Shame on Korea’s politiciansThe latest book by Harvard University Professor Joseph Nye, “Is the American Century Over?” was published last week in Korean. One of the most renowned foreign policy analysts of our time, Nye started his book by checking the performances of the potential challengers capable of ending the American century.
According to his analysis, the European Union, Japan, Russia, India and Brazil cannot compete with the United States. The only possible country is China, he said.
However, he concluded that there is no possibility that China’s hard and soft power - or its smart power - will in just a few decades surpass that of the United States. In other words, there is no possibility that the American century will end from outside challenges, Nye said.
The problems within the United States are the issues to worry about. Just as the Roman Empire collapsed from internal splits and corruption, he warned that the United States must be alerted to the possibility that it could walk the path to decline from its own doing.
One serious concern Nye pointed out was the political system. The American political system, he said, is paralyzed in many ways, and the state of affairs is seriously hindered due to political confrontations that incapacitate the primary national-power holders. Although these problems are not new, he expressed deep concern over whether America was capable of facing the challenges of the future in the current system.
One common problem that modern democracies share is the “endless campaign,” a term frequently used by Karl Rove, the political adviser to former President George W. Bush. After the presidential election, the legislative election follows and after that a local election comes. Winning an election no matter what has become politicians’ only goal.
To beat their opponents, they will do anything. They play a dangerous game, almost breaking the law not hesitating to make inappropriate deals. They all know that criticism only lasts a moment, so winning now is important while saving face is not. Shameless acts among politicians are a common phenomenon in all democracies.
At the memorial on May 23 to mark the sixth anniversary of the death of former President Roh Moo-hyun, his only son, Geon-ho, issued a harsh, direct criticism toward Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung.
“I still remember you reading a part of the  inter-Korean summit transcript amid the rain [to support Park Geun-hye’s presidential campaign], claiming that the former president gave up the Northern Limit Line. And yet, you made a difficult choice to come here,” he said, ridiculing Kim.
Time and place are crucial, although you have something you really want to say. It is not appropriate for the host of a memorial service to disgrace a guest. It is also rude toward the dead.
And yet, there are a significant number of people who agree with his point, because he directly hit the nail on the head to point out the shamelessness of Korean politics.
If Kim knows honor, how dare he attend the memorial, Roh Geon-ho probably wanted to ask.
He also probably wanted to point out the shamelessness in promoting reconciliation and national unity while humiliating the late president to spin Park’s presidential opponent as a North Korean sympathizer and publicize a national security secret.
Even a perfectly normal person becomes brazen once entering politics. Without that kind of attitude, you can’t win an election or become successful.
And the political arena is not the only place. Many high-ranking officials and military members - who must honor their sworn duty - are shameless.
As Mencius once said, the sense of humility and deference is the starting point for propriety. Because the people who must set an example are shameless, it is no surprise that Korean society has no sense of what is right.
In Korean society today, people only care about their own success, no matter the cost. Once they seize power, they want to hold on to it as long as possible. Once they occupy high-ranking posts, they want to stay there as long as they can. When they have influence, they want to maximize their gains at all costs.
Until now, we have treated decency and honor as the most important values, but today, having a sense of honor has become a luxury.
Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide by jumping off a cliff behind his home. With his last words, “Life and death are all pieces of nature,” he was perhaps the last Korean politician with any sense of honor. It is shameless to say before his grave that living is always so much better than being dead.
“Shame on you” is an advance directive Korean politicians need more than American politicians.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 26, Page 31
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok
More in Columns
Revolt and its ramifications
A kiddie talent pool
A well-calculated move
Waking up from an illusion