A letter to North Korean generals

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A letter to North Korean generals

Dear generals of North Korea,

You might have not imagined such consequences when you ordered your men to sneak in the middle of the night to plant mines on the southern side of the border. You may have congratulated yourselves when blasts went off on the western borderline of the demilitarized zone. You may have laughed out loud when there were rumors that the mines were set up by southern soldiers.

But life does not turn out as planned. You kept silent for a few days when our military authorities blamed North Korea for the mine blasts that maimed two of our soldiers. You denied the action and demanded video proof showing North Koreans planting the explosives. We have to wonder where all the clever strategists in North Korea have gone. The southern Ministry of National Defense pledging retaliation cleared the dust off the loudspeakers that had been turned off for 11 years and renewed high-decibel propaganda blasts across the border. The blaring audio criticizing their beloved leader and regime must have been unbearable.

Your leader commanded military posture in a quasi-war state and gave an ultimatum to the south that the broadcasts would have to be ceased within 48 hours. You may have been startled when the south did not budge even as the deadline came closer. Kim Yang-gon, the secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party in charge of South Korean affairs, offered talks to the Blue House. But Seoul demanded Hwang Pyong-so, the director of the General Political Bureau of the North Korean Army and the second highest after Kim Jong-un, come forward instead.

You’ve ended up accepting our terms and both Hwang and Kim traveled to the truce village of Panmunjom to meet delegates from Seoul. The state media that had previously lampooned him as the ringleader of a puppet regime addressed Kim Kwan-jin in his former title as South Korean director of National Security who was representing the talks on behalf of the presidential office.

Your conundrum was understandable. You may have been disgruntled by Seoul defying your warnings and going ahead with the regular large-scale military exercises with the United States. You had to do something. Planting the mines may have been to scare Seoul. You also had to follow the orders by your commander Kim Jong-un to shoot down the loudspeakers to stop the noise. You may have silently shaken heads at the show of immaturity when the young leader ordered a semi-warlike state while the South and U.S. were holding full-scale military drills at land, sea and sky. The 48-hour ultimatum was also a poor move. Anyone with long experience on the military field would have said all of them could misfire or backfire.

But you had to keep mum because you know how you would end up if you confronted the unruly leader who already executed defense minister Hyon Yong-chol for defying orders. The scene of Kim presiding at the party’s Central Military Commission emergency meeting clearly showed what you were going through. There were no maps, operation board, documents, or anything on the table and the room. Kim made the orders and you quietly jotted them down.

You silently had to sulk when Seoul raised the hoopla about drawing an apology - although in the form of regret - from Pyongyang, after four days of talks at Panmunjom. The apology was short of expectations, but it was the first. The approval rating of southern President Park Geun-hye shot up after the landmark deal between the two Koreas to end conflict and pave the way for improved ties.

You also may have been enraged by the scene of a recent firearm drill at a military shooting site in Gyeonggi across the border. The video showed the blasting of laser-guided bunker busters called GBU-28 bombs capable of penetrating underground against a fictional enemy target. The underground bunker had adult dummies obviously posing as North Korean military officials.

But you may be more worried about your immediate fate. Kim reportedly has already dismissed top officials responsible for the failure of the so-called mine operation and allowing the confrontation to get out of control. Kim may not be satisfied. He will need to set examples and compensate for loss of face in giving in to the demands of Seoul.

But all this has been your own doing. From 2010 when you sank the Cheonan warship and killed 46 sailors to recent mine explosions, you have caused too much harm on us. Young Korean soldiers are more united than ever because of your brutality.

We’ve seen another side of you. You removed the mines to pave the way for an inter-Korean railway and yielded a military site to make room for the Kaesong industrial park. You may be tempted to use the missile and nuclear card, but that can be the worst move yet.

The times must be hard for you but we hope the words from your former leader Kim Jong-il during the Great Famine of the late 1990s will be of a small comfort, “No matter how hard the road may be, march on smiling.”

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 2, Page 32

*The author is a JoongAng Ilbo special writer for unification.

by Lee Young-jong

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