The DUP’s unforgivable sinEarly buds of forsythia are beginning to paint various parts of Seoul yellow, but the waters around Baekryeong Island on the tense borderline are still icy cold. The sea bellows wails of grief every March. The waves moan on both calm and windy days. Sometime they weep silently and sometime they roar in rage. March 26 marked the third anniversary of the sinking of the 1,200-ton Navy corvette “Cheonan” in which nearly half the crew, 46 blameless sailors, lost their lives.
I have been witness to countless incidents during my journalism career of 29 years. The Cheonan sinking was my biggest shock. It is not simply because of the cruelty of North Korea and the tragic deaths of young sailors. It is because of the attitude and response of the main opposition Democratic United Party, which went by the name Democratic Party at the time. Political forces often get derailed. Mudslinging, betrayals, lies, calumnies and physical violence are all part of the dirty game. Those things can and do happen. But the opposition’s denial of the Cheonan tragedy is something that cannot be allowed. That is why it remains so shocking.
The DUP is a legitimate opposition party with a long tradition of having a liberal backbone. It dates back a half century and was the ruling party for a decade. The party, however, opposed a legislative resolution on June 29, 2010 condemning the attack on the Cheonan. An investigation by Korean and foreign experts disclosed evidence pointing to a North Korean torpedo attack. Torpedo parts recovered at the site of the sinking had markings pointing to the North Korean military. The United States, European, Latin American and Asian countries accepted the investigation findings and condemned North Korea.
But the main opposition party in the country that was attacked refused to blame North Korea, Instead, it claimed the investigation was not credible enough.
I lashed out at the party through a column entitled “A date that will live in infamy.” I wrote, “We don’t have to go back to the philosophy of the older opposition leaders to know that an opposition party can exist only when there is a community. Now the DP lawmakers are chauffeured in luxury sedans, enjoy fine dining and get respected as assemblymen at home and abroad, thanks to the community and the taxpayers’ money .?.?. These DP lawmakers refuse to denounce the murderer that attacked their own community and killed 46 sailors. They are defending the murder. They recommended an unqualified person for the investigation team and now they are saying that the results are not to be trusted .?.?. They are dancing to the tune of North Korean ideology.”
The DUP is comprised of elite intellectuals of our society. I studied its 87 members who were in the National Assembly at the time of the Cheonan attack. Nine of them served in the presidential office, 15 were prime ministers, ministers or vice ministers, eight were from the media, 12 came from the judiciary, one was an army general and one was a cultural figure. In October, I wrote a column entitled “Korea’s records, good and appalling.” I wrote: “People who enjoyed the taste of luxury and the feeling of real political power over the last decade take the side of a culprit blamed for killing 46 young sailors doing their duty to our state on a doomed naval warship. Their blind foolishness earns a world record.”
The DUP refused to accept the truth behind the Cheonan sinking for a long time. They closed their ears to the wails of the mothers of the 46 sailors. To them, the Cheonan was a political issue pure and simple. If they acknowledged North Korea’s wrongdoing, what they stand for, which is based on the Sunshine Policy of engagement toward North Korea would have been in jeopardy. They betrayed the people who believed in them. Instead of looking after the people threatened by a murderous regime, the party has been trying hard not to annoy the killer. The DUP began to talk a little differently about the Cheonan during the presidential campaign last year. But its sincerity was not to be believed in that context.
Three months have passed since the presidential election. The party has been dissecting the reasons for its defeat. It blames over-zealousness of a faction loyal to the late President Roh Moo-hyun, ideological excesses, neglect of the middle class and conflict over the liberals choosing a unified candidate.
They are missing the point. They lost because they were an abnormal group. Even as they pursue peaceful dialogue with North Korea instead of conflict, they should have condemned what is condemnable. They needed to distinguish between political and security matters. More than half of the population turned against them because they acted wrongly.
Three years have passed, but memories of the 46 sailors live on. They will continue to exist amongst us. Each of them would be accountable for tens of thousands of votes. Their spirit may still linger beneath the sea, but they will surface every time the country faces crises. And they will help Korea exercise the rights of justice.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin