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Minister of Excuses

Jan 04,2019
Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo appeared on a KBS talk show on New Year’s Day with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon. When asked by the host about the need to receive apologies for North Korea’s sinking of our warship Cheonan on March 26, 2010 and its shelling of Yeonpyeong Island later that year, he came up with a very inappropriate answer: “We need to understand the way North Korea behaves and should move toward a better future.” We are dumbfounded at such remarks from the man in charge of our national security.

On Feb. 23, 2018, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Unification under the Moon Jae-in administration defined the North’s torpedo attack on the Cheonan patrol ship — which took the lives of 46 sailors — as a brazen military provocation against South Korea. We wonder why our defense minister tries to condone such a provocation despite his duty as the guardian of our security even when the Ministry of Unification — South Korea’s dialogue partner with North Korea — defined the two attacks as a clear violation of the 1953 Armistice Agreement. Even under liberal administrations led by presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, defense ministers stayed alert toward North Korea based on the conviction that dialogue and security are totally separate issues.

The Moon administration’s defense ministry was harshly criticized by lawmakers last October after it submitted a report to the National Assembly that classified the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong attacks as accidental clashes. Suh Choo-suk, then-vice defense minister, enraged opposition parties by insisting that even the first sea battle in 1999 off the waters of the Yeonpyeong Island, which took place during the Kim Dae-jung administration, was an example of an accidental clash. If such strange attitudes prevail in the Moon administration, our soldiers on the frontline cannot but pause and wonder whether to fight with North Korea or to turn a blind eye whenever a military provocation occur.

In a farewell letter after resigning as defense secretary to the Trump administration, James Mattis, a U.S. Marine Corps general, underscored two points to his junior soldiers: “stand resolute and unambiguous” in the face of countries in conflict with the United States and be clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors. The military — whether it is under liberal or conservative administration — exists to protect the nation and people. We urge our Defense Minister Jeong to read Mattis’s letter.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 4, Page 30