This Is a Time for the Nation to Stand United

      March 31, 2010 12:09

      President Lee Myung-bak on Tuesday visited the area where the Navy corvette Cheonan sank in an unexplained explosion Friday. The president flew by helicopter to the 14,000-ton transport ship Dokdo, which operates near the site of the wreck, and was then taken to the 3,000-ton warship Gwangyang, which serves as the command post for the search and rescue operation for the 46 missing sailors.

      The area is only 11.7 km from Wolle Cape and 13.1 km off Jangsan Cape, where North Korea's coastal batteries are clustered. The president made the visit "because of the gravity of the case and his sorrow over the missing sailors," the presidential office said.

      On Tuesday, the fifth day since the Cheonan sank, a total of 22 warships, 18 from South Korea and four from the U.S., were engaged in search and rescue operations. Over 150 divers including members of South Korea's ship salvage unit made desperate efforts all day to enter the hull of the Cheonan, which lies 45 m down on the seabed. In the process, Warrant Officer Han Joo-ho of the Navy's underwater demolition team died and two other divers fainted and were immediately taken to hospital. The president, the families of the missing sailors, military personnel on emergency duty, and the divers who braved dangerous currents and zero visibility several times a day all prayed that the 46 missing sailors would still be alive.

      There are two immediate tasks. One is to keep searching for survivors, and the other is to thoroughly investigate the cause of the wreck and take necessary action. The country's national prestige rests on them. If it fails to discover the fate of the sailors who went missing while defending their nation, and to discover the reason why a 1,200-ton warship split in two, it will find it difficult to look the international community in the eye.

      "Neither the government nor the Defense Ministry has said that there is no possibility of North Korean involvement," Defense Minister Kim Tae-young told the National Assembly's Defense Committee Monday. "We need to reach a conclusion after looking at all possibilities." But lawmakers on both sides seemed more interested in criticizing the initial reaction, demanding to know why Cheong Wa Dae on the day of the sinking said North Korean involvement was unlikely, and how it can claim that the Navy's initial response was adequate.

      The government must be prepared for the moment when the cause of the wreck is revealed. The response may require extraordinary resolve on the part of the government and the entire country. The nation must be ready to take decisive action. There will be plenty of time later to talk about what the government and military did and did not do at the time of the disaster.

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