Due credit, even for our worst enemies
Similarly, Japan is known to show special respect to outstanding enemy leaders. Japanese Adm. Togo Heihachiro was revered as the “god of war” after leading the Japanese Empire to victory in the Russo-Japanese War. It is well-known that he had a great deal of respect for Adm. Yi Sun-sin, who repelled Hideyoshi’s invasion of Korea. Partly influenced by Heihachiro, cadets of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy have made an annual visit to Yi’s shrine in Tongyeong since the Russo-Japanese War.
After World War II, Japanese reverence for enemy commanders was directed toward U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur. In 1945, General MacArthur became the effective ruler of occupied Japan. The Japanese welcomed him passionately, calling him the “Blue-eyed Shogun.” Hundreds of letters and gifts were delivered to his headquarters every day. The most impressive gift was an embroidered portrait of MacArthur; each thread was laid by 120,000 Japanese.
To mark the 101st anniversary of the patriotic death of independence activist Ahn Jung-geun, Japanese people in Saga Prefecture erected a memorial in his honor at Muro-ji Temple. In “Modern History through Historical Figures,” the Association of History Educators in Japan said that Ahn was “so noble that even the Japanese prison guards had admired him.” From Japan’s point of view, Ahn may have been a terrorist who assassinated Ito Hirobumi, the respected political giant who was the first prime minister of Japan. Nevertheless, Ahn’s patriotic spirit and courage impressed many Japanese.
In Korea, we often try to find faults in our enemies, sometimes even in our allies. The practice of giving due credit and respect to those who deserve it, including our enemies, is certainly worthy of praise.
*The writer is a senior international affairs reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Nam Jeong-ho