The new presidential administration of Lee Myung-bak had announced back in April that they would do something the prior government failed to do and properly memorialize the six South Korean sailors murdered six years ago by North Korean gun boats. The new government was good on its word:
Prime Minister Han Seung-soo offered an apology Sunday to the families of six South Korean soldiers killed in a 2002 naval clash with North Korea in the West Sea, saying the government has not properly honored their sacrifice.
South Korea’s previous liberal governments had officially labeled the tragic incident an “accidental exchange of gunfire,” not a naval battle, although the skirmish was a clear reminder of the grim reality that the two Korea's remain at war.
The families of the fallen soldiers have argued that the previous governments played down the significance of the incident in a bid to keep the fragile mood of inter-Korean reconciliation in tact. They also claimed that the military authorities did not want to talk publicly about the skirmish that had left six soldiers dead and 18 others injured. The North’s losses in the incident remain unconfirmed.
Delivering a message at a ceremony to mark the sixth anniversary of the incident, the prime minister described it as a “victory” for the South against the North’s provocative attack.
“We have not appraised the Second Yeonpyeong Naval Battle correctly and have not honored the lofty sacrifice properly,” Han said in the ceremony held at the Command of the Second Fleet in Pyeongtaek, 70km south of Seoul. A previous inter-Korean naval skirmish near Yeonpyeong Island occurred in 1999. [Yonhap]
For the benefit of those that don’t know the West Sea Naval Battle occurred in 2002 when North Korean gunboats ambushed a South Korean naval vessel patrolling the maritime border known as the North Limit Line (NLL) killing six South Korean sailors and wounding many more. It is suspected that North Korea conducted the ambush in order to draw attention away from South Korea’s incredible success during the 2002 World Cup.
Wounded survivor from the attack.
What is particularly disturbing about this incident is how the Korean government did everything possible to minimize what happened to the Korean public by claiming it was an accidental firing. They would also not hold government memorial ceremonies and left it to the ROK Navy to hold the memorial services on their base in order to prevent the Korean public from turning out. In fact families of the deceased were distraught that USFK appreciated the sacrifices of their loved ones more then their own government:
The father said, “My son is buried in the National Cemetery. But I’m going to take my son’s remains to my family burial site in my hometown.” Having watched the situation develop, he thought his son who was killed by North Korean soldiers was considered nothing more than a criminal.
Some parents said that they are more scared of people who consider the U.S. a bigger enemy than North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who killed their son. We lose courage to defend the country, when we hear that a wife whose husband fell in the battle is preparing to leave this country. Reading a condolence letter from the USFK commander to mark the second anniversary, the wife said, “The Americans remember my husband and his brothers-in-arms better than Koreans… Frankly, I hate Korea.” [Chosun Ilbo]
The wife in question was so distraught she left Korea because of the way the government treated her. A perfect example of this is when the former Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung implied the soldiers died for nothing.
Last year claims were made that US veterans better remembered the sacrifices of these sailors when a memorial in the US was constructed in their honor. The wife that went to America has since returned to Korea with the election of Lee Myung-bak, who promised properly memorialize the soldiers as well as providing proper medical care for the wounded survivors which has been another major failing of the government.
What was particularly troubling from American perspective was how this incident where six South Korean sailors were deliberately murdered was minimized yet Korean politicians and society decided to begin an anti-US orgy of hate that has been unmatched in Korea over a tragic traffic accident involving a USFK vehicle that happened two weeks before this deliberate murder.
I’m glad finally these murdered sailors are being memorialized, but I do have one problem with this, where was President Lee? Maybe there is a good reason I don’t know about, but it seems like if you are going to make a big deal about how this government is going to properly remember the sailors killed serving their country, the actual President would be the one to appear at the memorial service?
One of my continued criticism of the prior President Roh Moo-hyun was how he would never attend any memorial service for the deceased sailors and now Lee Myung-bak is continuing this tradition.