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Staying calm in the face of danger

Mar 09,2015

Wounded U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert is recovering well from a knife attack last week by an anti-American activist. And it appears that so is Korea, which was temporarily rattled by concerns over security and a rift in bilateral relations with the United States.

Kudos first goes to the victim. One of the first things Lippert did after coming out of surgery was to thank the Korean people for their support.

He remained calm even as he was rushed to the hospital on Thursday. The scene left a deep impression on the public. The U.S. media and ordinary Americans also recovered from the immediate shock and regarded the incident as an act of radical nationalism that should not be blamed on Korea or its people.

It may not have been easy to keep a calm face with blood gushing down his neck, but Lippert did and assured the people around him that he was OK. As soon as he woke up from surgery, he wrote on his Twitter account that he was doing well. “Let’s go together,” he wrote in Korean.

His touching gesture was enough to calm the Korean public and warm their hearts. It shows how aptly the attitude of a public official can save a country’s reputation.

His calmness had been bred from education and training from the United States. Americans tend to respond calmly, even amid major crises. They put reason before emotion, and the feeling of patriotism and affection for their country is inspired rather than forced. Diplomats are also groomed to survive and sustain leadership in a life-threatening global environment, where six American ambassadors have so far been killed.

Korean diplomats also face numerous threats while serving abroad. Do Chae-sung, a second secretary at the Korean Embassy in Lebanon, was kidnapped by armed gunmen in 1986. A Korean diplomat in the Taiwan representative office also received a knife wound in 1995 in Taipei.

Korea’s national status has risen sharply since then. Korean bureaucrats and diplomats must also watch themselves while they are stationed abroad.

Korea grooms aspiring diplomats and sends them overseas. And the foreign ministry is a group of elites. But we must question if it trains diplomats to be calm and valiant against threats and danger. Our officialdom must also be able to groom public officials to put reason and national interests first. We, too, want public officials who can receive applause rather than criticism.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 9, Page 30