Leadership needs courage

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Leadership needs courage

The year 2014 is here. While every year is special, this year is especially significant. Sixty-nine years after the division of the Korean Peninsula, drastic change in North Korea has become a real possibility. Perhaps 2014 could be a fateful year for 75 million Korean people.

When the time comes, Korea has to lead the future of the peninsula. Neither the United States, China nor the United Nations can do the job. Just as the new sun rose this morning, leaders in South Korea should renew their vows.

A leader is expected to have many virtues. When the world is shaky, the most important virtue is courage. Once you climb the mountain of courage, strategies and efficiency come relatively easily. No matter how knowledgeable you may be, you can get lost if you are reluctant to climb this mountain.

Where does courage come from? Does educational background or knowledge make you brave? Does a strong physique give you courage? Many leaders have shown courage even when they came from humble families, lacked education or were small of frame. Conviction for doing the right thing made them brave.

In modern history, the free world and Communism had their first confrontation in Berlin in 1948. When the Soviet Union blockaded Berlin, U.S. military commanders and political and foreign advisers first proposed withdrawing the U.S. military. But President Truman flatly refused, leading to the historic Berlin Airlift for 11 months.

Truman was a high school graduate from a farming family. He was called “the little man from Missouri.” But the little man was not intimidated by the Soviet Union. In his office, he kept a copy of a Mark Twain quote on his desk that read, “Always do right.”

Ronald Reagan graduated from a small local college. He was a B-movie actor in Hollywood when a Communist-sponsored labor struggle occurred in September 1946. Thousands of protesters staged demonstrations, and his bus passed by them every day. The company asked the people on the bus to get down on the floor to avoid stones and bottles.

All of the actors, both stars and extras, laid down flat, but Reagan refused and stood tall. As the dispute continued, the protesters threatened Reagan for opposing the struggle, but the threats only made him more avidly anti-Communist. The next year, he was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild.

In January 1981, Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as the president of the United States, and after half a year, he was faced with a serious trial. Thirteen-thousand air traffic controllers went on an illegal strike. Reagan declared that if they didn’t report to work within 48 hours, they would be fired and never rehired. In the end, Reagan dismissed 11,300 of them.

Courage is pricey. It took several years for air traffic control to get back to normal after the mass firing. Despite the huge cost, Reagan did not give up his principles. With courage and perseverance, he brought down the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union. Thanks to Reagan, we are living in a better world.

If a leader lacks courage, the citizens suffer. In 2008, as the mad cow panic spread, violent protesters beat up police officers, destroyed a newspaper company’s entrance and threw stones at buses. However, then-President Lee Myung-bak did not stand up to them.

When North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island along the tense maritime border in 2010, Lee also didn’t show courage. When that attack burned homes in a small town, he didn’t retaliate. If he had responded bravely, the North Korean regime would have been shocked. If he had, many things would have changed by now.

Courage is about choosing a greater cause over minor concerns. When a crisis happens, it is always accompanied by minor worries and flaws. The railroad strike had similar concerns. With millions of dollars were saved in a strike fund, the union did not have to give in easily. Why would the authorities go into the headquarters of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions to create more trouble? Was a Suseo-dong KTX subsidiary really necessary? To Truman or Reagan, these issues would not matter. This time, the Korean president was not different from them. The unlawful strike was ended and trains are running again.

This year is the Year of the Horse. Horses are meant to run, just like leaders. Brave leaders dash along the path of law and principle without being hindered by minor concerns.

When Korea lost its sovereignty, pioneers rode horses on the Manchurian plains, fighting for independence. This year, a serious event could happen on the Korean Peninsula. When that day comes, it will be far more significant than the railroad strike. South Korean leaders need to put on the gloves of courage and hold the reins of the horse.

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

by Kim Jin
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