[FORUM]An important ally needs our helpWASHINGTON ― President Roh Moo-hyun is distressed by the question of troop deployment to Iraq. This is an overwhelming task for him. There should be a conflict in his mind between the national interest and a good cause, and between his past political life and present duty.
Korea is a country where people live with the prospect of a military confrontation with North Korea. Mr. Roh should be familiar with the functional relationship between peace and war. To know how to attain and maintain peace is the secret of leadership. It will be the same even after the reunification of our country because of our geopolitical situation, surrounded by major powers.
When the leader and intellectuals oppose war without having any power to keep the peace, the people suffer miserable humiliation and pain. This was shown by the tragedy of the Joseon Dynasty a century ago.
Peace is not simply the opposite of war. True peace can be attained when we can extinguish an enemy’s will to fight in addition to having a military advantage. This is what Abraham Lincoln realized in the American Civil War. If Mr. Roh truly respects Lincoln, he may know the delicate correlation between war and peace.
The United States asked South Korea to send troops to Iraq because it has had difficulty handling the post-war problems there. President George W. Bush’s popularity has dropped and discussion over his unilateralism has been heated. Deciding on a troop deployment is a tough task. But when an ally asks for help, the other country should help. International relations are the same as human relations. They should be bilateral. Then the reliability of the alliance between Korea and the United States will be increased and peace on the Korean Peninsula will be consolidated.
A democratic country should respect public opinion. And leading public opinion and providing a vision is the role of leadership. Immediately after North Korea attacked South Korea on June 25, 1950, U.S. President Harry Truman promptly dispatched American forces to South Korea. There was no opinion poll. As is written on the monument at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, American soldiers came to Korea, a previously unheard-of country. They were sent not as a result of an opinion poll but by the faith of the leadership.
If a military emergency takes place on the Korean Peninsula, we have to turn to the United States for help. What if the United States should make a decision based on an opinion poll? Supporting us probably would be difficult. The proliferation of anti-American sentiment in Korea has made Americans think twice about Korea. They feel that their participation in the Korean War, during which some 37,000 American soldiers were killed in action, is undervalued and that American troops stationed in Korea are ill-treated. Who would like to send their children and brothers to Korea?
If it is under the banner of the United Nations, the cause for a troop deployment to Iraq will have added meaning. But even without the UN flag, the cause is clear. The reconstruction of Iraq is the beginning of a new democratic history, breaking with Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror. The cause is persuasive enough.
The troop deployment in the Vietnam War in the 1960s was the solitary decision of the Park Chung Hee administration. While U.S. public opinion was divided over the war and Washington suffered from serious confrontation internally, President Park agreed to send troops, widening the horizon of our history. Given Korea’s per capita gross national product of a mere $200, the younger generation at that time agonized over the decision.
While bearing in mind the significance of the anti-war movement in the United States, that generation of Koreans was faithful to the national interest, such as economic development and the reinforcement of the alliance with the United States. Its anguish was totally different from that of the “386 generation,” which had only to shout for democracy.
The former generation’s participation in the Vietnam War laid a stepping stone for an economic takeoff. It also raised our voices in the international community. That generation had wisdom and imagination that cannot be dreamed of now, with a contradictory, pro-North Korean, leftist way of thinking that is anti-war while ignoring the nuclear threat from the North.
Iraq is not the second Vietnam. A majority of the Iraqi people hate the ousted Saddam Hussein. He is fundamentally different from Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, who humbly led the struggle for independence.
If we deploy troops to Iraq, we can create our own history, as we did in the Vietnam War. We have a solid cause. Besides an economic gain, we can gain access to state-of-the-art military technology. We can also realize the correlation between peace and war. A troop deployment to Iraq is a new opportunity and challenge in Korean history.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Bo-gyoon