Remember the Cheonan

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Remember the Cheonan

Exactly two years ago, we experienced a heartrending tragedy. The Cheonan warship, on a routine patrol in waters off Baekryeong Island in the tense maritime border with North Korea, was broken into two and sank. After that, we had to witness more tragedy: desperate rescue efforts, hurried investigations on who was behind the sinking and a spate of muddled reactions by the government and the military. The terrifying scene of the vessel when it was salvaged - torn to pieces with all of its viscera laid bare - made all of us feel lumps in our throats.

The 46 sailors and Warrant Officer Han Ju-ho, who died displaying unforgettable courage trying to rescue the last few crew members, were guardians of our nation. We express our deep condolences to the families of the heroes.

What did the Cheonan sinking leave behind? The pros and cons over the real cause of the disaster is not yet over. Pyongyang still refutes the conclusion of a multinational investigation team that the warship sank due to a North Korean torpedo attack. Though small in number, pro-North politicians, scholars and activists still refuse to believe that Pyongyang was responsible for the attack. The gap between the two rival groups will not be easily narrowed before the unification of our divided land.

The most effective way to prevent another North Korean provocation of this caliber is to demonstrate - through action, not words - our stern will to retaliate against any provocations. To do that, Seoul should let Pyongyang understand our military has overwhelming superiority - physically and mentally - over the North.

Reinforced military training alone, however, will not be enough to counter the North’s future assaults. Pyongyang’s reckless attacks against the Cheonan corvette and Yeonpyeong Island laid bare the structural flaws hidden in our military leadership: they failed to respond immediately and efficiently to the crisis because the top brass pursued promotion instead of a victory in battles. The ambitious idea for military reform is still limping in the face of conflicts among the military branches and between conservative and liberal camps, even though a military reform bill was submitted to the National Assembly a year ago. Two years after the cataclysmic attack, we must reflect on what went wrong and how we are dealing with the challenges the tragic moment presented to us. Despite all the fuss during the election season, we must do what we must do. Sorting out wayward politicians can, of course, be part of our to-do list.

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