Lessons from seven decades back

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Lessons from seven decades back

The 70th anniversary of the liberation of Korea is a meaningful occasion. However, the reality surrounding the Korean Peninsula is chaotic. North Korea never stops with its provocations. The North Korean Workers’ Party’s official newspaper Rodong Sinmun’s Aug. 19 issue included outrageous claims. Titles are shocking enough, “Crazy Villainess’ Wicked Slander” and “Traitor Who Stained Own Face.” The articles were full of curses about President Park Geun-hye’s Aug. 15 speech. A North Korea specialist said that we need to focus on the direction, not the language itself. But the expressions were too harsh.

While our neighbors in Northeast Asia are not our enemies, they are not allies, either. Japan’s Abe government’s attitude towards Korea hasn’t changed and is not going to. We had believed that the United States was on our side, but Washington is pressuring Korea. Over accountability with stalled Korea-Japan relations, criticism on both sides is emerging in Washington. China, which has been an opportunity for Korea for the last few decades, is about to become a risk factor. The government is not willing and not capable of responding properly.

At this juncture, people still have high hopes for reunification, prosperity and harmony for the 80th anniversary of liberation. But such an era would not come automatically. I had an epiphany as I read “Engineers of Victory” by Paul Kennedy, a professor at Yale University and author of “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.” Professor Kennedy emphasizes that we need to be thoroughly prepared to accomplish our vision. Most importantly, a willful leader needs to have a clear vision and purpose. Then, we can set specific tactical goals and focus on them.

History is the proof. Professor Kennedy pays attention to January1943, the gloomiest time for the Allied Powers during World War II. Nazi Germany dominated most of Europe, and militaristic Japan was expanding through China and the Pacific. Then U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met in Casablanca. They were determined not to be swept up in the situation and create the future with their hands.

The two leaders set the goal of obtaining the unconditional surrender of their enemies. They proposed four tactical goals: win control of the Atlantic sea-lanes against German submarines, attain command of the air over central Europe held by the Nazis, land on enemy-held beaches and set up bridgeheads, and occupy islands in the Pacific and set up a base to attack the Japanese mainland.

It is noteworthy that all these directives sounded like “mission impossible” to soldiers at the time. It seemed impossible to come up with tactics to fight the submarines with available technologies. The mission of dominating the air was unprecedented. No military school taught the operation to have large-scale troops land on enemy beaches. No history books offered lessons in dominating the islands scattered across the Pacific Ocean.

But Kennedy wrote, “We also know that, little more than a year later, all of those operational aims were either accomplished or close to being realized.”

What seems impossible is different from what is impossible. When the willful leaders set the ultimate goal and strategic aims, engineers and soldiers used all available means to complete their missions. It shows how important it is for a leader to have a strong will, clear purpose and specific directives.

Since the ultimate goal of the war was “unconditional surrender,” there was no reason to be confused or reluctant. When Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan sent signals to make a compromise, the Allied Powers could reject flat out. The teachings from more than 70 years ago can be an interesting lesson to be applied to Korea today. Having passed the halfway point of the term, the Park Geun-hye administration needs to propose clear goals for reunification, peace, prosperity and harmony, and set specific objectives.

We must remember that liberation came suddenly without the will of the Korean people being reflected 70 years ago, and it brought us the ordeal of division and the war.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 20, Page 28

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

by Chae In-taek

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