Due credit, even for our worst enemies

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Due credit, even for our worst enemies


Koreans used to say to children who cried, “If you keep crying, a tiger will come get you.” There is a similar Italian saying: “If you keep crying, Hannibal will come get you.” To the Romans, the Carthaginian general was the embodiment of fear, just as the tiger was for Koreans. In 218 B.C., Hannibal invaded Rome and won overwhelming victories. The field in Cannae, which was about the size of Yeouido, was covered with the mutilated bodies of some 76,000 Roman soldiers. Although the Romans suffered a crushing defeat, they later built a statue of Hannibal in the center of Rome. Even though he was the enemy, the Romans acknowledged and admired Hannibal’s military leadership.

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
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