Sins of the Father
South Korean society may have modernized at a vertiginous pace in the past few decades, but it is still one where filial reverence runs deep. So the expression of remorse by Park Geun-hye, in which she sought to distance herself from the actions of her father, was a particularly striking display of counterculture. Although Park is the frontrunner in the country’s presidential election, her lead has eroded in recent weeks as she has fudged and prevaricated when asked for her views on Park Chung-hee—despotic daddy—who ruled South Korea with an iron fist from 1961 to 1979. Yet last Monday, whether from the pressure of opinion polls or the thrust of a tormented conscience, she offered her “sincere apologies to those who suffered and were wounded during this period, and to their families.” The older Park was, in many ways, the Pinochet of South Korea, credited with putting his country on a path to prosperity, but doing so with scant regard to such fripperies as human rights.
Another eye-catching example of a protagonist swimming against a cultural current was provided last week by Christophe de Margerie, chief executive of Total, the predominantly French multinational energy company. Most unusually for a man in his milieu, de Margerie—in an interview with the Financial Times—warned against drilling for oil in the Arctic, putting him at serious risk of becoming a most improbable poster-boy for Greenpeace. “Oil on Greenland would be a disaster,” he said, darkly, to the British newspaper. “A leak would do too much damage to the image of the company.”
Did you know that a quarter of all Americans would be happy to use a nuclear weapon to kill terrorists? This columnist certainly did not, until he chanced upon an essay in Foreign Policy by Amy Zegart, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University (where, incidentally, she co-teaches a course on managing political risk with Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state). In addition to revealing that startling fact, Zegart argues that Americans have become more hawkish on counterterrorism policy since Barack Obama became president. Her poll numbers, compiled especially for her by YouGov, an Internet-based market-research firm, show that 41 percent of Americans would be prepared to “use torture” to stop an act of terrorism. (A Rasmussen poll in 2007 found that only 27 percent of Americans favored torture.) Thirty-six percent are willing to assassinate foreign leaders who “harbor terrorists.”
Whether or not one agrees with Thomas Cahill’s contention that the Emerald Isle “saved civilization,” one must accept that the modern Irish are pretty adept at resolving the trickiest internecine disputes. So, naturally, as the Afghan government grapples with ways to draw its Taliban foes into discussion, it has turned to Irish politicians for a tutorial. Jeffrey Donaldson and Denis Haughey, unionist and nationalist respectively, are in Kabul for talks with Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, a body set up specifically to engage with the Taliban. “You don’t make peace with your friends,” Donaldson said. “You have to be able to talk to the Taliban. In Northern Ireland, I lost members of my family. I don’t come to this from the perspective of some high-minded theoretical approach about peace building.” Just pragmatism—and the luck of the Irish.
Right on Turgut
In Turkey, intrigue is eternal. Last week, 330 retired and serving military officers were convicted of a conspiracy to launch a coup in 2003; their supporters, in turn, decry a conspiracy by the “Islamist” government against the “secular” armed forces. Amid this swirl of claim and counterclaim—and entirely true to national form—the remains of the late President Turgut Ozal are to be exhumed from his mausoleum in response to his family’s insistence that he did not die of a heart attack while in office, in 1993, but had, instead, been poisoned. No autopsy was performed at the time, and Ozal’s widow, Semra, has always claimed that her husband was assassinated. She keeps a lock of his hair in a bank vault outside Turkey.
With Luke Darby and Jane Teeling