[Viewpoint] Switching sides in a ‘war zone’

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[Viewpoint] Switching sides in a ‘war zone’

The season has changed since the loss of the Cheonan Naval warship and the lives of 46 young sailors, but few in our society can let go of the event, some out of grief and loss, others out of spite and doubt.

Our diplomats are in New York to present a case against North Korea before the United Nations Security Council, placing the blame on Pyongyang for the sinking of the Naval patrol ship near the maritime border off the western coast on March 26.

The North Korean delegatation presenting its counterargument received support from unexpected corner - a civilian group in South Korea.

The People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), one of the South’s established civic groups, sent a letter and e-mail message to the Security Council asking the UN body to defer any condemnation or punitive action against North Korea because, the group said, the South Korea-led multinational investigative report was contentious with many dubious points.

The group’s maverick action has caused controversy at home, and the reactions of politicians as well as civic groups have mostly been extremely pro- or anti-PSPD.

But the Cheonan disaster is not an issue with which we should be playing a game of “true or false.” It is frustrating and disheartening that the civil group fails to see this basic notion.

There are many things in the world that we don’t have to see with the naked eye to believe. We learn this throughout our lives. If all truths must be accompanied with firsthand experience, no logic would stand a chance.

Human beings build trust through sense and reason. Modern democracy arose from the seeds of reason and rationality. Emotions supplement human nature, but do not ensure rationality.

Rationality based on reasoning makes the human a social animal living peacefully among others in a community.

But the civilian group’s questioning of the government report - at the United Nations, no less - goes against reason and common sense.

A civilian group, of course, has the right to express its views. But a member of any society must be able to differentiate between what he or she can and cannot do, according to his or her role in that society, and his or her responsibilities.

Every action has a cause and effect. Disastrous consequences are almost inevitable if one is incapable of making the proper judgment for every action.

The PSPD is a civic group working for civilians’ rights in society. A civilian group in a modern democracy serves as the state’s critic and watchdog as well as aiding and advocating justice and civilians’ rights.

Since its founding in 1994, the group has contributed greatly to the development of civilian rights and democracy. But too much is sometimes worse than too little: Excess can breed arrogance and self-righteousness.

There must be a before and after, more and less - in other words, moderation - in all things. Democracy cannot evolve for the better with obsession, intractability and prejudice.

Narrow-mindedness is also a flaw, and must yield to patience, compromise and respect for other people and the democratic process.

In fact, there was a time in our modern history when the government’s interests were championed as - and came before - the country’s own. Many sacrificed to revolt against a deep-rooted dictatorship and fight for democracy.

In a democratic society, national interests should coincide with that of the people. Aside from the national interest, the ruling or opposition parties or conservatives or liberals should not have an interest of their own.

National interests have an even graver significance for people living in a society technically at war with a neighbor. Therefore, to ignore such a public duty amounts to pure arrogance.

The PSPD is free to question the government’s conclusions on the Cheonan in a democratic society that guarantees freedom of speech. But its freedom should be limited to home turf. Pulling the rug from under the government’s official diplomatic activities in an international forum cannot be in line with promoting a civil society or human rights.

The UN Security Council is a diplomatic “war zone” where delegates representing 15 countries fight for their national rights and interests.

Jeering at its own government delegates and splashing cold water on their work is not a proper role for a responsible civilian group. No matter how fast the world is globalizing, the security and sustainability of a nation is the most valuable thing.

If we discount or reject this simple fact, we would, in fact, be denying the existence of our society. If the PSPD really cares for justice and our people’s rights, it should return to its original role.


*The writer is a professor of constitutional law at Dongguk University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Sang-kyum
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