A Country of Liars <i>by Kim Dae-joong</i>
In every country there are crimes that uniquely reflect its
society. National Intelligence Service director-designate Kim Seung-kyu,
in a lecture he gave late in May when he was justice minister, said:
"The three representative crimes of our country are perjury, libel and
fraud." In simple comparison, not taking into account population ratio,
South Korea saw 16 times as many perjury cases in 2003 than Japan, 39
times as many libel cases and 26 times as many instances of fraud. That
is extraordinarily high given Japan's population is three times our own.
The common denominator of the three crimes is lying; in short,
we live in a country of liars. The prosecution devotes 70 percent of its
work to handling the three crimes, the former justice minister said.
And because suspects lie so much, the indictment rate in fraud cases is
19.5 percent, in perjury 29 percent and in libel 43.1 percent.
"Internationally, too, there is a perception that South Korea's
representative crime is fraud," Kim said, adding that recent major
scandals show how rampant lying is in this country.
prosecution is not free from responsibility, since there is a sense in
which its ingrained attitude in dealing with suspects for libel, fraud
and perjury has contributed to making the crimes the scourge they have
Lying is so common in our society because few recognize
that it leads to crime. "What's wrong with telling a little lie?" they
think. And here the big problem is that men of power, rather than
ordinary citizens, indulge in lying on a massive scale, to the point
where it is regarded as a necessary means of survival in some circles.
recent example that hurt us all is the lies of Kim Dae-yeop, finally
punished by a court for fabricating a charge against the opposition
presidential candidate in the 2002 elections. That lie determined the
fate of a government. When the opposition party demanded an apology, he
laughed in their face by sending apples -- phonetically, both apples and
apology are ��sagwa.��
More staggering lies were told by the
president's associates in the KORAIL ��Oilgate�� scandal. Deft
alterations of wording by an influential lawmaker close to the chief
executive and sudden failures of memory and brazen denials by others
have all turned out to be false. Nonetheless, they managed to slip the
clutches of the law, as if to show us that they can. We can well imagine
why the ex-justice minister made his complaint.
generally has its roots in the arrogance and egotism of those who feel
that what they do is always right and anything that gets in the way is
wrong. It also springs from a perception that the best strategy is to
reject anything that does not fit in with your beliefs -- for example by
thinking that you don��t have to abide by laws you have decided are
We can glimpse in the way our presidents wield their
enormous power a sense that it is all right on occasion for you to
distort a situation or slander others short of outright lying if that is
what it takes to achieve your aims. Nor can it be denied that our
cultural climate has justified the perception that if you manage to get
out of a tight spot by lying first, you will be able to overcome the
whole matter one way or the other.
In Western European
countries, the life of a politician or bureaucrat comes to an end when
their lies are revealed. Mistakes they forgive; lies never. The lies of
leaders and men of power are subject to punishment tens and hundreds of
times heavier than that given ordinary people, and to call someone a
liar is the ultimate insult. In Japan, children are taught from infancy
that honesty and frankness are the highest personal values.
too, need nationwide education to foster a public perception that lying
is a crime that degrades human nature and causes a plethora of social
evils. We must thoroughly punish slander and deception of others. Our
leadership and the entire country have much to learn from the mother in
Gwangju who early in June sent her son back to police after false
testimony got him off an assault charge, with a request that he be
taught some honesty.