[Viewpoint] A lesson learned from the U.S.S. Cole

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[Viewpoint] A lesson learned from the U.S.S. Cole

‘People are highly interested in who is responsible for the explosion of the U.S.S. Cole. The terrorists who sponsored and carried out the crime are primarily responsible for the incident. Even if the Cole had been perfectly combat ready for threats, this attack wouldn’t have been preventable or avoidable ...

“The immediate responses taken by the crew members after the explosion truly deserve compliment. Through discipline, training and courage, they saved the ship and many of their colleagues.

“If it weren’t for the efforts of the crew members, the tragedy would have been much worse. In the extreme situation, they endured calamity and fear that we have never experienced. They are a model for all of us.”

Adm. Vern Clark, the chief of naval operation of the United States Navy, issued this statement on Jan. 1, 2001, about the attack on the U.S.S. Cole.

On Oct. 12, 2000, the Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyer was attacked by Al-Qaeda terrorists in the port of Aden in Yemen.

The suicide bombing left 17 sailors dead and 42 injured. It is crucial that we have a perspective on the case at a time of national crisis - the sinking of the Cheonan.

Based on clear evidence and the results of scientific investigation, the joint investigation team of civilian experts and military officials announced on May 20, 2010, that the naval corvette Cheonan was attacked and sunk by a North Korean torpedo.

In the initial days following the incident, Korean citizens were drawn to its serious nature.

A naval corvette suddenly went down in the Yellow Sea near the Northern Limit Line. The cause was unidentified, and 46 died.

As the investigation developed, we witnessed serious adverse side effects.

Allegations and speculations based on guesswork spread on the Internet, and rumors started and were amplified.

Many questions deviated from the essence of the case and constantly ridiculed and spoke ill of the military. They greatly undermined the armed forces when they were rebuilding their spirit and reinforcing combat readiness.

The core of arguments about the Cheonan sinking should focus on two topics.

The first is who is responsible for the tragedy, and the other is what measures and plans we need in order to prevent such an incident from happening again.

Now that the cause of the sinking has been established as a torpedo attack by North Korea, it is only fair to investigate the readiness of the armed forces against such attacks.

Moreover, coming up with a counter plan is urgent. At the same time, we need to hold North Korea accountable.

However, the arguments have been misdirected so far, denouncing the military members as unethical and continuously raising irrelevant, minor and subjective questions. It is regrettable that debate has divided the nation and undermined the spirit and combat readiness of the Republic of Korea Armed Forces.

The official report of the civilian and military joint investigation team has revealed that various allegations and speculation that have been raised so far are ungrounded and false. Yet, national opinion has already been divided, and confidence in the military has been greatly damaged.

It will take a considerable amount of time for the troops to get their spirits back and for the military to recover lost credibility.

Also, it is important to use various channels to influence public opinion and encourage communication over the issues, which are socially and politically important.

Furthermore, we must not let public opinion about military operations, which can seriously affect national security, be manipulated by certain ideological frameworks.

Also, allegations based on groundless presumption, as well as maliciously magnified and fabricated rumors, must not be allowed in the name of free speech.

At the very least, we need to show respect and gratitude to the generations of Koreans who have defended the country in the 60 years since the Korean War began.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer, a retired colonel, is a researcher of the National Defense Research Institute at the Chungnam National University.

By Park Jae-pil
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