[FOUNTAIN]Same decision 40 years laterPeriod of engagement: eight years and eight months. Number of troops dispatched: 312,000. Enemy soldiers felled: 41,000. Our troops killed: 4,900. Number of missions fought: 577,400.
That is the record of Korea’s participation in the Vietnam War, which started in July 1964 with the dispatch of liaison officers followed by four dispatches of combat troops.
The campaign was unprecedented in Korea’s participation in combat overseas. Korean troops have participated in seven campaigns since then, including the Gulf War 12 years ago launched by the senior President George Bush. But none came close in scale and brutality to the action in the Vietnam War.
The number of soldiers sent to Vietnam by the United States, whose war it really was, is believed to be 2.6 million. Of them, more than 57,000 were killed. Arithmetic shows that one out of every 46 American soldiers sent to Vietnam was a combat death, versus one out of every 64 Korean soldiers.
The possibility of such casualty figures tormented President Park Chung Hee as he mulled the deployment of troops to Vietnam. The first lady at the time, Yuk Young-soo, said that the president had never looked as lonely as in those days, chain-smoking four packs a day. At that time the war was not questioned by Koreans, contrary to the acerbic debate on the war in Iraq.
President Park eventually chose national interest over the lives of Koreans. The United States was making no secret that it was ready to pull two divisions out of Korea for reinforcements in Vietnam if there were no support from Korea. The United States was also offering to pick up the costs incurred by the deployment and there were also opportunities for Korean businesses to take part in contracts for supplies, construction and aid projects.
The fact that only noncombat troops are being considered for service in Iraq gives President Roh Moo-hyun a lot less to worry about than President Park nearly 40 years ago. But there is little difference in the impact on our national security in the event Korea decides to refuse the request. On top of everything else is the possibility that financial capital might be pulled out of the Korean market.
There should be little question that Mr. Roh must look to that which moved Mr. Park -- national interests -- since he is mandated to act in the best interest of the nation.
by Chun Young-gi
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.