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Public Guardians

Posted May. 06, 2010 12:40,   


In Europe, the elderly are called “guardians of the street.” Watching outside via windows from their homes all day, they instantly report something strange to authorities. In the past, South Koreans felt obliged to report strange people unaware of the prices of common consumer goods or those with a strange (North Korean) accent. Such reporting was common and sometimes led to the arrest of North Korean spies. South Koreans were highly accustomed to the mottos of “anti-communism” and “espionage prevention” in their daily lives and had a strong understanding of the importance of national security.

In 1996, a taxi driver discovered and reported a North Korean submarine that appeared on the shores of Gangneung, Gangwon Province. Two years later, the captain of a fishing boat reported a North Korean submersible vehicle caught in its fishing net in waters near Sokcho, Gangwon Province. These incidents led to the joke, “Taxi drivers and fishermen are protecting our seas.” In the 1996 incident, one of 26 armed North Korean spies was caught alive, while the remainder either killed each other or were shot dead in a gun battle with South Korean military and police. In the 1998 incident, nine crewmen were found dead in the vessel apparently of suicide.

In downtown New York Saturday, ordinary people helped prevent a terrorist bombing. Two street vendors spotted a sport utility vehicle with its emergency lights on and no driver around, and reported it to police. Police identified and arrested the person who bought the used vehicle, which was loaded with bombs. Had the bombs not been discovered, a major disaster could have occurred. The two vendors are disabled veterans who fought in the Vietnam War. They said they know freedom is not free, so they always remain vigilant about their surrounding environment.

In June last year, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service staged a promotional campaign to increase public awareness of national security on the occasion of Memorial Month. The agency said the campaign was needed because public awareness and understanding of national security had fallen. Won Jeong-hwa, a female North Korean spy who was caught in 2008, was found to have had affairs with seven military and petty officers. At least one officer was aware Won was a spy, but none of them reported her to authorities. In the wake of the sinking of the naval patrol boat Cheonan, the importance of national security has risen to an all-time high. Nobody is exempt from the duty of protecting national security and safety. Every person in the country should become a “guardian" of the Republic of Korea.

Editorial Writer Lee Jin-nyong (jinnyong@donga.com)