[Kim Ji-hyun] When faced with retaliation

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jan 11, 2017 - 16:27
  • Updated : Jan 11, 2017 - 18:03
One of the things I could relate to quite profoundly when watching Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill,” one of my favorite movies, was the drive for revenge.

The protagonist Beatrix Kiddo is armed with a single mission -- to exact revenge on Bill, a former lover who gunned her down for deserting his gang and marrying another man.

Her fury and grief is nearly palpable as she goes about playing the role of Karma. And being quite the savvy samurai, she ends up getting what she wants.

In Japan, some believe in the ghost “onryo,” which is said to be a vengeful spirit driven by the passion to exact vengeance on those who have committed wrongdoing. I believe, the sentiment behind such beliefs is similar to that of the Korean “han” -- the sentiment of great sorrow or distress -- that drives so many people to either make heroic sacrifices or lash out in anger.

These days, governments appear to be quite ready to dish out revenge. Take for instance, the “comfort women.” Japan’s Abe Shinzo administration is pulling out one stop after another to exact revenge on Seoul for erecting the statue once again in Busan. Comfort women, as many know, is a euphemistic term referring to women who were forced into wartime sexual labor by Japan.

The Japanese prime minister, who considers the statue as going against a controversial agreement the two countries signed in 2015, has called back his ambassadors who had been stationed in South Korea. More provocative action is expected, as South Korea is really in no state to make any decisions given its political troubles. Japan, too, has to save face, so the situation is most likely to grow from bad to worse.

Retaliation was also the driving force behind Beijing’s latest stance on Seoul’s decision to deploy the US’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system on the Korean Peninsula. China is pressuring South Korea in so many unofficial ways.

The goals of revenge taken by countries and individuals, however, differ. For the former, a new course of action or change in policy is the goal. For individuals, it’s mainly about satisfaction.

Pressured by its neighbors, South Korea is pondering whether to take some kind of action of its own. But what can it do? Also, is it even morally and strategically correct to change your tactics or principles when faced with the threat of retaliation?

The way I understand it, diplomacy is all about finesse and compromise. It is about having the skillset to basically negotiate your way out of everything and anything. But it’s also about having the courage to stand up for what one believes to be true.

You don’t have to be loud about it, or advertise. All you have to do, sometimes, is just be still. Not saying anything can speak volumes in some cases. Also, instead of sticking one’s foot in one’s mouth, it may be better for Korea to see how this all plays out.

Shunning Japan or China too publicly may come with a magnitude of risks.

As much as Korea may want to take tit-for-tat action, keeping a low profile may be the best course to take, for now.

And if we are indeed going to take revenge, we will need a strategy for maximum results.

In “Kill Bill,” the movie ends with Beatrix getting her revenge, but there is nothing that tells us whether she is satisfied and fulfilled -- or if her life will be good from that point on, after getting what she was looking for. 

By Kim Ji-hyun (jemmie@heraldcorp.com)