The buck stops thereOn Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in issued two stunning messages. The first came in a seven-minute speech to members of his Cabinet in the morning. He mentioned the catastrophic outbreak of Covid-19 among sailors of the Cheonghae unit aboard a Navy destroyer dispatched to the waters off eastern Africa. His mention was brief and in the last part of his speech. Most of his remarks were devoted to reprimanding the military authorities. “Despite our military’s swift response to the incident, including dispatching a transport plane and bringing the sailors back home, the military can hardly avoid responsibility for a lax reaction to the outbreak,” he said. “I hope the military humbly accepts such criticism and takes better care of other Korean troops overseas.”
His second message was posted on Facebook. It was about his wish for a safe return of a famous mountaineer with a physical impairment from the Himalayas after he went missing after a climb. “I’m very upset. At the request of our Foreign Ministry, a Pakistani chopper is scheduled to fly to the spot of the accident, and the Chinese Embassy is also mobilizing all available resources to rescue him,” the president wrote.
Moon’s starkly different reactions to the two tragedies show a lot. The infections of 247 among 301 sailors aboard the warship is arguably the worst crisis in naval history and a critical mishap resulting from the negligence of our military and government. The shocking retreat of the sailors from a peacekeeping mission overseas is a serious issue involving our defense capabilities. We are dumbfounded that the Blue House, the Ministry of National Defense and the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) are trying to shift responsibility to one another.
It all points to the responsibility of the president in the Blue House. Moon must not forget that he is both the head of state and commander in chief. He should have dealt with the tragedy at sea just as he did with the missing climber. And yet, the president kept mum in a meeting with his aides the previous day and blamed the military for the crisis the following day. Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum and Defense Minister Suh Wook apologized for the crisis at sea to the people on his behalf.
Let’s compare the case to an accident in which a fishing boat capsized in the waters off Incheon in December 2017. At that time, Moon received reports from officials and gave orders in real time. In a meeting with his senior aides the next morning, Moon accentuated the responsibility of the government to rescue the fishermen and prevent such a misfortune in the future. “When it comes to the lives and safety of the people, the government must hold limitless responsibility,” he said. Are military accidents really different from civilian ones?
In his inaugural address in May 2017, Moon vowed to take responsibility for all mistakes by the government. Deviating from the promise, however, he chose to apologize or keep silence when the need arose over the last four years. He prefers to put the blame on others.