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Jewelry vs. honor

Posted February. 14, 2013 06:07,   


The Medal of Honor is the highest U.S. military honor for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. The medal is mostly given posthumously to those killed in action, but occasionally to living heroes. Washington has given the award to nine servicemen over the past nine years of the war in Afghanistan. A big ceremony is held in the East Room, the largest room of the White House, in the presence of the president to confer the medal and tell of the hero`s achievements. Family members and fellow soldiers of the honoree are also invited to the event.

In September 2011, a Dong-A Ilbo correspondent was allowed to cover the ceremony from the East Room. At that time, the room was full of people including President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other high-ranking military officials as well as fellow soldiers of the honoree. A person who earns the medal receives 600 U.S. dollars a month and medical benefits. Traditionally, the honoree`s bosses salute the awardee first when he or she enters the ceremony. Considering the extraordinary prestige of the honor, one might expect a lavish appearance for the medal. The medal has a simple look, however, and is small and attached to a strap made of cloth.

Another East Room event was held in May last year. President Obama invited his predecessor George W. Bush and his wife to the White House to uncover a portrait of the couple to be displayed in the presidential office indefinitely. Former presidential aides to Bush were also invited to the ceremony and had a good time with White House staff, bursting into applause and laughter together. The event was held four years after Bush left the office, which was the last year of Obama’s first term. The incumbent president treated the former president and first lady and their staff with the utmost respect in the event. Obama humbly said he is a temporary tenant of the White House, adding he would be a former president himself in the future.

In Korea, the Grand Order of Mugunghwa that President Lee Myung-bak and First Lady Kim Yun-ok will receive before he leaves office is the highest decoration awarded by the Korean government. On President Lee giving the medal to himself, the presidential office said, “This is because the president deserves the medal.” The manufacturing cost of the medal is about 48 million won (44,200 U.S. dollars) given the jewels such as amethyst and ruby and about 25 ounces of gold. Because both the outgoing president and his wife will get a medal, about 100 million won (92,000 dollars) in taxpayers’ money is to be spent. The value of a medal, however, is not measured by the value of the jewelry used because money cannot buy honor. President Lee might have done better by opting to get the honor from his successor Park Geun-hye instead of following precedent, saying, “Former President Roh Moo-hyun did it, too.” If president decides not to award the medal, he or she has the country`s highest honor, the presidency. The Grand Order of Mugunghwa somehow does not receive the honor befitting its splendid appearance, and looks even less glamorous when compared to the simple-looking Medal of Honor of the U.S.

Editorial Writer Choi Yeong-hae (yhchoi65@donga.com)