Mayor Oh Se-hoon, a defeated general
In ancient times, a defeated general was not forgiven easily. He would be asked to be accountable for the loss and be punished for failing to fulfill his duty as a commander. The 2004 film “Alexander” has a scene in which Persian King Darius puts a vanquished general to the sword at once. It was a symbolic ritual to show that failure was not tolerated. When Carthage was fighting the Roman Empire, commanders who lost in battles were crucified. When Hwarang Wonsul, the second son of Gen. Kim Yu-sin of Silla, lost in a battle against Tang China after the unification of the three kingdoms, General Kim went up to the king and said that it was right to behead the defeated commander for failing to carry out the king’s order.
Some generals chose to kill themselves upon defeat. Xiang Yu, who proclaimed himself the Hegemon King of Western Chu, contended against Liu Bang for power. When his army was besieged in the battle of Gaixia, he chose to commit suicide. During the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592, Gen. Sin Lib used a variation of Han Xin’s strategy in a battle, but when he was defeated, he jumped into a river.
Some defeated generals avoided punishment. Duke Mu of Qin did not ask three generals to be accountable for losing a battle against the state of Jin. Later, these pardoned generals returned the favor by rendering distinguished military services. There was a similar tradition in the Roman Empire. At the desperate juncture of life and death, it was a challenge to devise an effective strategy and display full potential. Instead, the Romans gave the defeated generals a second chance to restore their honor.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon fought with his back to water, staking his job in the battle over the free school lunch referendum. Now, he has become a defeated general. But it was not just his defeat. Although he has so much to say about the battle, a defeated general should remain silent. His political life could be over, or he could be given a second chance in response to the adverse effects of welfare populism. His future depends on the people’s choice.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Nam-joong