A year after Cheonan debacleA year has passed since the Navy corvette Cheonan sank to the bottom of the Yellow Sea near Baengnyeong Island. Forty-six sailors drowned to death and naval warrant officer Han Joo-ho died during the rescue mission. They remain vividly in our memories, as does the wreckage of the torpedo-hit warship, which is on display at Pyeongtaek Navy base.
We have had one year for retrospection, and we have seen a succession of disillusionment and disappointment over our poor defenses against North Korea. Our military leadership was questioned, opposition politicians raised irresponsible skepticism and China continued to protect the North.
Instead of apologizing, North Korea brazenly accused us of concocting a false report that concluded they attacked the Cheonan. What have we accomplished over the last year, and what can we do in the future?
The Cheonan sinking has raised our alertness to the highest level since the Korean War. Those skeptical of the South-led multinational investigation that blamed Pyongyang for the attack were silenced when North Korea bombarded Yeonpyeong Island in November. The security awareness led to a rare phenomenon of young men rushing to volunteer for recruitment in the Marine Corps.
The Cheonan disaster has fundamentally changed inter-Korean relations. Our policy veered from universal tolerance to a sterner approach on aggression by the North. We can no longer give into North Korea’s menacing saber-rattling when it flaunts its nuclear weapons. Our stance is clear: no more aid unless Pyongyang commits sincerely to peace on the Korean Peninsula.
At the same time, however, we must not forget that the North is apart of us and we will embrace each other one day. We cannot neglect the North’s population, most of which lives under extreme hardship and oppression from a tyrannical dictatorship.
We are waiting for the North Korean leadership or civilians to take it upon themselves to reform the country.
When the day comes, we will be ready to muster up international support to help the country rebuild itself. Our ultimate goal is perpetual peace on this land, where all Koreans can travel freely and seek coprosperity.
Until that day comes, we must keep the losses and the Cheonan wreckage ingrained in our memory so the North will not rush into deadly provocations again.