[Viewpoint] Don’t let history repeat itself

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[Viewpoint] Don’t let history repeat itself

The government officially declared that our naval warship Cheonan was sunk in a North Korean torpedo attack, backing it up with overwhelming forensic evidence.

Now we can finally put an end to the dispute over this whodunnit and seek ways to make North Korea apologize and promise never to attempt such a provocation again.

And yet we can’t shake off the sinking feeling that the investigation and its conclusion will rekindle arguments that will unsettle our society because the announcement came as the campaign for the upcoming local elections reached its peak.

There are many candidates who have been vigorously protective of North Korea and are campaigning against connecting the Cheonan sinking to the North.

In principle, a country’s security affairs are a common goal of all citizens which shouldn’t be exploited for electioneering purposes or political advantage.

But some say the conservative Grand National Party will benefit from the so-called “northern wind,” or anti-North Korea sentiment inflamed by its act of aggression.

Others think the renewed fever over the tragic fate of former President Roh Moo-hyun on the occasion of the first anniversary (May 23) of his death - and his engagement policy toward the North - will help save the Democratic Party.

It’s perfectly O.K. for people to talk, but it’s a different problem if parties and politicians sincerely believe in such sentiments. National security does not merely concern the ruling GNP or conservative forces.

How does one country standing firmly against an atrocious attack by a hostile outside power benefit the conservatives and damage the liberals? No political parties can survive without solid security. No eggs are safe in a nest sitting on a rotten tree limb.

Security affairs are not political issues subject to partisanship and ideological dispute.

Why should the truth behind the Cheonan tragedy and the honor of young sailors killed by a torpedo attack during a routine patrol mission be exploited as means to win votes?

Even taking into account that we are in the middle of an election season, it’s hard to comprehend the sight of politicians forming lines behind anti-North Korea or pro-Roh Moo-hyun banners and waging a die-hard tug of war when we are faced with the task of seeking a united front to fight against an enemy state that has fired a deadly bomb at our own people.

History unfortunately repeats itself. Political factionalism has seriously jeopardized the security of this soil more than once in the past.

When Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi unified Japan and strengthened the army in the late 16th century, the Joseon court could not decide whether to heighten its security against a potential invasion because of factional disagreement on the perception of the Japanese threat.

In the end, however, the royal court decided there would be no invasion because the Eastern faction, which discredited a potential danger from Japan, had a bigger voice in the decision-making.

History is there to be learned. We should not repeat the exhausting and vain factional dispute that led to the eventual collapse of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

Today’s political scene is a frightening replica of the corrupt Joseon court, with the Easterners and Westerners reborn as conservatives wishing for a northern wind and Roh loyalists hoping for a Roh wind to blow the elections in their favor.

The strength of our society should be valued more than a mere election victory. But neither side appears to have the country’s best interest at heart. How can we feel secure with such electioneers steering our country’s fate?

We don’t necessarily have the same dream just because we are in the same boat. But we appear to be sharing a boat with two enemies on board. We cannot weather a storm with such sharp division on board.

In normal times, the struggle between pro-government and anti-government groups and anti-North Korea and pro-North Korea factions can be tolerated. But a Navy ship defending our border has been sunk by a torpedo attack by North Korea.

If politicians try to fend off a wind blowing from the north that might work against them in elections by discrediting an overwhelmingly decisive investigative report, they are no different than the incompetent faction in the Joseon court that failed to see an invasion coming.

Aristotle said the excellence of a horse is revealed when galloping uphill rather than over a plain. Our national capacity can also be manifested when facing crisis and hardship more than in times of peace and prosperity.

We should quiet down all ideological debate and conspiratorial talk and unite before the truth and common goal of national security. It would have been the final wishes of the sailors who died defending our sea.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a professor of civil ethics at Seoul National University.


By Park Hyo-chong

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