The ship called the Republic of Korea has a new captain in charge who just launched his maiden voyage. While congratulating his inauguration wholeheartedly, we hope that the new captain is a reliable one who can skillfully navigate through dangerous reefs on the rough seas. Indeed, it is quite likely he will sail in uncharted territory during a perfect storm. Of course, he cannot sail the ship alone; he must have a competent crew including the first, second, and third mates, in addition to experienced sailors.
If one thing is clear, it is that this ship needs to set course for the future, not the past. We passengers are looking eagerly for the golden coast of tomorrow, not the dismal shoals of yesterday. When the bright future is ahead of us, why should we should retreat? Thus, we sorely need a leader who has a real vision for the future, not another one who just wants to rehash the past endlessly. If we choose to remain stuck in the past quagmire, we will never be able to get out and will eventually perish there.
For a safe journey, the new captain and his crew should be tolerant and lenient, embracing even their political enemies and objectors. They should be generous to the passengers who do not like them. They should not pursue political vendettas, even though some of their political rivals might well deserve punishment for what they have done wrong. Recently, some conservative journalists and professors have insisted in newspaper columns, “No more political revenge.” It was very generous of them, because the left-wing radicals demanded the “punishment” of their political enemies when they took power in 2017.
As for the previous administration’s relentless purge of the “accumulated vices,” critics pointed out that it turned out to be almost entirely motivated by political revenge, indicting and imprisoning approximately 100 government officials who worked in the Park Geun-hye administration. Of course, the black list of artists and writers during the Park administration was wrong, to be sure. Nevertheless, the above critics argue that the Moon administration did the same thing eventually by excluding those who were different from them ideologically.
Think about those who had to see their careers and lives ruined simply because they worked in the previous government. We cannot repeat the same tragic wrongdoings. The best revenge is to show that we are different from those who injured us. Marcus Aurelius, too, said, “The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.” We should also keep in mind what Douglas Horton said, “When seeking revenge, dig two graves -- one for yourself.” Unfortunately, myopic politicians always forget the admonishment of these wise maxims.
In the ship called South Korea, unfortunately, half of the passengers neither trust nor support their new captain. To make matters worse, those who are hostile to the captain run the Passengers Council (the National Assembly) in the ship, which can obstruct and nullify the captain’s leadership and policies. Therefore, the captain’s job will not be easy at all.
Still, however, he has to steer the ship in the right direction in the perilous seas, in order to protect all of the passengers from drowning and prevent the ship from capsizing. For that reason, reconciliation will be indispensable. Former US President Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A house divided cannot stand.” Likewise, a ship divided cannot avoid shipwreck, which, for a country like ours, means being vulnerable to foreign aggressions.
Many challenges lurk in our passage to the future. Right away, for example, our captain must be able to maneuver the ship skillfully around North Korea’s nuclear threats aiming at the new administration in the South. In order to deal with North Korea’s nuclear missiles, a perpetual nightmare for South Korea, the captain should demonstrate highly diplomatic skills toward not only North Korea, but also China, Japan, and the US.
In order to improve South Korea’s relationship with the US and Japan, it will be especially important that the captain reinstate the experts on the two countries in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who were unjustly neglected in the previous administration. He should also promote and activate public diplomacy, which will be tremendously helpful to enhance the relationship between Korea and other countries. In addition, the captain should recruit specialists on the US and Japan among the passengers and listen to their counsel.
Now the world is witnessing South Korea with great expectation, as she sets sail to begin a new voyage. The Korean people are also watching the launch with high hopes, but not without anxiety and angst. We can only hope that South Korea, through this voyage, will emerge as a highly esteemed global leader in the 21st century, avoiding obstacles and overcoming hardships. We may have to sail in the night without any visibility. Nevertheless, we will survive the journey and thrive.
We hope our new captain can find a lighthouse for a safe voyage. Bon voyage and Godspeed, South Korea! Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.