[Viewpoint] With rescue, a new hope for pride

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[Viewpoint] With rescue, a new hope for pride

Our people have endured frustration after frustration over the past year. Young soldiers and innocent civilians have been struck down by North Korea at sea and on land. Our ships have been hijacked by pirates and our seamen have became hostage to deadly skirmishes. The crewmen of the hijacked Samho Jewelry returned home with most intact thanks to a successful rescue operation by commandos.

But the November release of the crew of the Samho Dream - hijacked by Somali pirates in April last year - cost a record $9.5 million. South Korea is reported to have paid the highest ransom to Somali pirates since they started attacks on the strategic waterway linking Europe, Asia and Africa after months of negotiations.

It is demeaning to save hostages after paying for their lives because it means surrendering to evil forces, which could whet their insatiable appetite for more. Greed is an addictive and rapacious desire that knows no bottom and cure except by death.

A state cannot be deemed reliable if it resorts to an easy payout and further risks the lives and wealth of its people instead of hunting down the villains that demand money for lives.

There are lessons to be learned from ancient Romans in this area. The Roman Empire suffered devastating setbacks in the Second Punic War with Carthage. The Romans, however, strongly resisted in paying to save the lives of prisoners, calling it a humiliation to the state as well as the soldiers. Greek historian Polybius expressed admiration and respect for the gallantry and dignity upheld by the Romans during times of hardship and struggle.

A state without dignity and principle cannot earn respect. The primary duty of the state is safeguarding the dignity and pride of its people.

Again, the ancient Romans were exemplary. The proudest boast was “Civis Romanus sum” (I am a Roman citizen), and the status of Roman citizenship was held in high regard.

The New Testament in the Bible states that the Apostle Paul claimed his right as a Roman citizen to be tried before Caesar, and he was sent back to Rome for trial.

As for us, can we proudly proclaim ourselves as citizens of South Korea and in return be assured of safety and help on foreign land?

South Koreans now enjoy a better reputation and treatment overseas. They are heartily welcomed by shopkeepers in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Egyptian merchants try to beckon Korean travelers in simple Korean language.

We are surprised and pleased to hear that so many people in many corners of the globe are familiar with Korean culture. We have gained such status in the international community thanks to our economic prosperity.

But as far as safety is concerned, we are more or less alone. We have little protection in the pirate’s sea and on terrorist’s land. Worse, even our sea and land are not entirely safe. The government has been slow and passive when its people have come under attack. The country ended up being mocked by North Koreans and even by Somali pirates.

The government recovered some of its dignity with the quick and resolute actions of the rescue of the Samho Jewelry. It was a face-saving event not only for the government, but for the entire nation. We proved to the world that we are not cowards who only get our people back by rewarding the bad guys.

A state must stand firm on its principles and avoid giving in to Faustian dealings with the devil.

The Samho Jewelry rescue should be the start of a responsible state’s risk-taking and determination. There is still the trawler Geummi 350 that is being held hostage by Somali pirates. Pirates have been warning that they will attack as soon as they see a Korean flag.

And, of course, North Korea’s provocations are also always at hand.

But we take comfort from the victorious news from the Gulf of Aden that this nation is willing to stake its name and life for its people. We just hope the country will be constantly watchful and protective of its people whether it is on our territory or others.

*The writer is a civil ethics education professor of the Seoul National University.

By Park Hyo-jong
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