[OUTLOOK]‘Enemy’ or ‘threatening forces’?“We are the Navy. We are the protectors of our seas. We would die and die again to serve our people and our country. The seas must be protected for our land to exist, and where our land exists is our country.” This is the official song of the South Korean Navy. What must naval officers be thinking when they sing this song these days? Why do we have to protect the seas? Why do we go through all this trouble to patrol the Northern Limit Line (NLL)? If the NLL falls, Incheon International Airport immediately falls into the enemy’s hands. The sea routes to Incheon would come under the control of the enemy.
Imagine a scenario where a North Korean military boat is crossing this very NLL into our waters. There is not a single Chinese boat in sight, yet the North Koreans send an obviously deceptive radio transmission that they are chasing a Chinese fishing boat. The North Korean boat keeps approaching. It is the same vessel that fired at and sank our patrol boat in a naval skirmish that took place in the Yellow Sea two years ago. Failing to report about the deceptive transmissions, our boat drives away the North Korean vessel with warning shots.
This is what happened on July 14. After the incident, the Blue House was hopping mad. At the North Koreans? No, at our own men. They were censured for failing to report that the North Korean boat had responded to our radio calls. It is true that failing to report such a fact is problematic. All developments of a situation must be strictly reported.
Why did the naval commander, who had been taught since his days in the naval academy that the No. 1 rule in the military is reporting to one’s superiors and following their orders, not forward the information? According to the naval commander, it was because he feared that had he reported to his superiors he would not have been allowed to fire warning shots to drive the vessel away. Without looking into the fundamental reason behind this incident, which is a lack of confidence officers have in their superiors, there is only criticism about the superficial details.
The military is being accused of having abused the existing peace system between the North and the South. Military officers are now accused of being belligerent because they were trained under the military regimes of the past. All in all, one cannot help feeling sorry for the navy. They are accused of hampering reconciliation with the North for shooting at a North Korean vessel that was intruding into our waters and which could have caused great damage to their ship had it been allowed to approach. It seems that the navy must now answer to both Pyeongyang and Seoul for their actions. Most shameful is the Blue House and government’s reaction. They have yet to make any remarks censuring or warning the North Koreans for having crossed the maritime boundary into our waters. Why does our government act so tolerantly to the North Koreans and so harshly to our own navy? Shipments of food aid were still crossing the armistice line on the day the North Korean ship intruded into our waters.
The biggest responsibility of a state is to protect the lives and property of its people. For this, the state must have power and maintain a military and collect taxes. It is because of the state that the people do not need to worry about enemies outside and live their daily lives. Yet are we indeed living in such a country?
Some might disagree and say that this is an oversensitive reaction and that we are not being invaded by the enemy right now. Our military has abolished the concept of “main enemy” that once referred to North Korea. We are no longer to call North Korea our “main enemy.” Then again, what are we to expect in a country where people who have gone to jail for engaging in espionage activities for the North are now in the Presidential Commission on Suspicious Deaths and summoning military commanders for interrogation? So, we have no enemies now. Why do we need a military? The government says it is because of “threatening forces.” When asked who these “threatening forces” are, we are told that it is North Korea. What kind of word play is this? We are not allowed to use the word “enemy” but are allowed to use the term “threatening forces.” This is purportedly because Pyeongyang preferred the latter. So, are we now to call them whatever they tell us to call them?
The government tries to explain this inconsistency in light of the dual nature of the situation on the Korean Peninsula. We are one people but we are facing each other with guns. Therefore, we are not to call them “the enemy.” This makes sense. However, wouldn’t this work only if the other side also stops acting like we are their enemy? Or are we to continue reassuring the North Koreans that they are not our enemy even when they engage in acts of provocation as they did this time in crossing the NLL?
It would actually be better if our confusion and strife were because of the government and the president’s personal hostility. They must have really suffered in the past to hate anything that has to do with the establishment and conventional institutions, even now when they themselves are in power. If this was because of inequality and unfairness in our society in the past, we should set it right. The rich should be prepared to pay more taxes. After all, we are all part of one community. We have a common duty to those who are suffering in poverty. If certain politicians have family members who collaborated with the Japanese in the colonial days, they should admit it and apologize. Getting history right is an important task.
However, there is just one thing that we really cannot give in to. We cannot give in to personal sentiments compromising the national security. “I don’t really like established institutions but I do know that the security of this country comes first before all. I think wealth distribution should come first but I don’t believe in communism.” If only the president made clear that this is how he feels, we wouldn’t be in such confusion now.
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk