[Letters] The stomach for failure

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[Letters] The stomach for failure

I have a few problems with the Viewpoint opinion expressed by Kim Jin on April 11, “The state exists to protect its people.”

He correctly points out the successes of both United States and Israeli forces to defend their citizens, but those successes do follow failures, some of them catastrophic.

Take Desert One, for example.

It does not matter how well trained and equipped Korean Special Forces may be; if the political will is lacking to resort to violence they might as well guard Dokdo.

I think the political will falters because the public’s reaction to failure will result in widespread recrimination and become a lightning rod for more civil unrest.

Let us be clear on this point: Failure means the death of one, a few, or many. That is not a consequence to be taken lightly.

Mr. Kim’s expectation is to succeed right out of the box, the very first time forces are engaged in an off-peninsula crisis situation that calls for violent action.

That success is probably not going to happen, but Korea does have a vast storehouse of lessons learned from other countries so it could avoid a complete debacle.

The recent terrorist action in Mumbai is a distressing failure of the state to prepare for the defense of its citizens as well as guests when considering the global and local face of terrorism.

Korea needs to take advantage of the opportunities that have been provided to put their forces to the ultimate test. Until those forces engage in real violence, I find it hard to equate them with forces of other countries that have stepped into the fire.

I am not referring to only the U.S., Israeli, and French experiences, but also Britain’s SAS and Germany’s GSG9.

Korea has the international connections to engage in special operations if the public will allow the politicians the latitude to consider such actions.

Geography is a pathetic excuse for inaction.

Indeed, U.S. forces would certainly have welcomed a more robust and combat-oriented deployment of Korean forces in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. That would have permitted Korea to break into that small group of democracies - the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia - that have the political wherewithal to resort to armed force in defense of their values and alliances.

Former President Roh was an astute observer of the political winds and knew how far he could sail against them. The Zaytun division was not engaged in hostilities and its actions were constrained by public opinion.

Iraq may be winding down, but there are still plenty of opportunities in Afghanistan, the Proliferation Security Initiative and the pirate threat to demonstrate Korea’s military prowess in the international arena.

I am not asking the Korean people to become insensitive to death and destruction, but recognize that there is significant risk in engaging terrorism and piracy outside your country, and as a nation, it ought to expect setbacks.

Until the public can accept failure in a crisis situation, Korean politicians will keep those sunglasses and bags of money ready.

Wayne Harrell, Seoul, Korea
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