[VIEWPOINT]Dispatch is linked to our securityIraq today resembles Vietnam, but not because the Vietnam War resembled jihad, the holy war. It is guerrilla warfare that is getting unusually serious despite the U.S. declaration of victory, as more American soldiers are being killed now than during the war. The United States asked us to send troops. We face a security situation similar to the one during the Vietnam War: if we don’t send them, the United States may withdraw its military presence along the demarcation line.
The United States is asking us to dispatch combat forces to take charge of a whole area after we have already sent construction and medical teams. The same thing happened in the Vietnam War. At first, we sent engineering and medical units and then, according to the U. S. request for additional deployment, we sent troops five times, including the elite troops of the Blue Dragon and Tiger, and White Horse divisions.
While Iraq may be different from Vietnam in that we have to pay the expenses of the deployment, our soldiers will bleed all the same. As in the Tet offensive, when the American embassy was occupied by Vietcong forces during its surprise attack on the lunar new year, the worst situation might develop again. But we intend to send troops because our ally, closely linked to the security of the Korean Peninsula, is driven into a corner.
If it were a winning war for the United States, we wouldn’t need to go. They say they can’t see the end of the tunnel, but we are going there to pierce the tunnel all the more because they can’t see the end. The Republic of Korea is not Switzerland. It is not a country that can survive without international cooperation for its security.
To reach an agreement beyond the parties, politicians naturally should listen to the opinions opposing the dispatch. But it is nonsense to send a survey team to Iraq, only to bring controversy over the carelessness of its survey. The survey team on the troop deployment to Vietnam in the 1970s, which had secretly been to Vietnam, also missed the point. It reported that “It is useless to fight because everyone, except President Ngo Dinh Diem, is communist in Vietnam.” Ridiculously, it sent 100,000 spades and hoes, arguing that it was better to help the country with its national construction.
This is why the leadership of the president is important. Modern warfare is the war of a president. If, swayed by public opinion, the president as the commander-in-chief cannot make a decision, it is hard for him to win the war. If a national referendum is President Roh Moo-hyun’s decision, he should not seek a vote of confidence over the endless political corruption scandals. Instead, he should give priority to security policy. This is not only constitutional but also instrumental in unifying national opinion and enhancing our status in international society.
I am reminded of the former First Lady Yook Young-soo, who said, “Cigarette butts piled up on the president’s ashtray” after troops were dispatched to Vietnam. Amid the wailing cries of mothers who blamed him and demanded that he “send back their dead sons,” President Park Chung Hee had to make a lonely decision on each additional deployment.
The policymakers should now think about how to fight, going beyond the pros and cons of the dispatch. The expeditionary force can get into trouble whether it fights well or poorly. The force will be criticized if it commits cruelties, or if it is meek in battle. The same thing happened in the Vietnam War. Therefore, psychological warfare will be the secret to winning the war and service to the people is its overriding task.
War is the extension of politics. Diplomacy is needed more than warfare to win the war. Some countries profit while opposing the unilateral conduct of the war by the United States, much less sending troops. Others may fall back empty handed after being severely criticized by the public for dispatching soldiers.
The challenge U.S. President George W. Bush met is the same as the latter. There are no diplomats apart from soldiers, that is, soldiers are none other than diplomats. Being a former war correspondent, I revisited Vietnam after dozens of years. There remained no trace of monuments erected in honor of the victories in numerous battles, but schools, hospitals, taekwondo centers and the friendship the Korean military had built remained intact.
Troop deployment in an era of $10,000 per-capita income should be different from the one in an era of $100 per-capita income. It was a great lesson that Korea was involved in the controversy over sending mercenaries to Vietnam for the United States.
It was true that our participation in the Vietnam War led to the construction boom in the Middle East, laying the groundwork for an economic takeoff. But our joining the war resulted in special demands from Vietnam, not vice versa: we did not dispatch troops to make money.
In pursuing profit without preparation, we should not expect too much from the restoration projects of post-war Iraq. Iraq is different from Vietnam because 32 countries have joined the war to help the United States. As for securing oil resources, the influence of the United States is limited because the interests of the major powers are entangled in the $200 billion debt the Hussein administration incurred. War is like a chameleon. There’s no knowing when and how it will change its form. If a troop deployment is unavoidable, we should not be divided, but should unite over how to fight in Iraq.
* The writer is a columnist living in the United States. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Kyu-jang