2014 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Senior second place
Om and Rhee: Democratic Dictators

Patrick Henry once said, “Give me liberty or give me death,” and the South Koreans took that quote quite seriously when they battled for their freedom and democracy. Our Twisted Hero by Yi Munyol is an allegorical masterpiece representing the South Korean fight for democracy. The plot of Our Twisted Hero is about a young boy named Han Pyongt’ae and how he fights the evil of Om Sokdae’s evil empire. In between the lines though the story is a reflection of how the South Koreans fought against the evil of a dictatorship so that they could achieve democracy in the April Revolution. What seemed like a small rebellion in the class reflected a strong desire to establish real democracy in South Korea. Many Koreans felt like they were living under an oppressive dictatorship under the name of democracy.

The first teacher represents the U.S because they were giving power to the dictator blindly without making sure that he followed the rules of democracy (which both of the dictators were greatly violating.) Om resembles the dictatorship of “President” Rhee. The second teacher would ironically also represent the U.S, because, the U.S not only previously gave their support to the dictator when he was believed to be an authentic democratic president and then taking away the power when the U.S finally figured out that the “president” was no longer a president, but actually a dictator. When the U.S figured that out and lowered their economic support by over 200 million dollars the South Koreans perceived that the current President was no longer being supported by the United States. The demise of Om was analogous to President Rhee stepping down from his office. Conceding power was the hardest thing that either the bully or the despot could do. Both only relinquish authority when they realize that all hope of keeping power is lost. Surrendering power or detaching from authority is perhaps among the hardest things that a human can do.

Om is the person that people only respect because they are scared of his physical strength and social support. Many would look up to Sokdae; he is the cool kid who is older than all of the other children in the grade. Han is like the social outcast that no one really cares about, never mind respects. Ironically, he’s the only person who is not ignorant to the oppression. When Han was struggling with the injustice, there was no one there to help him. They were either too afraid to act or too despondent from the continuous subjugation of Om’s despotic methods to do anything. When Han abstains from voting because he notices that all of his other classmates are only following whatever authority that is placed over them, he seems disillusioned by his initial ideals. Han then found himself facing a moral dilemma, he could either help stomp on Sokdae when he was already down, or he could try to help Sokdae back to power by not telling the teacher about what had occurred. Han did not want to do either because he viewed both as cowardly acts. The class does no independent thinking of their own, and responds only to what they are told to do, out of fear of social reprisal. This resembles mobs of people acting in mass rebellion, many of the people are there because they want to be part of something and then that person does exactly what the person in charge says to do even, or mimic what others are doing.

When the U.S dropped the economic support of the Rhee regime, I believe that the South Koreans took it to mean that the U.S no longer supported President Rhee so only with this international guidance would they revolt for a democracy. Similiarly, the class turned against Om only with the insistence of the new teacher.. Sokdae was literally beaten; President Rhee only resigned. Still when both dictatorships were taken down, a chaotic form of democracy emerged. The people didn’t really know how to handle their own government, having little experience with authentic democratic principles. The classroom represents the April Revolution except to a much smaller, less violent degree. A major difference is that in one side a single person is targeted by the dictator so that the dictator can stay in power without opposition; while, in the other the people start to rebel when they learn they have support from a power greater than their oppressor.

Our Twisted Hero and the story of President Rhee have similar elements. They are effectively the same plotline told in different, less violent, ways. Overall these struggles with power are telling examples of the conflict between human greed and sense of righteousness. Each sequence of events shows how political change is not always comfortable. When there is a transition in government, there is chaos in the aftermath and it takes a long time to restore order.. The way that human nature is, we are resistant to change and many of us will resist overthrowing the most unjust ruler in an effort to resist the discomfort of change. Sometimes, the people must decide between an effective and productive dictatorship, or an ineffective and messy democracy. Sokdae’s dictatorship made the class the model class of the entire school; while, after Sokdae left the class fell from the top and never quite recovered. Which is better? Are we all just puppets living under someone else’s strings?