Overhauling our navyThirteen years ago today, as Korea’s national soccer team competed with Turkey’s to determine third place in the World Cup match in Seoul, North Korea waged the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong on the tense maritime border on the West Sea. That killed six of our sailors, including Lt. Commander Yoon Young-ha, aboard a warship. The popularity of box-office hit “Northern Limit Line” - as seen by over 1 million viewers in the four days since its release Wednesday - is living proof of people’s unceasing concerns about the sacrifices of our sailors safeguarding our territorial waters, and that was true too even at the peak of World Cup fever.
To reflect the public memory of the heroic actions of the six sailors, Defense Minster Han Min-koo is expected to give a eulogy for those brave men at a ceremony today to commemorate the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong. (The first occurred on June 12, 1999, again triggered by the North’s infiltration into our territorial waters around Yeonpyeong Island). On Saturday, our six guided missile patrol boats - named after each of the six heroes - conducted drills in the West Sea.
Military experts say our navy has simplified the rules of engagement and raised the survivability of sailors by augmenting bullet-proof capabilities and the firepower of its high-speed boats and guided missile patrol boats. New Incheon-class frigates are now capable of firing back at the origin of a provocation after being equipped with choppers for maritime operations and guided missiles for ship-to-ground attacks.
Yet it remains a question if our navy can really counter the North’s new types of aggressions without losses on our part. Since the North’s torpedo attack on the Cheonan warship, which killed 46 sailors in 2010, the navy built a new rescue ship, but a former Navy Chief of Staff was arrested for corruption in the parts supply for the ship. In the lead-up to the selection of a chopper for maritime operations, a former head of the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs faced the same fate.
People’s memory of the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong - as illuminated in the popularity of the newly released movie - represents their unceasing affection for the military. The frequent corruption scandals in the defense sector have a fatal impact on our security. Our military must root out the sources of corruption. Otherwise, the precious lives of our sailors will be lost again. That will surely turn the public’s affection into outrage. A military without people’s affection cannot grow strong no matter how sophisticated their weapons are.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 29, Page 30