There is a famous American fairy tale about the first President of the United States and a cherry tree. When asked, a very young George Washington allegedly stepped up and confessed to chopping it down. In much the same vein, there is a true story about a young green sash at the West Coast Hwa Rang Do Academy who, having dropped his weapon while practicing alone on the floor, simply picked it up, walked over to the wood, and did his thirty knuckle push-ups without another student in sight. Both children, the real martial artist and the fictional young president, were practicing self-control, discipline, and accountability. They had been taught, and they were practicing, honor.
What do these tales tell us today? They tell us that honor must be taught, must be shaped, must be nurtured, and must be practiced. Constantly. Our government for the last eight years has been in free fall, spurred no doubt by the horror of a terrorist attack on our shores, but inexcusable nonetheless. The Hwarang were scholar-warriors during and after the Three-Kingdoms period in Korea. They were the template and the harbingers for the more widely known samurai of Japanese history. What both groups have in common, though, is what the United States needs to reestablish in the world community: a reputation for fierce and unyielding honorable conduct. Whether within our confines, or in distant lands, the insane notion that “we’ve got to act like the terrorists to beat the terrorists” is a morally bankrupt, naïve notion (like Ronald Reagan’s economic ideas) that peace through superior firepower works. One of the most important aspects of CHANGE and the incoming Obama administration is the retreat from dishonor and the reinstitution of honorable practice by the United States around the world.
I know I am stretching to say that the United States has deserved that reputation, contrary to Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s ridiculous assertions, but like that fictitious tale that purports to establish the United States as an honorable nation, that is part of what we should strive for. And like that young yuk kub who knew the consequences of making a mistake, and carried them out without reminder or immediate instruction because it was the correct thing to do, we as a nation must begin to act in accordance with the ideals we espouse.
Cross posted at Spreading the Word on December 5, 2008