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Gift From Under the Sea

Posted June. 01, 2010 12:30,   


It was a cloudy day when I went to see Monday the hull of the naval ship Cheonan, which was broken in half, 66 days after the vessel was sunk. Outside the window of the helicopter I was riding, I saw the peaceful scenery of Seoul and its mountains, the plains of Gyeonggi Province, and the Seohaean Expressway. As I saw the miserable shape of the ship that still had its number 772 on the side of its bow after a 17-minute flight, fleeting thoughts entered my mind, including the nightmarish hours of watching recorded footage of the ship’s sinking and desperate rescue efforts, the lifting of the victims’ bodies and the broken hull, the investigation, and the extreme political and social friction over the sinking.

The voice of Rear Adm. Park Jeong-soo, who served as the guide, was shaking as if he could not hide his resentment. “Even at a barber shop, I felt ashamed when people talked about the Cheonan,” he said. “The military should feel responsible for the sacrifices of the young soldiers.” The torn and ragged steel structure, pipelines, electric wires and communication cables in the rooms housing the gas turbine and diesel engine under the deck testified to the tragic moment of the explosion.

Claiming that the sinking was fabricated by South Korea to influence the June 2 local elections, North Korea is making frenzied threats to the South. At a news conference in Pyongyang, North Korean officials played dumb, asking if the No. 1 marked on the propeller of the North Korean torpedo that attacked the Cheonan was for a basketball or soccer player.

Certain opposition parties and pro-North Korea leftist groups in South Korea are also glossing over the scientific conclusion reached by an investigative team of 73 domestic and overseas experts. The New Progressive Party has gone as far as urging a joint investigation by the North, China, Russia and neutral countries. The party might as well say it wants to forgive Pyongyang.

Nonetheless, I consider South Korea lucky. Just five days before the announcement of the probe results May 15, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young was informed that the investigators found a torpedo screw. As if in disbelief, he asked if the screw fell off a ship. Kim had a phone conversation with U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Walter Sharp, who was in the U.S., and reported the news to President Lee Myung-bak with a mobile phone photograph taken at the site. The screw was a gift from under the sea that raised the possibility of a North Korean attack from 95 percent to 100 percent.

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