This year marks the 70th year of Korea’s independence, but also its division. As Koreans contemplate the challenges of unification and the “reconstruction” of one nation, there are some lessons perhaps that can be offered by the leadership of Abraham Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln became president of the United States on the brink of civil war. The war became a test of the true meaning of democracy and the ideals of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” a measure of whether its founding vision could bring together two disparate societies—one that condoned slavery and one that affirmed the freedom and dignity of every person,
During his five years in office, Lincoln endured personal tragedy and civil war with an unwavering commitment to preserve the union and secure the emancipation of an oppressed people. Following the military surrender of the South, the president inaugurated “a new birth of freedom”, yet recognized that Reconstruction of the nation and the moral battle ahead was one fought first in the hearts and minds of the people.
Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address reflects this, as he turned the nation’s priorities from the prosecution of the war towards reconciliation:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
One can only imagine what would have been possible had Lincoln lived to enact the policies and programs that would have created the just, inclusive and prosperous society of the American founding ideals.
Lincoln’s generosity can inform a true reconciliation of the greater Korean family, starting in the hearts and minds of the people. They should be guided by Lincoln’s noble example, and usher in an era of Reconstruction of the one Korean nation, with the aspiration of freedom and prosperity for all.