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[Opinion] Armed Forces Seoul Hospital

Posted August. 06, 2008 06:44,   


Walking down Samcheongdong Road in downtown Seoul brings one to a small building in front of Gyeongbok Palace. The sign reads “Armed Forces Seoul Hospital.” Normally, a person would pass by without noticing it. In 1929, when it was opened by the Japanese colonial government, the hospital was famous for its modern look and structure. Then in 1930, the building was expanded as a hospital for the Japanese imperial army. For these reasons, the landmark is a significant symbol of modern Korean history.

The hospital has not served ordinary patients or soldiers. Its main concern is to take care of presidents and senior officials, earning the nickname the “president’s hospital.” The hospital is better than other military hospitals nationwide in staff, quality of facilities and budget. That is why parliamentary audits have criticized its lack of fiscal sense. The hospital serves a handful of patients, yet spends much larger amounts than others. When President Park Chung-hee was shot in 1979, he was rushed to this hospital and later pronounced dead. Former presidents Roh Tae-woo and Kim Dae-jung have recently gone there for treatment.

The hospital sits within the Defense Security Command compound. The command was one of the pillars that sustained military governments since its 1977 foundation. When then Major General Chun Doo-hwan seized power in the 1979 coup, the hospital served as an intelligence control tower commanding the national spy agency. The building is associated with critical moments in modern Korean history. Now, it will be turned into a public monument after the command moves to the southern Seoul suburb of Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province. We feel like we’re losing an eyewitness to history.

Some say the hospital should keep running for readiness against an emergency such as assassination of the president. They say the hospital is close to the presidential office and thus provides good security and environment for transfer of the president. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas in 1963, the U.S. government transferred his body by plane to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, a place close to Washington, D.C. At the same time, Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president onboard Air Force One. These acts were intended not to lose a second of national control.

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