[INSIGHT]Attack Aftermath Holds Lessons for Korea

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[INSIGHT]Attack Aftermath Holds Lessons for Korea

As everyone likely knows, the United States is currently occupied in a heated discussion. The talks involve everything from what brought on the calamity, to what to think about it and how to repair the damage and restore life. Meanwhile, energized by a unified national rage, preparations are being made for a swift retaliatory attack against the terrorists. According to foreign news reports, many intellectuals and media writers point out the slipshod domestic security problems of the United States and reflect on the great arrogance and self-righteousness the country has maintained internationally. And those reports predict all will change after the terrorist attacks on America. Citizens think they won't be safe anywhere. Their perceptions of airplanes and skyscrapers have changed a lot.

Compared to the situation prevailing before the terrorist attacks, the United States is expected to come out with a completely different show in several sectors, such as security, diplomacy and social order. We need to learn from the United States that is struggling to cope with and overcome terrorism. The United States demonstrated prompt national unity and bipartisan reaction right after the attacks. Could we have done the same?

New York's firefighters did their best to evacuate people trapped in the World Trade Center until the last minute and dedicated their lives while struggling to rescue just one more person in the collapsing buildings. Do our firefighters have the same sense of mission? People say the evacuation exercise practiced in preparation for emergencies reduced the casualty number in spite of the devastating collapse. On the other hand, do we have such an evacuation exercise plan? Volunteer workers and volunteer military recruits are waiting in line, and the amount of blood donated exceeded the demand just in a day. Could we expect such a mature effort from ourselves?

Another thing that demands attention is the lively discussion that is taking place in the United States. Even amid the tremendous outrage toward the terrorist attacks, the American people are mature enough to consider whether it would be appropriate to seek revenge and whether American foreign policy has been biased against the Islamic world. Even as more than 90 percent of the population was calling for military action against those responsible, there were those who expressed concern about the vicious cycle of revenge and those who suggested the United States seek reconciliation with the anti-American forces. If there were such people in Korea in a similar situation, where a certain sector of society is constantly branded anti-reunification and anti-reform, they would have been dubbed anti-state and unpatriotic.

Unmistakably, our ability to respond to terrorist attacks or natural disasters falls short of that of the United States. Whether we can reach a speedy national consensus as the Americans did in a crisis situation remains unclear. We are not even adequately trained for such emergencies. In order for there to be a bipartisan response to a national crisis, there needs to be trust on the part of the people toward those in power and also a trust between the governing and opposition parties. Korea lacks both of these.

Our key intelligence is monopolized by the governing forces. Law enforcement agencies wiretap or delve into citizens' bank accounts at will. Under such circumstances, a bipartisan response to a crisis is likely difficult and a national consensus even more so.

Further, South Korea has as its neighbor a country very much experienced and equipped with a tremendous amount of know-how when it comes to terrorism: North Korea. While we are in dialogue with the North, preparations are still called for against potential terrorist assaults from North Korea. Are we prepared? The United States is discussing measures to beef up its security after the terrorist attacks. But is South Korea so safe that we can ignore any extensive discussions on our security?

While the terrorist attacks struck the United States, they provide an opportunity for us to reflect on our own lives. By observing the reaction of the United States, the president, politicians, government officials as well as average citizens should learn from their counterparts and think about what role they should play in crisis situations. After a certain period of time, such lessons and discoveries should lead to security policies that strengthen the country's crisis management ability, and review of our preparation against potential military and terrorist attacks. They should then be institutionalized through legislation at the National Assembly. The civic-mindedness on the part of average citizens should also be heightened. The government should think particularly hard about how to amass a national consensus at a time of crisis and how to obtain bipartisan support toward their policies.


The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Song Chin-hyok

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