Park should visit a shooting rangeOn the Sunday evening of Jan. 21, 1968, the presidential family got into their bed on the second floor of the presidential residence - Cheong Wa Dae (Blue House) - early. Two days prior, military officials reported that a team of armed North Korean commandos had entered the country. President Park Chung Hee was coming down with the flu. His eldest daughter Park Geun-hye - then a high school freshman - also was asleep.
At about 10:15 pm at night, gunshots were heard not far from the presidential residence. The North Korean armed agents exchanged gunshots with security officials and police. The sounds of machine guns and grenades pierced through the calm winter air.
Park and her family have suffered terrorism attacks and threats five times. North Korean commandos tried to plant bombs at the gate of national cemetery in 1970. Her mother was killed in 1974 and father in 1979. She too was attacked in 2006 by an anti-Park citizen. And the entire presidential family was targeted during the January terrorist mission in 1968. U.S. President Barack Obama’s eldest daughter Malia turns 15 this year. To draw a circumstantial comparison, it is like extreme jihadi militant terrorists crept close to the family quarters of the White House.
The Jan. 21 incident raised vigilance against a potential threat from North Korea. Twenty days later, President Park visited the shooting practice range of the presidential security. The former military general practiced shooting a pistol and a carbine and taught the first lady how to hold a gun and shoot it. The scenes of the president and the first lady holding guns were carried on the newspaper. Park created a 2.5-million-strong army of reserved forces. He raised the banner cry “Let’s work while fighting and fight while building.”
Nearly a half-century has passed since then. North Korea still remains threatening and hostile to its southern compatriots. It turns provocative and resorts to violent means if its demands are not met. It torpedoed a South Korean patrol ship in 2010 and bombarded the inhabited island of Yeonpyeong in the tense maritime border with the North. While North Korea sent armed commandos to slip past the border in 1968, it attacked under the sea and through the skies in 2010.
Park comes to power at one of the most volatile and dangerous times. When her father was president, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung was threatening but did not have nuclear weapons in his hands. North Korea developed nuclear weapons while President Roh Moo-hyun was in power, but the Kim Jong-il regime was secure enough not to put the country in jeopardy. Now his son Kim Jong-un has succeeded to the dynastic throne. No dictatorial rule for the third generation has ever succeeded in world history outside of a monarchy. Hereditary rule did not last beyond the second generation in despotic Islamic nations except the embattled Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
Optimists claim that North Korea can turn into a peace-abiding state through opening and reform. But they are dreamers. Communist dictatorships can be converted through opening and reform as China’s Deng Xiaoping did in 1978 and through the glasnost and perestroika policies of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as well as Doi Moi reform programs led by Vietnamese leaders in the mid-1980s. But their cases differ with North Korea. Those countries did not have a personality cult and corrupt regime.
Openness and reforms cannot be pursued by a society running on an overzealous dynastic cult and corrupt elite. The public would awaken to the bare truth of their rulers and regime. The regime could be at risk. When communist Eastern European countries crumbled in early 1990, North Korea’s Kim Jong-il had a chance to jump on the reform bandwagon. His son also knows the benefits of opening and reforms as he has studied abroad. But he nevertheless cannot opt to open Pandora’s box due to persistent personality cult and corruption.
Park may not see reforms across the border during her time in power. But that should not restrain her persuasive efforts. Her efforts should not be built on high hopes. What could change North Korea are not dollars and food. It is a resolute and principled response to the North. South Korea must demonstrate that it won’t plead for peace and will take due action against provocations. President Lee Myung-bak stood on his ground. A team of his three security leaders - former unification minister Hyun In-taek, presidential senior secretary for foreign and security affairs Chun Yung-woo and defense minister Kim Kwan-jin - were faithful stewards of his principle.
The Jan. 21, 1968 incident is not a thing of the past. The ruins of the Cheonan warship and Yeonpyeong Island are still vivid. The threat remains in the Park Geun-hye government. Park should be an expert on North Korea. She should have a weapon in one hand and extend the other to Pyongyang. No one has won over communists without strength and conviction. Once in the Blue House, Park will have to practice shooting. The picture of a single female president holding a K-1 rifle should be in the newspaper to send a strong message to North Koreans.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin