[Viewpoiont] Netizens add insult to grave injury

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[Viewpoiont] Netizens add insult to grave injury

Anyone who has served in the military knows the stature of the chief warrant officer of the underwater demolition team. The late warrant officer Han Joo-ho could have avoided putting his life on the line. The 53-year-old officer was a legend among the elite special-purpose force, a respected trainer, who chose to dive into freezing waters in a desperate effort to save 46 junior sailors trapped in a sunken warship near the disputed Yellow Sea border with North Korea.

As naval forces vainly fought strong currents in an underwater rescue campaign for sailors buried in the Cheonan, a 1,200-ton warship that now sits in two pieces on the seabed, someone wrote casually on a Web bulletin board: “I am a diver. No matter how harsh the waves may look on the surface, everything is calm under the water.” The blogger sneered that his diving club peers would do a better job than the Navy divers. His comment stirred a ripple, and was trailed by a train of sympathizers.

I suggest that these netizens go back to articles from March 19, 2004. British technical diver John Bennett, the first diver to reach a depth of 305 meters (1,000 feet) in scuba gear, went missing at a depth of 45 meters in Korean waters while trying to detect oil leakage from a shipwreck. The 44-year-old professional diver was swept away by strong waves near Wangdeung Island, off North Jeolla, and his body was never found despite an extensive search. The waters near Baengnyeong Island are even harsher. They are no place for an amateur diving club.

Surfing the Internet for the past week, one cannot help being overwhelmed with frustration and angst. Web wanderers had a field day toying with all kinds of conspiracy theories on the Cheonan disaster. One suggested a suicide blast and another floated the scenario of the presidential office ordering the kill. When President Lee Myung-bak made an unprecedented visit to Baengnyeong Island, someone wrote that the criminal always revisits the scene of his crime. A host of netizens claimed they had served on the Cheonan vessel.

The opposition parties danced to this grotesque tune. Representative Lee Jong-geol of the main opposition Democratic Party went on the radio and cited a statement by a family member of a missing sailor, who told his father he had to end a phone conversation because he was in the middle of an emergency. Lee suggested the accident occurred during some kind of mission. But his accusation is laughable, as a look at the rescue footage shows. How could the soldiers pulled out of the water be in their underclothes if they had been engaged in a combat mission?

New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani emerged as a hero after the World Trade Center collapse. His suit and shoes were covered with ash, mud and sweat and he practically lived on the site of the tragedy to command the rescue operation and boost his city’s morale at a time of despair and shock. “Tomorrow New York is going to be here,” he said. “And we’re going to rebuild, and we’re going to be stronger than we were before.” His spirit at the heart of Ground Zero moved and assured New Yorkers and the rest of America. But he was lucky to have great citizens at his side.

But when confronting tragedy, New Yorkers endured and silently swallowed their grief. At the mourning, they queued to murmur the names of the victims and place a flower at Ground Zero. The citizens united and comforted one another in the face of an apocalyptic disaster.

Look at us. Instead of comforting, we are busy biting each others’ heads off. Korea’s Web citizens were experts on infectious agents amid accusations of mad cow disease in U.S. beef imports, and then wizards at stem cell research when Dr. Hwang Woo-suk came under attack on suspicion of fabricating experiments.

Now they are naval experts. They have mastered the differences among naval mines, explosives and torpedoes that could have attacked the warship. They explain the kinds of damage, including the bubble-jet effect, or water pressure, created by a blast of a mine some distance from a target ship, which can be explosive enough to break up a ship. They debate the possibility of a rupture due to the deterioration of the ship. The polemic is getting more and more inflammatory. If this keeps up, it won’t be only the Cheonan that is torn in two. The entire country can be split apart.

The exact cause of the explosion and sinking can only be known after the ship is hauled to the surface. The military cannot be commended for its early response to the disaster, but at the same time it should not be attacked. New Yorkers waited until the last ashes were gone before dissecting the procedural problems.

The Navy is our only hope if we want to find survivors or their bodies. We must respect the efforts and sacrifice by soldiers like the late officer Han by offering more time. But netizens hungry for titillation don’t specialize in patience, respect or wisdom.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Lee Cheol-ho
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