[Viewpoint] The generals’ DNAThree generals have experienced frustration and embarrassment after North Korea’s artillery strike on Yeonpyeong Island. Gen. Hwang Eui-don resigned from his position as Army chief of staff over an allegedly illicit real estate investment. Gen. Kim Byeong-gi, Blue House defense secretary, was forced to resign because he was involved in the president’s order to keep the attack from escalating into war. Grand National Party lawmaker Hwang Ji-ha, a retired general who commanded an artillery division, was embarrassed after touring the devastated island and mistaking a thermos bottle as an artillery shell. He is said to be ashamed of his mistake.
The three former generals’ careers are among the most respected in the ROK Armed Forces. I don’t have the intention of second guessing their individual competency. The problem is that the citizens have now become doubtful of the consciousness, spirit and ability of the military brass, which has not experienced an actual battle in more than 37 years. The ROK Armed Forces has not engaged in war since troops dispatched to Vietnam completely withdrew in March 1973.
Former Army Chief of Staff Hwang served as the head of the operation planning team with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the deputy commander of the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command. Kim was the head of the Korea-U.S. Future Alliance Task Force in the Ministry of National Defense and the chief of the war-command transfer committee. Lawmaker Hwang was the deputy director of the policy planning team at the Defense Ministry, the senior aide to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military attache to the U.S. Embassy.
Their resumes are filled with major assignments and positions in strategy, planning and cooperation with the United States. Of course, they are very crucial positions, but maybe this path signifies little more than elite careers in the military.
The word “strategy” comes from the Greek “strategos,” or “general.” “Stratus” means army and “agos” means to lead. The essence of strategy is to devise the right plan to defeat the enemy on the battlefield. However, as the 57-year-long truce and superficial “peace” continues, generals of the ROK Armed Forces have gotten used to strategies of survival in a political sense, and the Yeonpyeong Island incident became a wake-up call for the softened military leaders.
Generals must have the DNA of a warrior and the conviction that war is inseparable from our lives. They believe there is no chance to win if there are no battles. They should never tolerate defeat. It is the calling of a general to win battles and be revered by their own people. The rest is the jobs of politicians and diplomats.
Moshe Dayan, the legendary Israeli general, led Israel’s Six-Day War victory in 1967, and he may be a model for the warrior with his unique DNA. At the time, moderates were reluctant because there was no justification to strike their Arabs neighbors, but he insisted that a preemptive attack was the only tactic for victory. So 200 Israeli fighter jets cut off radio communications and took off. On the first day of the war, 410 Arab jets, including 90 Egyptian MiG fighters, were shot down. The beginning of the battle shaped the outcome at the end of the war.
Japanese Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi graduated from the Imperial Japanese Army Academy at the top of his class and studied at Harvard University. There, he realized the overwhelming potential of the U.S. When the U.S. entered World War II, he thought it would be hopeless. While serving as the commander of the Imperial Guards division, he was ordered to defend the island of Iwo Jima with a force of some 20,000 men.
In February 1945, 110,000 U.S. troops attacked the island. The island was expected to fall within 10 days, but in fact, the U.S. lost 6,822 soldiers. Six marines raised the U.S. flag on top of Mount Suribachi, but three of them were soon killed. The U.S. only managed to take the island 36 days later. How could the Japanese forces have held on so long? Kuribayashi had ordered them to dig an 18-kilometer (11-mile) tunnel and turn the island into a fortress. As he predicted, it was a hopeless battle. But he cleverly chose a tactic to strike only enemies that were close enough. He committed seppuku, ritual suicide by disembowelment. He was a man with a general’s DNA.
It is a dilemma - we have to avoid war but also need military leaders with experience in battle. Frankly, there is no way of knowing the spirit and competency of ROK Armed Forces generals. General-level appointments are to be announced soon. Newly appointed Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, a former field commander, promised that the military will do more than prepare documents. He pledged that the military will be ready to fight and win if war breaks out today.
Minister Kim needs not say anything more. All he needs to do is to make sure the two promises are kept throughout his term.
*The writer is the editor of the JoongAng Ilbo’s Saturday section.
By Choi Hoon