[Viewpoint] Security is not a second-rate issue

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[Viewpoint] Security is not a second-rate issue

The sixth sense can save your life more than a bullet on the battlefield, veteran soldiers from the Vietnam War used to say. We see the unbelievable scenes played out in war films. Soldiers in life-and-death situations suddenly drop to the ground before a bomb explodes, pierce a dagger into a spy hiding under a pile of hay and rummage through a coffin to dig up weaponry at the bottom.

Are these people born with a special brain power of sensing danger and acting upon it? Even scientists cannot give a clear and analytic explanation for this phenomenon. They can only attribute it to a sixth sense.

An American newspaper cited research work on army soldiers that discovered the best performers in detecting imminent danger earned their intuition through experience. Without such deep, perceptive powers, it is hard for soldiers to cope with life-anddeath threats on the combat field.

President Lee Myung-bak’s backbone comes from his long years on construction sites. His charismatic leadership in construction amid the country’s industrialization has left a deep impression on the public. But what explains the flustered flurry from the presidential office and military command in the wake of the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island last week?

The situation is too grave to blame the fiasco on the president alone. The disarray at the Blue House and in the military reflects the negligence in all of us. It is a rude awakening, mirroring the poor state of security after it was tossed aside for many years because of political dogmas.

Security was treated as superfluous when peace was the dogma under the liberal governments for the past decade as leaders engaged in summit talks and economic cooperation projects with North Korea. It again was relegated as a second-class issue behind economic considerations when the conservative government came to power. The construction of a high-rise near the military air base in Seongnam despite strong protests from the military illustrates the current government’s priorities. Such ideology has muddled the president’s perception on security issues and has hampered quick responses to emergency situations.

The president yet again declared to take strong retaliatory action against North Korea. In his eyes, North Korea is now an ungrateful evil monster that repays generosity with deadly attacks. For now, it is of the utmost importance to show our rage and fortitude to stop any further provocative actions from North Korea. But North Korea has again outwitted us and has gone silent. As with the attack on the naval ship Cheonan, North Korea struck and ran, enjoying the international uproar in its wake.

Why does this situation repeat itself? We may find the answer in the innate apathy to security issues among not only politicians but society in general. There are too many high-level officials in our security team who have not served in the military to regard the situation as a coincidence. As soon as they leave office, foreign and defense ministers head to the United States and find a teaching or research job. To top security officials, what matters most is the tight alliance with Washington. They are out of touch with the lives on Yeonpyeong Island.

We can hardly expect instinctual action from the people convening the emergency security meeting in the underground bunker just hours after North Korea shelled the island. And we can hardly be blamed for being skeptical and suspicious of the government’s security measures. Resolute and strong words on making “North Korea pay a due price” come across as hollow and even dangerous.

Security is like oxygen. Without it, the life of a country cannot exist. Many had worried about North Korean provocations when world leaders gathered in Seoul for the G-20 Summit. Then the chief of the national security agency said the country would seek inter-Korean relations in a broader context, leading many to understand that a behind-the-scenes agreement had been reached between the two Koreas to ensure the safe hosting of the G-20 in Seoul in the hopes of a breakthrough in the icy bilateral ties.

But just weeks later, artillery from the North rained down on Yeongpyeong Island. How are we to understand all this? We are frustrated to see our government tied to an ideological trap.

The president and military leaders may ask us if we could have done a better job if we were in their shoes. But before they ask this question, they must look at how ideological considerations have made security a secondrate issue. After retrospection, they should seek out and employ competent commanders and restore security that is now in tatters. It is time we consider security as a top priority.

*Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

By Chang Dal-joong
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