Whom a nation remembers
The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
A bodyguard with his hands on a semi-automatic firearm exposed under his jacket while on duty protecting President Moon Jae-in during a visit to an open marketplace in Daegu on March 22 has stirred a fiery debate on whether armed security was really necessary. The picture had a strange relationship with another photo taken the same day.
On the same day, a teenager in school uniform was seen sobbing at her father’s grave with her hands covering her tear-ridden face. Ga-young is the daughter of the late Navy Petty Officer Park Kyung-soo. A joint memorial was held to remember the deaths of sailors and soldiers victimized during sea skirmishes and an attack from North Korea while defending the maritime border along the West Sea. The Chamsuri-class patrol boats came under attack by North Korea near Yeonpyeong Island in 2002. Her father survived the second battle of Yeonpyeong with severe injuries and long suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. He reported back to duty over his family’s protests — on the Cheonan naval corvette, which sank on March 26, 2010, after being hit by a North Korean torpedo. Forty-six sailors were killed at the time.
Chief Petty Officer Park never returned home. The Cheonan had been patrolling waters near Baengnyeong Island on the maritime border when it was sunk. Ga-yong was 7-years-old at the time. At 16, she still misses her father. I felt I could hear her sobs through the photo. We should be wiping away her tears. We must never forget heroes like her father and their bereaved family members. That is the nation’s duty to those families whose relatives have given their lives in service while defending the country.
It was the day the White House announced a temporary federal shutdown, but Trump put off the statement because saluting the downed soldiers was more important. He arrived before the remains. He stood and solemnly saluted each casket as they passed him in slow procession. Americans make heroes, and heroes make the United States. All presidents stood by that legacy. This is why Americans have faith in the presidency, whether or not they like the man in the job at the moment.
Former President Barack Obama’s remarks during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day in Arlington National Cemetery in 2016 are still remembered by Americans. “As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than leading our men and women in uniform; I have no more solemn obligation sending them into harm’s way […] President Kennedy told us that a nation reveals itself not only by the people it produces, but by those it remembers. Not everyone will serve. Not everyone will visit this national sanctuary. But we remember our best in every corner of our country from which they came,” he said. The obligation to remember fallen soldiers and their bereaved families should not solely apply to Americans.
President Moon did not appear at this year’s memorial service for the fallen soldiers of the West Sea, or last year’s in a row. This year, he traveled to Daegu to drop by the Chilsung market. He wrote on his social media page that he was heading to Daegu, but with “hearts directed to the West Sea.” Why did he choose Daegu over a memorial service accompanied by machine gun-carrying bodyguards? Was the visit more important than paying respects to the 55 soldiers who died at sea while protecting their country? If he was afraid of provoking North Korea, would North Koreans appreciate his generosity? Aren’t we over-indulging North Korea? Can the president swear he’s not — while looking into the eyes of Ga-young?
JoongAng Ilbo, March 27, Page 34
More in Columns
A new epicenter of social conflict
Lessons from a president
Tales of Chairman Lee
Chinese way of tackling challenges
Time to step up climate action