[OUTLOOK]The ultimate power: to resign

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[OUTLOOK]The ultimate power: to resign

It’s been decided that 3,000 troops will be dispatched to Iraq. However, the nature of the troops has yet to be decided. The Ministry of National Defense, which had argued that we should send a division, a force large enough to act independently in keeping public order as the United States had requested, is dissatisfied with the decision. The ministry had lost out to the young Blue House officials personally close to the president in this decision-making process. The Blue House had until the end refused to take the word of a professional expert group.
The president is the head of state and his decision must be respected. The president, all the more, is the supreme commander of our military and has the authority to make the final decision in all military affairs. Does this mean that the administration must follow the president’s decision even when it’s wrong? The first answer would be “yes.” This is especially so in military affairs because it would be the way to establish a tradition of bestowing the ultimate authority over the military to civilian authority.
In the winter of 1950, the Chinese intervened in the Korean War. As the situation turned unfavorable, the tension between U.S. President Harry Truman and his commander Douglas MacArthur deepened. General MacArthur had asked permission to block the Chinese coast and to bomb Manchuria. President Truman wanted a truce with the Chinese. In the end, General MacArthur was dismissed from his post. According to a Gallup survey at the time, 69 percent of the American public supported the general. General MacArthur’s dismissal was even called “the biggest political event since the Civil War” by some. The congress held a hearing and there were voices calling for the impeachment of President Truman. This was a conflict between a president and a professional soldier. General MacArthur accepted his dismissal and returned home.
Professional bureaucrats and soldiers usually serve their country for their entire life. They serve their country with insight and expertise in their fields that no other can have. Therefore, it is possible that they hold the better and wiser judgment over the president and the politicians in their particular fields. It is because we acknowledged their judgment that a country that chooses a democratic system has a professional bureaucratic system. Professional bureaucrats prevent political forces from taking over the government and ruling over the country as they please.
The Korean public seems to trust the prosecution more than it did in the past. They believe that the prosecution has liberated itself from the political leadership and has recovered its proper function. In the same way, should the military, the police, the diplomats, the Ministry of Unification and the tax service carry out their duties independently, they also would receive the applause of the public. With the strictly professional mind of the professional bureaucrats and soldiers, we have no reason to fear political turmoil. Even if a flood of politicians boasting the same “code” rushes in, should the professionals maintain their positions in their respective fields, there would be no reason to feel apprehension. The military has a clear logic and purpose behind this dispatch. The ministry declared that some 5,000 to 10,000 soldiers are needed to maintain public order in a specific area in Iraq. This is the number of soldiers needed if our men and women are to carry out their duties without unnecessary sacrifice. These numbers are also in consideration of the request from the U.S. government.
The president knows why this year’s security consultative meeting ended in the worst possible state, but Mr. Roh chose to ignore that when he made his decision. How should professional bureaucrats and soldiers react when the president makes the wrong decision based on political interests? Should they follow his order without saying anything? This is where the tension between political leadership and the professionals begins. The military has no choice but to follow the orders of the supreme commander. Should the situation end here?
The answer to that question in this case is no. Either the defense minister or the joint chiefs of staff should stand up to the president even at the risk of losing their jobs. They should resign in protest of the fact that their professional advice as the top persons responsible for a group of 600,000 troops was not accepted. Their resignation would teach their successors what the honor of a soldier means and the authority to respect the judgment of the military.
Because we have a cowardly military leadership, however, that wouldn’t even attend the funeral of the soldiers who lost their lives in the naval skirmish with a North Korean ship off the west coast for fear of displeasing President Kim Dae-jung, political leadership looks down on professional soldiers. A group of soldiers who are so afraid of politicians that they cower at the slightest word of the president are no professional soldiers. Such a weak group cannot but be subordinated to politics and to political power.
The last power that heads of administrative branches of a government can employ to hold their own despite their subordinate position to the president is the power to resign. By resigning resolutely when one is unable to protect one’s field against the political will of the president, a bureaucrat or a soldier will be able to help his organization amass the strength to gain independence from political authority. Before leaving the military, General MacArthur spoke these famous words at a Congressional hearing: “An old soldier never dies; he just fades away.”
But the general’s spirit as a professional soldier still lives on vividly in the hearts of U.S. soldiers today.

* The writer is chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Moon Chang-keuk
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