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Another Military Mishap

Posted November. 13, 2010 12:59,   


The South Korean Navy deserves criticism for its loose discipline in the wake of an accident Wednesday night. The Chamsuri 295, a 156 ton-class naval speedboat, collided with a fishing boat in waters near Jeju Island, resulting in three people dead or missing. Watchers say the accident was all the more pitiful since it occurred when the country’s military was under the highest alert on the eve of the G-20 Seoul summit. The crash happened at night but visibility reached 5.4 kilometers, so what on earth were the sentry soldiers doing? Why did the boat’s radar, which was said to contain highly advanced devices, become totally useless and fail to take instant maneuvering?

When the Cheonan sinking occurred on March 26, the general public sought to understand the Navy’s capacity to cope with North Korea’s surprise attacks. Many were angered, however, by a flurry of false reports by the South Korean military, negligence in military surveillance, and sloppy order of command. For this reason, the Defense Ministry charged four commanders, including Cheonan captain Choi Won-il, with violating military law but decided not to impose punishment. The ministry reportedly decided on this ruling to ensure soldier morale and unity. In light of the latest accident, however, it seems South Korea is doomed to suffer whenever North Korea commits an act of aggression.

A military unit sloppy in spirit and lacking proper combat capability is often called a “military of the Tang Kingdom.” Rep. Lee Jin-sam of the conservative Liberty Forward Party, a former Army chief of staff, said, “If this pitiful mood continues, our military will deteriorate to the level of the military of the ancient Tang Kingdom,” criticizing the loose sense of discipline following the Cheonan sinking. Legendary Korean naval commander Yi Sun-shin won all 23 of his battles by banking on the noble spirit of patriotism and clever tactics despite the worst conditions against the invading Japanese in the late 16th century. Today’s navy hardly deserves the nickname of “Yi’s descendents.”

At a May 4 meeting of major military commanders, President Lee Myung-bak urged the military to reflect on whether it was suffering from mannerism or managing national defense biased toward idealism rather than reality, and to mentally arm itself.

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said, “The military will remember March 26, the day of the Cheonan sinking, as a day of military humiliation,” pledging mental rearmament of soldiers. Nevertheless, a speedboat has collided with a fishing boat and gotten wrecked in yet another humiliation for the armed forces. Many Koreans want to trust their military but have been given no reason to do so.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)