[Viewpoint] The undying screams of the ROKEvery May, Korea remembers the tragic events that unfolded decades ago in Gwangju, when a citizens’ uprising was quelled by gunfire that caused a massacre. Over 30 years have passed since that fateful day, but the event remains carved in history as a symbol of protest and freedom, and the screams of the wounded and dying have come to resemble a symphony of democracy.
However, now a new date associated with horror has been etched into the public consciousness, as every March I hear the screams of those on the Cheonan. During one peaceful evening on March 26, 2010, 46 South Koreans disappeared in the cold, dark sea as North Korea’s military torpedoed a South Korean warship in what amounts to an unprovoked terrorist attack. History may confuse the date, as it also happens to commemorate the day when independence activist An Jung-geun was executed 100 years ago, but few Koreans are likely to let either event be forgotten.
To mark the second anniversary of the Cheonan incident, I published a book, or rather a compilation of columns that I have written during the first four years of the Lee Myung-bak administration. I looked through my old files and reviewed the people and events that caused controversies in Korean society. The most tragic incidents are the attacks on the Cheonan and a similar attack by Pyongyang on the South’s Yeonpyeong Island. As I reflected back, I could almost hear the screams of the crew members on the destroyed naval vessel, which led me to name my book “The Screams of the Republic of Korea.”
The attack on the Cheonan stands as the most shocking incident to occur between the two Koreas since the 1950-53 Korean War. The incident is shocking not just because of the North’s provocation, but also due to the indecisive manner in which Seoul responded. In the aftermath of the bombing of the former Burmese capital of Rangoon (now Yangon in Myanmar) in 1983 as well as the bombing of Korean Air flight 858 in 1987 - both perpetrated by North Korean agents - South Korea was united in condemning Pyongyang.
However, after the Cheonan incident, the South’s main opposition party and anti-Lee Myung-bak civil groups refused to identify and denounce the murderer. They still defend the North and criticize the South Korean administration, which is nothing short of disgraceful.
On June 29, 2010, the Democratic Party voted against a National Assembly resolution denouncing Pyongyang’s attack on the Cheonan. Historically, June 29 also stands as the day when a declaration of democratization liberated the spirit of Korea in 1987. However, 23 years later, the descendants of these brave fighters for democracy betrayed the ideals of their forefathers by acting against this spirit of freedom and trying to reconcile with the aggressor North.
For my article that day, I wrote that “the ancestors of the Democratic Party worked together for national security while fighting for democracy, so I denounce the Democratic Party’s June 29 action with the strongest expression allowed in the Korean language.”
The following month, I wrote another article entitled, “To the Mothers of the Cheonan.” In it, I wrote that “the president is weak, and the giant ruling party is struggling with the challenges of its spiritual development, while the biggest opposition party is lost somewhere between the South and the North. The military is dispirited, while the antigovernment civil groups criticize the military and defend the North. In this country, who will demand an apology from the Kim Jong-il regime?” I appealed to the mothers of those who had been slain and urged them to assemble at Seoul Plaza to make their voices heard.
Eight months later, Yeonpyeong Island was bombarded with shells and rockets, but Seoul did not order a retaliatory strike despite having F-15K bombers armed with precision-guided SLAM-ER missiles at its disposal. Under the headline “F-15Ks are crying,” I wrote, “F-15Ks are weapons purchased with the blood, sweat and tears of the public. They were purchased precisely for use in incidents such as the Yeonpyeong bombardment. But the military has tied them up in a chain of cowardliness and defeatism.”
As I publish “The Screams of the Republic of Korea,” I want to ask: Who is defending the existence of our great nation? Are the politicians and activists defending the country with their words? Shouldn’t we rather remember the sacrifice of Warrant Officer Han Ju-ho, who died trying to rescue the last few Cheonan sailors, as well as the heroic actions of the Korean UDT/Navy SEALs who successfully rescued Korean hostages in Somalia from pirates last year? I dedicate my book to them, and I hope my readers will pass these sentiments on to their friends and family, and stress the importance of community rather than their own interests.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin