[Viewpoint] Stripped of their dignity

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[Viewpoint] Stripped of their dignity

It was Napoleon Bonaparte who best demonstrated that a war is not won only with rifles, swords and cannons. At the core of his battle strategy was always a cause and a justification.

And the causes he adopted were great ones. In the beginning, the ideals of the French Revolution were the grand cause, and these were later replaced by the glory of the prosperous French Empire.

He planted in the hearts of the French troops pride in that they were not mere soldiers but the makers of a legend. That pride spread like a virus throughout the entire army and elevated the morale of the French troops.

What lessons can Napoleon teach the Korean military?

The sinking of the naval corvette Cheonan completely dispirited the troops. Frustration is permeating all segments of the ROK military. Napoleon said, “The morale is to the physical as three to one.” When soldiers have high morale and strong willpower, they can wipe out three times as many enemies.

However, when their spirit is destroyed and morale is down, even the biggest and most powerful army has to fall to itself. Now, the Korean military has lost even without fighting an enemy. It is just crumbling onto itself.

On April 7, a press conference was held at the Armed Forces Capital Hospital in the wake of the tragic Cheonan incident.

At the two-hour conference, 57 surviving crew members appeared in hospital gowns, with only their captain in full uniform. When I saw the sailors at the press conference, I thought something wasn’t right. Many people would have the same feeling. Just like the “human shields” on battlefields, the surviving sailors from the Cheonan were human shields for the media.

Why should they be answering questions after risking their lives on the sea while the military command is truly responsible for that task? All they did was to come back alive from the tragic incident.

George Patton, the famous U.S. general in World War II, said that discipline is “so ingrained that it is stronger than the excitement of battle or the fear of death.” He told commanders, “If you do not enforce and maintain discipline, you are potential murderers.”

And Patton believed that discipline comes from the uniform. He always wore high cavalry boots and a full uniform with a highly polished helmet adorned with three shining stars.

His staff officers told him not to wear the shiny helmet since there were snipers everywhere attempting to take his life, but he would not give up his outfit.

General Patton also said that soldiers without proper attire would not win a battle, and had them wear not only helmets and gaiters but also ties as well. In any situation, a soldier should look and act a soldier. When soldiers wear hospital gowns in public, they are admitting that they are not soldiers anymore.

From February to June 1944, before the invasion of Normandy, then Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower personally visited each of the 26 divisions, 24 airfields, five fleets and countless supply depots and hospitals. He shook hands with every soldier he met and encouraged them, saying, “You are the ones who will win this war.”

He inspired a sense of significance and pride from each soldier before he set out to battle, elevating the morale of the troops to the highest level possible.

I have not heard of any official from the Minister of Defense or the military personally visiting the surviving sailors and boosting their morale after the tragic incident. Instead they focused on keeping the survivors confined in the hospital and isolated from the outside.

Then, 14 days after the incident, they had the sailors wear hospital gowns in front of TV cameras. It was complete nonsense.

Of course, the media is also responsible for stirring up the confusion and chaos following the mishap as they delivered all kinds of rumors and speculation to the public. I am still wondering about the point of the television reports that Warrant Officer Han Joo-ho, a rescue diver, did not die in exactly the spot where the Cheonan sank.

Every day, a certain amount of food is distributed to soldiers. However, what they really need is morale. Unless they are fed with military spirit, they can not be called armed forces. Only those who are fully equipped with morale befitting the military can become effective soldiers.

However, the Republic of Korea is feeding their own soldiers not this essential diet of high morale, but a steady stream of insults. The military needs to put the soldiers on rations of morale and respect.

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


By Chung Jin-hong
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