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Letter Writing Day

Posted December. 06, 2012 06:09,   


Dec. 7 is Letter Writing Day in the U.S. A prevailing belief is that the day marks the death of Marcus Cicero (B.C. 106-B.C. 43), an ancient Roman philosopher and politician. He was admired as the father of the nation in his time, but was politically disadvantaged and forced to flee Rome due to conflict with Julius Caesar and the power elite. Cicero then wrote countless letters while in exile in Greece. Elementary school teachers in the U.S. encourage students to write letters on Letter Writing Day, saying children have to mail their letters this day if they want them delivered in time for Christmas to Santa Claus in the North Pole. This, however, is probably a desperate ploy to save paper letters from extinction due to the advent of email and other instant communication tools.

Letters are often used as materials in class lessons. The letter that German composer Ludwig Von Beethoven wrote to the “imperishable woman” in 1806 is in the typical form of a love letter. His charged message reading “Can you change this situation where you are not mine in entirety and I hardly can become everything of you?” contains his agony over an unrequited love. The letter that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln sent to five mothers who lost their sons in the Civil War is the one most admired by Americans. The lines “I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save” exude his profound sincerity.

In Korea, letters that Toegye Lee Hwang, the great Confucian scholar of the Joseon Dynasty from Dandong, North Gyeongsang Province, exchanged for seven years with Ki Dae-seung, a young aspiring scholar from Gwangju in their debate over the human capacity for ethics and natural emotion, elevated by a notch their manners and elegance in correspondence. In one letter, Lee wrote, “Upon receiving your letter that rendered me to realize my wrongs, I have realized that the words in my previous letter were tough and ill-mannered.” This showed his personal dignity. The younger generation in the modern era has grown accustomed to email, which is conveyed with a simple mouse click, and would probably scoff at snail mail, which would require a writer to give much thought before writing and then take months by courier to reach the recipient.

It could be mere coincidence but on the occasion of Letter Writing Day, Kim Ok-doo, a former lawmaker and member of the Donggyo-dong faction that backed the late President Kim Dae-jung, sent an open letter to Han Hwa-gap, former chairman of the Democratic Party who was once nicknamed “Little D.J. (Kim Dae-jung).” Kim Ok-doo disguised the letter as if it was meant to express regret over the loss of a friend from the same faction, but the real intent was apparently to blast Han as a “traitor.” Strictly speaking, this can hardly be called a letter because though the message was prepared in letter form, it was emailed to reporters and Han himself was the recipient. Kim instead should have ridiculed Han through a 140-word Twitter message. When will Koreans have a chance to read an elegant piece of writing by a gracious politician?

Editorial Writer Ha Tae-won (triplets@donga.com)