[Viewpoint] Are we sitting ducks?

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[Viewpoint] Are we sitting ducks?

Police officers have been guarding major media companies for some time now. The tightened security began after Pyongyang threatened to retaliate on media companies that criticized North Korea. Nevertheless, I nonchalantly pass the police officers and enter my building. I never think about why the police are guarding us or what I should do in this situation. My colleagues are similarly indifferent. We all mindlessly overlook the presence of the police.

Since last April, Pyongyang has continued to make impressive threats to strike Seoul and the Blue House and kick off a “special action” against government agencies and media companies. It claimed that the attack would be more serious than the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island.

How many people take these threats seriously? None that I know. Maybe we have grown daring. Blase, perhaps. Koreans are mostly interested in the news about mad cow disease, conflicts between political parties and the posturing and positioning of presidential hopefuls. Which is more likely, an outbreak of mad cow disease or an attack by North Korea?

Despite an arguably real threat, the tendency to treat security concerns as outdated is widespread. The confrontation between the South and the North has been ongoing for more than 60 years, and past administrations abused the security issue as a tool to maintain power. Perhaps guarding our country by ourselves isn’t really a part of the DNA of the Koreans.

The Joseon Dynasty neglected national defense after it was founded. It served China as its great patron. Joseon was a pacifistic kingdom, unlike the Three Kingdoms with its military spirit and the succeeding Goryeo Dynasty with its northward vision. The price of concentrating on literacy while neglecting the military was the Japanese invasion of 1592 and the Manchu invasion of 1636. Even during the war with Japan, Admiral Lee Sun-sin was imprisoned as he was trapped between factional disputes, and Joseon was annexed by Japan in the end.

After liberation from the Japanese rule, Korea continued to depend on other countries for defense. At first, Korea did not have the financial means to defend itself, and we continued to let the United States take charge until recently. So we may have a deep-rooted idea in our minds that someone else will take care of our defense. We may have all become bystanders when it comes to national defense, seeking our own individual interests and pleasures.

Anyone with common sense can presume the possibility of another North Korean provocation. Kim Jong-un launched a long-range missile to prove his newly-secured might, but it blew up. Because things have been unstable since he came into power, his authority would be ruined if he steps back now. And hardliners in the North certainly won’t leave the young leader alone. Even Beijing could not stop Pyongyang’s missile launch. Naturally, Jong-un will move on to the next provocation.

Washington is concerned about North Korea’s nuclear weapons. In addition to the nuclear threat, we have to be prepared for military provocations and terrorism. A few days ago, civilian airliners experienced disturbances in their GPS systems, probably by the North. There is an analysis that North Korea’s target may not be limited to the civilian aircraft but will include South Korean weapons systems.

If we are unprepared, we will probably be taken by surprise. Once we are attacked, we may blame the government for lack of preparations and come up with makeshift plans to avoid responsibility, as we have done in the past. Simply put, we were not prepared for the North’s attacks on Yeonpyeong Island and the Cheonan warship. If Pyongyang plans a terrorist attack on a civilian facility, it will be even harder to avert.

As a free society, we are vulnerable to such assaults. So each of us needs to wake up and shake off indifference. The government should change as well. If the citizens feel insecure, it needs to tighten its guard on vulnerable points and perform drills in case of emergencies. When every one of us keeps his or her eyes wide open, we can prevent or at lease reduce the damage.

Three decades ago, in April 1982, the Argentine military junta invaded the Falklands Islands, a British territory, in order to boost its political popularity. The Argentine government thought the United Kingdom would accept their occupation, as Britain is thousands of miles away. But British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher upheld the principle of safeguarding the U.K.’s sovereignty and protecting the honor of the state. The war ended in a British victory, and thanks to the elevated national spirit, Great Britain enjoyed an era of prosperity for over 20 years. In contrast, the Argentine junta collapsed less than a year later.

The government needs to send a clear message to Pyongyang. It must make sure that if the Kim Jong-un’s regime continues to threaten the security of South Korea, it may be ruined in the end like the Argentine junta.

In the Old Testament, Jonah went to the city of Nineveh and delivered a prophecy that it would be destroyed if it did not listen to the warning of God. The people of Nineveh believed his words and repented their wrongdoings and the city was saved from destruction. If the North Korean regime wants to save itself, it has to turn back from the current course. And we need to be prepared.

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

by Moon Chang-keuk
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