[Viewpoint] Broken windows in our security

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[Viewpoint] Broken windows in our security

James Q. Wilson, famous for co-authoring a 1982 article introducing the broken windows theory, died last week at the age of 80. The theory says that when a few broken windows are left unrepaired, vandals can break into the building and cause more damage.

Until the 1980s, many urban cities in the United States neglected buildings with broken windows in poorer neighborhoods. In such a disorderly environment, residents tend to become indifferent to social order and prone to criminal behavior. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was a firm believer of the theory and adopted it to clean up and impose sweeping reforms across New York City under a zero-tolerance policy. As a result, rates of both petty and serious crimes fell sharply. The human psyche works more or less the same. In a dirty environment, one does not feel guilty for littering, but one thinks twice in a squeaky clean one.

A candidate bidding for a legislative seat from the opposition in next month’s election called the base in Jeju a “pirate base.” One is free to speak his or her mind in this country. One of the executive leaders of the party shrugged off the comment as no big deal saying “people can feel that way and we should debate on it,” as if it is one unnoticeable broken window.

A politician who ran as the candidate for the ruling party in the last presidential race and current main opposition head flew to the contentious construction site on Jeju Island and demanded that admirals overlooking the project cease construction with a threat that they could get into trouble if the opposition party gains governing power through a presidential election win.

The problem is that the public, after reading and hearing these careless comments from politicians, will grow more immune. As a few unattended broken windows can lead to crime, a few comments undermining state and military authority can impair the broad understanding and consensus on national defense.

Maybe that was what they were ultimately after. But defense is the most fundamental pillar of a country. Without security, there is no use of democracy, welfare or ideology. Other values sometimes would have to be sacrificed to defend the prime value. But to protect a nation, it is inevitable.

The biggest danger the country faces today is our values falling into chaos. Economic interests and environmental reasons are behind the opposition to the Jeju naval base. Critics refuse to believe the base is designed to accommodate two full-sized cruise ships. The rock beds along the coastline of Gangjeong Village of Jeju that the Navy blasted for the construction are just common rocks on the volcanic island. But demonstrators are crying out that the island’s unique natural heritage is being sabotaged.

For the sake of defense, a country may have to endure some economic and environmental losses. National value must come before periphery ones. The recent autobiographic movie on British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, “Iron Lady,” underscored principles on national interests. When the British-controlled Falkland Islands were invaded by Argentina in 1982, her government as well its ally, the United States, were against Britain going to war. When U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig tells Thatcher that the Falklands are just small islands thousands of miles away to dissuade her, she bluntly asks “You mean like Hawaii?” to remind him that the U.S. defended its territory of Hawaii when it came under attack by the Japanese in 1941 to argue that Britons could not allow Argentina to take the islands without a similar fight.

Her line - “We will stand on principle, or we will not stand at all” - should bring chagrin to the Lee Myung-bak administration that missed an opportunity to retaliate when a naval ship and inhabited island were attacked by North Koreans. Instead of standing firmly on principle, President Lee said amid candlelight protests against American beef imports that he wept upon seeing the huge wave of candles from the hilltop behind the presidential residence.

What we interpret as democracy today is wreaking havoc on the fundamentals of this nation. We have become a society incapable of discerning what to do and what not to do. We no longer share the common belief that defending our country is something we cannot disagree on. The election is no longer a contest of liberals and conservatives, but a test for the country’s future.

The ruling conservative party has also lost its focus and cannot see the broken windows in national security. The government appears to be maintaining sanity. It sent a presidential secretary to the rally against China’s decision to repatriate North Korean defectors, dispatched the minister of national defense to Yeonpyeong Island to make a verbal warning against North Korean provocation, and forced the minister of strategy and finance to criticize populism contests among politicians.

There is little time left in the final year of the government. It must stay alert to prevent the country from falling astray. U.S. President Gerald Ford staked his political career and reputation on his controversial pardoning of his former boss Richard Nixon, but he later was credited for saving America from division. He later said, “The ultimate test of leadership is not the polls you take, but the risks you take. Political courage can be self-defeating. But the greatest defeat of all would be to live without courage.”

We want to see the government uphold its last role of defending state authority and security. We want to see political courage from the president.

* The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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