official Web site does not mention anything about foot-and-mouth disease. A scan of her Web site comes up with her official visits and the headway she has been making in the precampaign presidential race.

Park may fear her comments would spark resentment from government officials and the public. She may also fear that her political rivals may accuse her of talking as if she were the next president. But she has already launched a think tank, which is more or less a proclamation that she intends to run in the next presidential election.

Actions should match such ambition. Park cannot address all the country’s problems, but she should be seen on the public’s side in times of national crisis, like the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak or the North Korean attack on our naval ship and on Yeonpyeong Island.

Park should put on a mask and don some protection gear to go to the burial sites of the contaminated cattle and pigs. She should physically experience the realities of the crisis. She must smell the noxious odor and try to hear the bellows from beneath the ground.

A leader must be able to embrace brutal realities. Park did not see the corpses of the Cheonan victims. The realities of a state do not exist in cyberspace and on Twitter.

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

By Kim Jin
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