What more do they need?On March 26, 2010, South Korea’s naval warship the Cheonan exploded in two and sank near the tense maritime border with North Korea. Initially, I suspected North Korea to be responsible for the attack in the Yellow Sea. Ten days later, on April 5, I wrote a column entitled “The best proof is torpedo shrapnel.” Considering the circumstances of the sinking, the capability of North Korean submersibles and Pyongyang’s provocative intention, I thought a torpedo attack was the most probable cause of the tragedy and called for a search by trawling boats of the sea bottom where the Cheonan sank.
“If the sea is a field, a piece of shrapnel would be a clump of grass,” I wrote. “It might be nearly impossible for mine-hunting ships and divers to find such evidence. That’s why a search by two trawling boats should be mobilized to comb the seabed thoroughly. The vicinity must be combed over and over. The size of each grid of fishing net on the boats is just a few square inches, and the reaction of the Republic of Korea depends on such tiny grids.”
Exactly 40 days later, the fishing boat Daepyeong miraculously found a propeller from a North Korean torpedo. That miracle was made possible by human efforts and heaven-endowed good luck. The fishing boats from Incheon involved in the initial search failed to find anything. The Air Force recommended the Daepyeong to the disappointed naval authorities. The Daepyeong had recovered debris of fighter jets that had crashed in the East Sea and the Yellow Sea. Capt. Kim Nam-sik recalled the challenging task.
“We were searching through the waters 500 meters [1,650 feet] by 500 meters. It was a large area with rocky bottom and a fast current. It was a very difficult job. We threw the net over and over again. When the net was torn, my crew fixed it through the night. Later, we made a special double net. On May 15, we finally found a torpedo propeller. The soldiers and the crew rejoiced.”
The sea off Baekryeong Island was a crossroads of miracle and tragedy. The torpedo debris was found, but underwater demolition team warrant officer Han Ju-ho died while searching for survivors from the sunken ship. The fishing boat Geumyang, which had been involved in the search before the Daepyeong, sank, and nine of its crew members died during its search mission.
On the front line, soldiers and crew worked together to reveal the truth behind the tragedy. However, a strange thing happened back in the capital of Seoul. The Democratic Party (now the Democratic United Party), the biggest opposition party, did not acknowledge North Korea’s accountability.
An international investigation team of American, British, Australian and Swedish experts determined that the Cheonan was sunk by a torpedo attack. Governments and parliaments of the United States, Japan and Europe recognized the attack. But the Democratic Party opposed a National Assembly resolution denouncing Pyongyang for the attack. For a long time after the incident, the Democratic Party did not officially recognize North Korea’s blame.
A similar thing is happening during the presidential election. On Nov. 23, the Korea Peace Forum called for a reinvestigation of the Cheonan attack by the next administration. They claimed that the reasonable doubts raised by experts about the government investigation should be cleared. They called the investigation result “weak.”
Former high-ranking officials and scholars who had studied and executed policies with North Korea in the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations are involved in the forum. The co-chairs are Lim Dong-won, former chief of the National Intelligence Service, and Paik Nak-chung, professor emeritus at Seoul National University. The forum’s founding ceremony on Nov. 23 was attended by former prime ministers Lee Hae-chan and Han Myung-sook and former unification ministers Jeong Se-hyun, Chung Dong-young, Lee Jong-seok and Lee Jae-joung.
There are two kinds of citizens in this country. One kind of Korea jumped into cold, dark waters on the dangerous mission to search for survivors of the attack on the Cheonan. He perished. Some Koreans threw fishing nets day after day, fighting the rough sea to find evidence of a truth.
But some Koreans still deny the truth. First, they demanded evidence. When torpedo debris was found, they said they didn’t know if it came from North Korea. The North Korean writing was not enough to convince them. An investigator recommended by the opposition party actually refused to participate in the investigation and insisted the ship sank as the result of a collision. What would have happened if the torpedo was not found? They would have gotten even more upset about blaming Pyongyang.
Capt. Kim Nam-sik said, “I am from Goheung, Jeolla, and a supporter of the Democratic Party. But I cannot understand the attitude of the Democratic Party and the liberals. There is no ruling party or opposition when it comes to national security. What more do they need if a torpedo is not enough to convince them?”
* The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin