Dial down the politics

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Dial down the politics

U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert was discharged from Yonsei University’s Severance Hospital in Seoul yesterday after undergoing surgery for wounds to his face and hand, five days after a knife attack by Kim Ki-jong, a self-proclaimed activist for unification. The pro-North Korea and anti-U.S. assailant in his 50s will be prosecuted shortly as the police expedite investigations of the unprecedented terror attack against an American ambassador.

Perpetrator Kim resorted to violence to damage the Korea-U.S. alliance amid the ongoing Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises, annual joint military drills. A terrorist act stemming from ideological convictions can hardly be averted by security guards alone. The government must change our political terrain in order to prevent the “terrorist virus” from spreading to other susceptible minds.

We saw rampant violence by anti-U.S. groups trying to destroy the statute of General Douglas MacArthur in Incheon and an attack on a construction site of a U.S. military base in Pyeongtaek during the liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration. But the government reacted to the violence too softly. The unfettered public violence in 2008 over U.S. beef imports involved a distorted anti-American sentiment. A free, democratic society allows anti-U.S. protests. But when an extreme type of violence occurs, the government must strictly punish it while faithfully respecting the freedom of speech.

The U.S. government, Korean President Park Geun-hye and politicians from the ruling and opposition camps responded to the terrorist attack wisely. In particular, Ambassador Lippert’s efforts to actively communicate with the Korean public after the attack and to thank them for their warm-hearted reaction helped consolidate the ties between our nations.

But there are signs of a schism between our liberal and conservative groups over the attack, as seen in fevered disputes in cyberspace. Discovering if someone was behind the attack must be left in the hands of law enforcement authorities. At the same time, they must restrain from exaggerating an ideological framework for the attack.

The ruling Saenuri Party is bent on portraying the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy as an “intermediary host” for pro-North factions. The opposition took the wrong step of forging an electoral alliance with the far-left United Progressive Party to win the last general election. But the Saenuri attack goes too far. The ruling and opposition parties are partners in national governance above and beyond a single act of violence.

JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 11, Page 30

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