[Viewpoint] No statue of limitations on Cheonan

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[Viewpoint] No statue of limitations on Cheonan

The front gate of a military training base in the city of Uijeongbu was packed with people. Each new recruit with a freshly shaven head arrived with three or more family members and friends.

Restaurants near the training base were crammed with parents and their sons, who had to enter the gates by 1:30 p.m.

Vendors lined up near the base to sell watches, prepaid telephone cards, pens, nail-cutters, first-aid medical kits and other items that the young men may have forgotten to pack in their bags.

Call it a generation gap, but to someone who was in the same spot 30 years ago, I have to wonder why recruits need to bother with sunscreen and foam cleanser while in training.

I gulp when anyone in my generation says “how different military service is nowadays compared to the past.” My son stood among these young men.

From inside the training camp, we could hear a military band playing a marching song and a sentimental song about a recruit’s letter to home.

The weather was unusually cold and windy for late April. The official recruitment ceremony had to be cancelled as guests frantically tried to hold onto their umbrellas in the blustery weather.

Recruits hugged their family members one more time before they shuffled toward the gates. As they turned their backs, the eyes of mothers and girlfriends reddened.

Cars carrying the families took more than an hour to crawl out of the parking lot. But in unspoken solidarity, nobody honked or attempted to push their way out. Every one of the 46 sailors who were commemorated in a group funeral likely went through such a ritual with their loved ones, reporting to their compulsory military service with heavy hearts but also with the certainty that they would meet again.

After sending my son to the military, I eat and sleep as usual. I want to believe that I have to. I have done so since my elder son - now a sergeant - joined the Army.

The official mourning period for the 46 sailors ended with Thursday’s funeral. Television entertainment shows, including my favorite weekend comedy program, are on the air as usual. I prefer these shows over the news.

However, I will pay particular attention to one thing from now on: the changes brought upon this country before and after the Cheonan crisis. In my last column three weeks ago, I called upon our country to become an iron pot - not an aluminum one that is easily heated and cooled. The Cheonan incident represents a test of our fortitude and perseverance.

The funeral must serve as a starting point for the hunt for the culprit. Circumstantial evidence points to North Korea as the cause of the sinking, but we can’t say that at this point with 100 percent certainty. If we rush to conclusions, the ground we stand on might weaken.

That’s why we should continue the underwater search in earnest, searching for any little piece of evidence, while at the same time prepare ourselves for coming up empty-handed despite putting so much time and resources into the investigation.

Whether it involves the military, national security agencies or various other types of organizations, the government must establish a special task force to hunt down evidence in the case, even if it takes decades. It must also mobilize all possible resources - satellite, telecommunications, intelligence and clandestine human intelligence - to determine why and how the naval corvette Cheonan was ripped in two.

The truth will eventually come out, no matter how long it takes. It all depends on our determination.

Japan recently eradicated the statue of limitations on serious crimes like murder and rape.

The Cheonan incident is a far worse crime. There must be no statue of limitations in our pursuit of justice. We must utilize all our national resources to crack this case.

Other nations have pursued this path and eventually found justice.

Israel, for instance, hunted down and finally caught Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust, in Argentina after an aggressive 15-year search.

He was tried in an Israeli court and executed.

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

By Noh Jae-hyun
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