A leader needs a sidekick
Abraham Lincoln is a model for leadership and this year marks the 150th anniversary of his death. The United States is cherishing the memories of a man whose presidency was marked by four years of Civil War. Lincoln’s glorious legacy includes reintegration of the country and abolition of slavery. They are the accomplishments of the Civil War victory.
After the end of the Civil War, Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865, only six days after the Confederates surrendered. The Battle of Appomattox Court House in Virginia was the last battle, and the surrender was signed there.
Appomattox Court House is a unique historical site, with no war memorial or monument. The winning Union Army was led by General Ulysses S. Grant, and the defeated Confederate Army headed by General Robert E. Lee. There are no statues of these generals. Appomattox Court House is different from Gettysburg, where many memorials and monuments have been erected. A small plaque welcomes the visitors: “Here, amidst the once-quiet streets and lanes of Appomattox Court House, Lee, Grant, and their tired armies enacted one of the great dramas in American history.”
The war began when the southern states seceded from the union and the country was divided. President Lincoln considered that treason. The American Civil War led to bloody battles and mass destruction. The deaths of 620,000 soldiers was a national catastrophe. The casualties were greater than the number of all U.S. soldiers killed in 20th century wars combined, including World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
The plaque addresses neither the celebration of victory nor the despair of the defeated. It does not include any sentimental reminder of tragedy, lessons for history or reproach for treason. It simply calls it “one of the great dramas in American history.” That simple statement is the climax of Lincoln’s drama.
The drama was produced by Lincoln and starred him too. But drama needs more than a producer or a lead. Supporting actors make dramas more complete. They are the secret weapons of a leader. Lincoln had an outstanding group of strategists and generals, and they wisely supported his leadership and refined his vision.
Lincoln was heartlessly resolute. He refused a half-hearted peace. The Union generals ruthlessly backed his belief. Grant waged a war of attrition, and the Confederates gave up fighting back. And here comes the dramatic twist in Lincoln’s drama. He showed mercy and offered pardons. He did not punish the treasonous. Courage produces generosity, and Grant faithfully followed his leader’s conviction. After his surrender, Lee was not tried in court. The meaning of the Civil War was inverted and it became the driving force for national integration. The moderation of Appomattox Court House reveals Lincoln’s will.
The American Civil War had no war criminals and the drama ended with an overcoming of division. Dealing with North Korea demands creativity and imagination too. North Korea is eager to show off its nuclear capacity. South Korea’s readiness for military retaliation should be solid. A series of purges in Pyongyang proves that Kim Jong-un’s means of control is fear. The North Korean elite must feel pressured. We need to convey to them the message of the Appomattox Court House and relieve their anxiety over the future after reunification. We need to inject them with hope from the South. The Korean Peninsula is the stage of historic sentimentality. Strategists need to challenge the dynamics.
Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation during the war. Follow-up measures were not satisfactory. The abolition of slavery needed to be included in the Constitution, so Lincoln pushed for the Thirteenth Amendment. The Republican Party had a majority in Congress but was short 20 votes for the two-thirds needed for a constitutional amendment. Lincoln displayed the leadership of communication and persuasion, and here, he needed a meticulously planned supporting actor to play the quick-thinking villain.
Secretary of State William Seward played the role and focused on how to deal with the opposition party. He employed backroom politics of persuasion and pressure. Greatness is not accomplished nobly, and the glorious achievement of the president was made from muck. Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln” depicts the process in detail. The duet of Lincoln and Seward successfully broke through the obstacles, and the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified. Seward’s direct advice and critical opinion kept the power in balance.
After Lincoln was assassinated, Vice President Andrew Johnson succeeded him in the White House. Seward continued to serve as Secretary of State under Johnson and arranged the purchase of Alaska from Russia for a mere 7.2 million dollars. At first, the purchase was called “Seward’s folly.” But the value of Alaska was tremendous. President Park Geun-hye’s reforms are in trouble. The Blue House is clumsy with the assembly. Moreover, it is lazy. Confrontation between the Blue House and the opposition party never ends. Who in the Blue House is drafting the grand design for inter-Korean relations? There are many people around the president. No one plays the supporting role. JoongAng Ilbo, May 14, Page 35
*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Bo-gyoon