2013 Sejong Writing Competition
Winning Entries :: Essays :: Young Adult third place tie
third place, young adult essay division
A Blind Society
Since the beginning of civilization, tyrants have risen to power, drastically changing the course of history through manipulation and abuse. As time passes, society looks back in disbelief, unable to comprehend that the masses could have been so blind to the wickedness of these leaders. However, history shows that it is simple for a society to ignore reality when under the control of a seemingly excellent leader. The reigns of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany and Om Sokdae in Our Twisted Hero suggest that the deification of a leader can blind an entire society to reality, making that society extraordinarily powerful but corrupt, until an outsider forces them to acknowledge the truth.
A crafty leader is able create blind obedience in their followers through lies or intimidation. In Nazi Germany, Hitler’s use of propaganda caused the citizens to regard him as their savior: “On all sides the Nazi cause is being promoted and streamers proclaim: "All power to Hitler, the Leader, the Deliverer!" (“Hitler’s Propaganda Machine”). Already desperate because of post-WWI unrest (Scheffer), the citizens gladly welcomed Hitler’s promises of redemption. It was the will of society to give power to this tyrant. Likewise, in Our Twisted Hero, the students themselves create the situation that allows Om Sokdae to gain power. On the first day in his new school, Han observes the strange behavior that his classmates exhibit towards the class monitor, Sokdae. When Han refuses to follow Sokdae’s orders, his classmates ridicule his disobedience: “‘You mean you don’t come when the monitor calls? What sort of school did you go to? Where was it? Didn’t you have a class monitor” (Mun-yol 11). Confused, Han plays along and obeys Sokdae. Thus, his uncertainty about the situation forces him to follow the leader of the class. Both Hitler and Sokdae accumulate power by confusing the other people and twisting their perspective so that they are unable to discern reality.
A leader with total power over a society is able to increase that society’s strength even if there is dissatisfaction among their followers. To clarify, leaders such as Hitler and Sokdae are able to create powerful societies despite evidence of corruption. For example, Hitler raised his country out of the ruins of WWI and “converted Germany into a fully militarized society” (“HITLER, Adolf.”) Although his methods and motivations were appalling, Hitler managed to transform a weary, beaten country into a dominant military power feared by nations around the world. He was able to do this because of the citizens’ confusion and fear. Sokdae is similar to Hitler in this respect. Though emotionally and physically brutal, Sokdae makes their class the best: “Our class under Sokdae was a model for the whole school” (Mun-yol 29). Fear of Sokdae is a more powerful motivator than teachers’ encouragement. Therefore, the class strives for excellence in order to avoid Sokdae’s wrath. Although Hitler’s methods may have been more deceptive at the start of his rise to power, both utilize fear to achieve results. Han notes “…the repressive atmosphere in the class and the dark crushed faces of the boys… Clearly, beat the boys and abused them… Although he ate their snacks and used their things without giving any recompense, the boys invariably had offered the stuff freely” (Mun-yol 29). The other boys do not know how to respond to Sokdae’s abuse except to suffer in silence. While their classroom may seem to be the best to the rest of the school, they are experiencing severe inner turmoil. They fool themselves into believing that everything is perfectly fine and that they want Sokdae to be in charge, but the truth seeps out in their defeated faces. Hitler and Sokdae were able to increase the power of their society by playing on society’s fear and confusion, despite the emotional turmoil of their followers.
When a society has lost its grip on reality due to fear and confusion, it takes an outside perspective to force them to recognize the truth. In Nazi Germany, the rest of the world had to fight an entire war in order to force the Germans to recognize the horror of their corruption: “The Third Reich lasted twelve years and three months. It was responsible for some fifty million deaths and additional millions of injuries, as well as immeasurable personal and collective suffering and economic, social, and moral devastation. The end of the war revealed the extent and nature of the Holocaust. The Reich’s vast and systematic genocide shocked the world” (Nazi Germany). While the rest of the world is astounded by what the Germans did, Germany did not realize their atrocities until their country lay in ruins. They were so blinded by Hitler’s lies that they willingly committed terrible crimes against humanity. The rest of the global community had to destroy them in order to force them to recognize what they had become. In Our Twisted Hero, the new teacher gets rid of Sokdae and tries to restore order to the classroom. However, Sokdae ambushes groups of boys on the way to school and beats them up by himself: “The teacher’s method of the solving the problem was rather unusual. For some reason, the teacher dealt with boys who were absent because of Sokdae with beatings and scoldings that were harsher than ever, even though the matter was really beyond their control” (Mun-yol 115). Han erroneously thinks that Om Sokdae alone is able to overpower several boys fighting together. The boys are defeated because of their mindset; they believe that they have no power after years living under Sokdae’s rule. The teacher has to physically beat them in order to make them understand that in reality, they are stronger than Sokdae. While Germany made excuses for their crimes, it was in their power to defy Hitler all along; their confused perspective made them willing to submit to his reign. Similarly, the students’ usual blind submission to Sokdae meant that it was nearly impossible for them to recognize their diseased mindset.
"Hitler's Propaganda Machine." Government, Politics, and Protest: Essential Primary Sources. Ed. K. Lee Lerner, Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, and Adrienne Wilmoth Lerner. Detroit: Gale, 2006. 264-270. Gale World History In Context. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.
"Nazi Germany." Gale Encyclopedia of World History: Governments. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Gale World History In Context. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.
“HITLER, Adolf.” (n.d.): Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. Web. 39 Jan. 2013.
Mun-Yol, Yi. Our Twisted Hero. N.p.: Hyperion, 2001. N. pag. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.
Scheffer, Paul. "Hitler: phenomenon and portent." Foreign Affairs 91.1 (2012). Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.