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[Opinion] War Monument Comes Nine Years Late

Posted June. 17, 2008 03:54,   


No one could have doubted the Navy’s victory in the first Yeonpyeong sea battle on June 15, 1999. Up until the year before, North Korea focused on penetrating the East Sea with its submarine fleet, forcing the Navy to strengthen its sea defenses. In November 1998, however, the North suddenly shifted west and sent in a spy ship to Ganghwa Island, which was detected by the South Korean Navy. Despite Pyongyang’s plan to catch Seoul off guard, the South’s Second Fleet found out about the North’s plan in advance. The fleet prepared through ten or more simulations for several months to defend our sea against the North. As a result, victory was ours.

The battle was a meticulously planned provocation by the North and by no means an accident. At the United Nations Command-North Korea generals’ meeting at Panmunjom on the day of the clash, the North Korean representative angrily said as the talks began, “A naval battle occurred at 9:15 a.m. between the two Koreas after South Korea launched a preemptive attack.” The U.N. Command had to go through the trouble of checking the facts, and found out that North Korea planned the attack for 9:15 a.m. but delayed it to 9:28 a.m. The North Korean representative was too hasty in sharing his regime’s intentions. More evidence that the North started it was that its naval commander personally gave orders at a base facing Yeonpyeong Island.

The two Koreas treated the naval leaders in the battle differently. South Korean Commander Park Jeong-seong of the Second Fleet led his forces to victory, and was put on a waiting list for six months as special adviser to secretary of the Navy. Though he was later named chief of staff for Navy logistics and information operations and the Navy Logistics Commander, he was discharged without promotion. In contrast, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il encouraged the 8th Squadron of the North’s West Sea Fleet Command by sending them beef though they lost the battle. The squadron leader later made up for the loss in the second Yeonpyeong sea battle on June 29, 2002, by sinking a South Korean naval vessel and killing six crewmen.

On the day of the first Yeonpyeong battle, South Korean ships carrying fertilizer were on standby at the port of Haeju or were sailing toward North Korea’s port of Nampo. South Korean tourists were heading for the North’s Mount Geumgang. It was an ironic reminder of how futile unconditional implementation of the “sunshine policy” was. At the time, the Navy’s combat manual tied its men’s hands by banning preemptive fire, escalation of hostilities and crossing the Northern Limit Line. The manual euphemistically restricted our officers to “responding wisely no matter what.” Despite such absurdity, our Navy won the battle. Though the monument honoring the victory came nine years late, it does not diminish the pride the nation has in our Navy.

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)