[Viewpoint] A vote is mightier than a sword

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[Viewpoint] A vote is mightier than a sword

As the modern adage goes, the pen is mightier than the sword.

But the sword can be more powerful than a pen in a developing society. Scholars cite four successful military interventions that overthrew ruling powers and changed the nations in favorable ways.

Mustafa Kermal Ataturk in 1920 founded the modern Republic of Turkey with a military campaign, and Gen. Juan Velasco Alvarado raised a bloodless coup against a democratic government in Peru to help the poor.

The Meiji Revolution in the 19th century modernized Japan. Korea’s industrialization picked up critical speed during the 18-year rule by strongman Park Chung Hee. Many pens challenged Park’s mighty power. But at the end of the day, Korea was pulled out of extreme poverty at Park’s gunpoint.

The gun’s usefulness was over after our country completed its industrialization. Pens replaced guns. In 1987, the death of student activist Park Jong-chul sparked the wave that became the democracy movement.

The torture and death of Park was reported by JoongAng Ilbo journalist Shin Sung-ho. His pen paved the way for a new world. Jo Gap-je authored another famous book. His biography of Park Chung Hee shed new light on the man who was mostly remembered as a fearsome dictator instead of as a visionary leader.

As dangerous and mighty as the sword, gun and pen is the tongue. The words of a national hero can unite and save a country from threat and hardship. Winston Churchill, addressing Parliament as the new British prime minister on May 10, 1940, near the beginning of World War II, delivered the memorable line, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

Gen. Charles de Gaulle, exiled to London after the Germans occupied Paris during the Second World War, urged the French to be brave in a BBC radio address. “France has lost a battle,” he said, “but France has not lost the war.”

U.S. President Ronald Reagan also had an inspirational voice. He led a massive buildup of armed forces and missiles under the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Reagan outplayed Soviet leaders in arms as well as rhetoric. He attacked the Soviet Union as “an evil empire” in 1983 and, standing on one side of the Berlin Wall in June 1987, challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall!” The Iron Curtain came down 17 months later, and with it an end to the European socialist bloc and four decades of the cold war.

Guns, pens and tongues have helped change the history of many societies. In modern democracy, votes are the mightiest of all. Nothing can generate immediate and specific results more than votes in an election.

No matter how strong arms, pens and tongues may be, they cannot reverse the outcome of an election as long as it’s fair. Once the votes are counted, a new legislature and president stand before the public.

Since the 1980s, votes have dictated the course of modern Korean history. Opposition votes led those of the ruling party by 1.1 percent in the legislative election of December 1978. The public revolt shook the Park Chung Hee administration.

The legislative election in February 1985 dealt a heavy blow to the military government of President Chun Doo Hwan, leading his successor Roh Tae-woo to agree to a direct vote for electing the president.

In the May 2006 local elections, the Uri Party, under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, recorded the worst-ever defeat for a ruling party. The defeat eventually ended 10 years of rule by a liberal government.

On Wednesday, Korean voters again hold the key to open new doors in their destiny. The upcoming election is important in many ways due to extraordinary factors at home and abroad.

The new 19th National Assembly may face dramatic changes within North Korea during its four-year term. Local politics must seek balance amidst populist calls for more welfare, wealth polarization and the enduring ideological conflict in our politics. Volatility in a land now sundered for 67 years is at its peak. The Korean Peninsula’s future could be shaped within the next few years.

Many issues about the country’s direction will be decided by the voters’ hands. Dirty, unqualified and dangerous forces are waiting to get their snouts in the trough and their hands on the levers of power. Some candidates promise to march the country away from its past commitments, like the free trade agreement with the U.S. or from projects that are necessary for the country, like the naval base in Jeju. Some are outright advocates for North Korea, or undermine political dignity with random foul-mouthed jokes and mockeries of citizens. They are doing everything possible to seduce and confuse voters.

The ballots - mightier and sharper than any pen, gun or words - are laid before Korea’s voters.

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

by Kim Jin
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